From Russia with love…
By Mia Ljungberg
What better way to begin a stay at the legend of Russia´s oldest grand hotel, Grand Hotel Europe.
After a quick and efficient check in I arrive to my suite and before I have managed to take in the beauty and comfort of the suite I hear a knock on the door and there is a waiter with a tray full of caviar and everything that comes with it and a bottle of the house Vodka - after 30 hours of travelling to get to here from South America, it is hard not to believe I have arrived in heaven, it sure feels like it.
The history of Grand Hotel Europe begins in 1875 when it opened as the first five star hotels in Russia. The baroque building dates back to 1824 and is located on Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg most splendid avenue and surrounded by some of the world´s greatest cultural treasures, including the Russian Museum and Mussorgsky Theatre. It was the famous Italian architect Carlo Rossi who designed and did the impressive façade. Rossi also did the Mikhailovsky Palace, now Russian Museum and home to the 2nd biggest collection in Russia of Russian art and Arts Square, the square between the palace and Grand Hotel Europe. In 1905 the Swedish –Russian architect Fyodor Lidval was responsible for the Jugend or Art Nouveau style of the hotels interior. Lidvals design is present today in the Restaurant L´Europe, Caviar bar & restaurant, in the Lobby bar and the famous Krysha ball room. In May this year the hotel is reopening its new presidential suite, the Lidval suite. The suite is inspired by Lidval´s design and taste and named in his honor.
Grand Hotel Europe has a very special place in the hearts of most Russians because of its breathtaking beauty but also because this hotel has been the home to the cultural elite of Russia for decades, a home where they could meet and still are. While strolling around in the hotel I run into the Dancing God, Faruh Ruzimatov who comes here regularly and he is also be found on the walls of the hotel that is full of Russian art and a part of the hotels impressive art and antique collection.
During WWI the hotel was used as an orphanage and during WWII and the 900-day siege of Leningrad from 1941-44 the hotel became a hospital. These events are an integral part of the history of the hotel and even today the hotel feels a strong responsibility for the local society and a part of that means that the hotel every year invites a small group of orphans to the hotel to train them and help them to begin a new life by working with hospitality.
On the hotel’s private boat Katarina
I wake up next morning feeling like a czarina and decide to enjoy my breakfast in the L´Europe Restaurant where several stars have performed on the stage. Every Friday there are ballet dancers on stage for the joy of the dinning guests, and every morning a young beautiful Russian lady is playing a cello, what better way to enjoy a breakfast that offers everything from newly baked blini, herring, salmon, rye bread, pickles to freshly squeezed red beet juice, some of my own favorite Russian delicacies.
It is a sunny April day and I decide to take in St. Petersburg by foot. After a day of walking around the city and taking in the beauty of what is known to be Venice of the North and one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I arrive back to my suite where afternoon tea has been served with a chocolate piano full of pralines from the hotels own chocolate factory across the street. Knowing that I am going to dine in the Caviar Bar & Restaurant same night, I try not to eat them all.
Beef-Stróganov or what we call Beef Stroganoff is one of the most typical Russian dishes, but what makes the one they serve at the Caviar Bar & Restaurant at Grand Hotel Europe even more special is that, according to the chef, he has the original recipe from Baroness Stróganov herself and after having eaten it, suffice to say, the best I ever had!
Vodka is becoming more and more popular in Russia these days and therefore I am not surprised when I am being met by the hotel´s vodka sommelier who gives me the full history of vodka and teaches me the differences. I finish my dinner with what I have learned is to be the best Russian Vodka, Russky Standart - a Vodka that is produced near St. Petersburg and said to have the best taste because of the clean water there.
The hotel´s bar is open 24 hours a day and it seems to be the meeting point of the elite of St. Petersburg where they either meet for coffee or a drink or to enjoy a cigar from the hotels cigar collection, a great mix of international guests and local high society blending well together and the atmosphere is nice and a perfect place to end a dinner.
The service that is being offered at Grand Hotel Europe is what to be expected of a 5 star hotel in the 21. Century, but what only few are capable to deliver. Grand Hotel Europe delivers and they go far in their way of making each guest feel unique. The theatres and halls of St. Petersburg are famous throughout the world for some of the greatest performances and shows in Opera, Ballet, Classical Drama and Music and the staff can help you book a private box which is the ultimate way of exploring an opera or ballet.
This summer guests at the Grand Hotel Europe can sail on the hotel´s private boat Katarina through the canals of St. Petersburg while enjoying champagne. The boat can sail directly to the famous palace and park, Peterhof, a place not to be missed while in St. Petersburg. Peterhof is referred to as “the Russian Versaille", although many visitors conclude that the comparison does a disservice to the grandeur and scope of this majestic estate.
Grand Hotel Europe became a part of Orient Express in 2005 and since then the hotel has been renovated to live up to the standards of Orient Express. This spring the hotel will open ten new unique historic suites, each suite with its own individual design. Another great thing with Orient Express is their impressive and well stock movie collection of Academy Award Winning movies dating back to the date when the hotel was constructed and what better way to end a perfect day in St. Petersburg by watching -From Russia with Love.
Grand Hotel Europe offers its guests the possibility to leave Russia in the same style as you have experienced by visiting. There is a VIP departure service to take the hassle out of your travel arrangements. You will be taken to the airport in one of the hotels many BMW limousines and the driver takes care of your check in and luggage, what an excellent service, that I wish more hotels had as a standard offer.
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