London / St. Petersburg
Depart London Heathrow on a British Airways morning flight to St. Petersburg. On arrival, transfer to St. Petersburg’s most impressive building – The Winter Palace. Built in the mid-18th century in Baroque style by Rastrelli, the palace was once the winter home of the Imperial family but is now The State Hermitage Russia’s premier museum housing one of the greatest art collections ever gathered in one place.
See the impressive collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces by Matisse, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Monet and others, alongside works from every notable school and artist of the 19th and 20th centuries. Transfer to the centrally located Astoria Hotel, where four nights are spent. Originally opened in 1913, this is the most central and charming of all the St. Petersburg hotels and, having been restored to its former glory, offers unmatched comfort in elegant surroundings.
Dinner in the Astoria Cafe at the hotel.
Your tour of St. Petersburg begins with a short walk to return to the State Hermitage Museum. Apart from the sumptuously furnished State Rooms, you will also see some of the unrivalled collections of European sculpture and masterpieces, the majority amassed during the reign of Catherine the Great. See more of the spectacular collection housed there which includes works by some of the world’s most renowned artists such as Leonardo, Titian, Raphael, Goya, Velazquez, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and many more.
Lunch at a restaurant close by. Visit the 18th century Yussupov Palace which was once owned by the richest family in Russia, where the restored State Rooms can be seen, some still with their original furniture. Also see the exquisite Rococo private theatre where Chaliapin and Nicholas II performed amateur dramatics, and the cellars where the murder of Rasputin took place in December 1918. The scene eerily recreated in wax.
Return to the hotel for an evening illustrated lecture (accompanied by vodka!) on ‘St. Petersburg: City of Imperial Splendour’ by Professor Alexei Leporc. Dinner under own arrangements.
Return to the Hermitage Museum to see more of the spectacular collection housed there which includes works by some of the world’s most renowned artists such as Titian, Raphael, Goya, Velazquez, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Watteau. There will also be the opportunity to view the dazzling Romanov Jewels Exhibition, featuring exquisite jewellery and objets d’art from the Imperial Collections, including diplomatic gifts and pieces commissioned from the renowned Carl Fabergé.
Lunch at the Russian Vodka Room. See the famous statue of Peter the Great ‘The Bronze Horseman’ which was commissioned by Catherine the Great, and the magnificent waterfront with its panoramic views across the frozen River Neva before crossing the river to the Peter and Paul Fortress on Hare Island.
Begun by Peter the Great in 1703, its massive stone walls surround a variety of early 18th century buildings including the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, where the tombs of all the Tsars and Tsarinas from Peter the Great onwards lie, including the last Tsar Nicholas II and most of his family, who were finally laid to rest here in 1998. Return to the hotel and dinner under own arrangements.
Pavlovsk & Tsarskoye Selo
Today, accompanied by Professor Leporc, drive 29km outside the city to the Palace of Pavlovsk. Built by Catherine the Great for her son the future Tsar Paul I, the palace was designed by the Jacobite architect Charles Cameron and completed in 1796 in the most exquisite neo-Classical style.
It has a series of elegantly decorated rooms filled with original furniture, exemplifying the best of 18th century taste and craftsmanship during Russia’s ‘Golden Age’. Afterwards enjoy a troika ride through the snow-covered ‘English’ park. Continue to Tsarskoye Selo, translated as ‘Tsars’ Village’, the town of Imperial Palaces which in the 19th century was the summer retreat of the Court and the aristocracy.
Lunch at Admiralty Restaurant. Visit Rastrelli’s grandiose white, turquoise and gold Rococo Catherine Palace which has a series of superb State Rooms including the famous Amber Room which ‘vanished’ in World War II but has now been recreated after painstaking work spanning more than 30 years. Return to the hotel and dinner under own arrangements.
St. Petersburg / London
This morning enjoy a private visit to the recently opened Fabergé Museum. The Ukrainian oil and mining magnate Viktor Vekselberg has reportedly spent $30m renovating the former 18th century palace of Count Shuvalov where his personal collection of hundreds of exquisite Faberge clocks, cigar and cigarette cases are superbly displayed. V. Vekselburg bought the entire Forbes family collection of ‘Imperial Easter Eggs’ in one presale swoop purchase from Sotheby’s for over $100m in 2004 and the haul includes the famous Coronation Egg that Nicholas II presented to his wife in 1897. Fabergé enjoyed immediate fame from 1885 onwards both in Russia and across Europe until 1916. Fabergé’s unsurpassed workmanship and designs, combined with the sheer wealth of materials, remain unique.
Return to the hotel to pick up luggage and continue to lunch at a local restaurant. Drive via the moving Memorial to the Defenders of Leningrad which commemorates the great 999-day siege the city suffered during World War II, to the airport for a British Airways flight back to London, arriving at Heathrow Airport in the late afternoon.
It simply does not get any better- VC, India, 2013