St Petersburg, Russia is undoubtably one of the most culturally rich, interesting cities in the world. Magnificent architecture, wonderful classical dance, spectacular museums, first class dining options and its warm, gracious residents make this travel destination highly desirable.
My first solo trip to to this city was in 2011. I was so taken by it's vibrancy and fascinating history that I have returned to the "Venice of the North" several times since and will be returning this June bringing a group of art lovers on the first Art Routes Tour, a collaboration between the Arts Council of Baton Rouge and AstridTravel.LLC. On this tour I will be sharing St Petersburg's magical culture with a focus on Classical Dance. Our lodging selection for the tour will be the five star, Grand Hotel Europe, the subject of this blog post.
One of my travel passions is to find fabulous hotels at an affordable price. Before my first visit to St Petersburg, I researched my hotel options extensively. What I found was there were only two hotels I would consider booking. After watching several Youtube videos, I decided to book my reservation at the Grand Hotel Europe, the most historic hotel in the city which is centrally located on the fashionable Nevsky Prospekt.
Upon arrival from Moscow on the first class, "Red Star" overnight train, I was picked up by a Mercedes limousine service and transported to the hotel. Happily, I was greeted by a welcoming doorman and shown to the reception area. For the check in, I was seated in the lobby area with one of the receptionists. She attentively went over my reservation, explained the hotel's amenities, took my passport and credit card and completed the process within five minutes. You know you are staying at a first class hotel when your check in is personalized and not done at the reservation counter. This upper class treatment set the tone for my initial visit to St Petersburg. Old World service is alive and well at the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe!
Next, I was escorted by a bellman to my room through several exquisite hallways with walls filled with original Russian paintings. My first impression of the room was that of cosiness and comfort. Attractive fabrics adorned the furniture and windows; the bathroom was well- appointed with a tub - something I still prefer to a shower,- a heated floor and plush towels. The kingsize bed was decked with a thick down comforter and numerous fluffy pillows. Understated elegance is how I would describe the room's decor; not over-the-top, but just the right amount of luxurious quality.
Once I unpacked, I decided I needed some breakfast before I met my private guide for my first day of sightseeing. Breakfast can be either be taken in the Mezzanine Cafe or in the L'Europa Restaurant. I opted for the wonderful buffet in the opulent, L'Europa. Blinis and caviar with several cups of piping hot, Russian tea more than satisfied my need for an early morning meal. While I enjoyed my traditional Russian breakfast, I marveled at the beauty of this gorgeous, Art Deco dining room. To eat in a setting like this made me feel a tad aristocratic. More about this stellar restaurant later.
Some factual information is needed to further paint the picture to illustrate why the Grand Hotel Europe is so iconic. Designed by the Italian Architect, Carlo Rossi in the Neo-Baroque style, the Hotel de L'Europe was first opened in 1875, making this hotel the oldest and most historic hotel in the city. Located adjacent to the Arts Square, it has been the home away from home for many a internationally famous artist, film star, diplomat and business elite. In January, 2015 the luxury Belmond hospitality company acquired the hotel, changed the name to it's current billing and subsequently, made a few upgrades to the hotel's interiors.
One of the main areas the Belmond improved upon were the eating venues which in my opinion was hard to do because during my first two stays, I had never eaten a bad meal in any of the attractive restaurants. Currently, the hotel has five dining options from which to choose.
On my second trip, I arrived in the evening and ended up wanting something light to eat and a glass of wine to help me sleep and get over my jet lag. I enjoyed a small plate, caviar dish while listening to soothing live music in the hotel's elegant lounge. Once again, I found myself pondering how wonderful it was to be staying at this hotel and dining in such a warm and comfortable place, something extremely important to the solo traveler.
The next day in the late afternoon, I had one of the best desserts, a mango custard tart, I have ever eaten in the romantic Mezzanine Cafe, an colorful, interior courtyard restaurant that serves breakfast, light lunch selections and afternoon tea. In addition, this restaurant is known for its fine chocolates which are made in the hotel's own chocolate factory, as well as it's FABULOUS coffee made from a special blend of Arabica beans from Honduras, Ethiopia and Sumatra.
Yes, the coffee at the Grand Hotel Europe is WONDERFUL. For the coffee addict, petit coffee connoisseur that I am, this is heaven. I have to admit for me the "quality of the coffee" a hotel serves can make or break whether I end up liking and recommending a hotel. For some this is not important but for me it is travel necessity.
There were two restaurants, the Caviar Bar and Azia, where regrettably I didn't get to experience a meal in because both were undergoing renovations. For my second visit's farewell dinner, I had set my sites on dining at the Caviar Bar, the only caviar restaurant in St Petersburg. I had read that this tony eating venue served 15 different types of caviar, 12 Dom Perignon vintages and 35 types of vodka with the Caviar Bar having the only vodka sommelier in Russia. If you want to eat caviar in St Petersburg, this is the place!
After packing, I ventured up the hotel's grand staircase to the Caviar Bar only to be notified that it wasn't open. But as fate would have it, "lady luck" stepped in. The maitre 'd from the L'Europa Restaurant, where a string quartet was playing, saw my disappointment and asked if I would like to dine here. Underdressed, I asked if this would be a possibility. He graciously said, "No problem. I'll set you up a table-for-one." He guaranteed I would have a memorable meal, a comment which turned out to be a tremendous UNDERSTATEMENT!!
Within several minutes, I was escorted to my well-located table complete with a three candle lit candlelabra. The atmosphere in the L'Europa that Friday night was magical. For two and one half hours all of the diners were treated to an extravaganza of classical Tchaikovsky music on the restaurant's stage. Whether from performances by a string quartet, a pianist, an opera singer or singers and even ballerinas, the evening was filled with the passion and melodies of one of Russia's most beloved composers. Being a former music major, this dinner setting was over-the-top!
The menu included Russian culinary favorites such as Beluga and Oscietra caviar with blinis, beef rib eye in Amarena cherry sauce and veal poached in port. I decided to forego caviar and settled for a pre fixe, three course meal of soup, a fish dish and dessert with a glass of wine, all for less than $65.00!! I must report; I have never experienced a meal in such a glorious setting for such an affordable price.
The maitre d' was highly attentive the entire evening and shared that every Friday night is Tchaikovsky Night at the L'Europa which has become a coveted St Petersburg tradition. He said this was Russia's oldest continuing serving restaurant and it's stunning Art Deco interior was designed by the famous Russian architect, Fyodor Lidval in the early 1900"s. In addition, he shared every Saturday evening it hosts, Jazz in St Petersburg and on Sunday, the restaurant has a highly popular Jazz Brunch.
Azia, the other restaurant I didn't get to try but will when I return this June, is a pan-Asia venue that specializes in a fusion of Asian cuisines. Highlights on Azia's menu include a wide variety of small plate, Asian choices. In addition, the chef conducts cooking classes featuring instruction in Asian tandoor, steam and wok cooking techniques. I surmise the Belmond created this eating option to satisfy the many Asian travelers now visiting the city.
For pampering and physical fitness, the hotel has a full service Carita beauty salon, a spa and a fitness center. In addition, on the first floor in the passage hall area are several upscale boutiques featuring collectable Russian objects, art, as well as, designer clothing.
On the subject of shopping, the hotel is located in the best place for shopping in the city, on the Nevsky Prospekt and right adjacent to the Art Park that houses several Russian specialty shops such as Beluga, one of my favorites. If you are looking for Amber jewelry, ethnic Russian collectables or clothing, you can't get much better than Beluga.
Now for the best part, what does it cost to stay at the ritzy Belmond Grand Hotel Europe? Depending on the time of year you are traveling to St Petersburg, the price of a basic room for a single traveler ranges from $218 a night in the low season to $310 in the high summer season. This is a bargain any time of the year for the quality of stay you will experience. In other major European cities and in the USA for a comparable hotel you will be paying twice maybe three times the price for a room in a hotel of this caliber. Breakfast is included in these prices.
I will end with expressing I can't wait to return to this magical, culture filled city and it's splendid Belmond Grand Europe Hotel! There is no other hotel in the world where I have had more repeated stays than here and I feel blessed to once again have this opportunity to return. When traveling to St Petersburg make your hotel choice, the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe and experience the elegant grandeur of this historic hotel located in this special city.
Enjoy this video showcasing this wonderful hotel. As always, your comments and questions are welcomed. Astrid Solo Travel Advisor strives to share quality travel information geared to the solo traveler looking for affordable luxury ideas, products and services.