Saint Petersburg – 4 Nights and 4 Hotels
Our guest writer, Matt reviews our favourite St. Petersburg hotels.
My partner and I recently had the pleasure of visiting Saint Petersburg and learning about the rich heritage and culture of the city and the Russian Royal family. As part of our visit we got to experience four beautiful, but very different hotels.
Our first night was spent at the Pushka Inn. The hotel is situated on the bank of the Moika River in the heart of the city, just across from the Hermitage Museum and a couple of blocks from the main street, Nevsky Prospekt.
The hotel is an historic mansion house built in 1860 and spans a narrow, gated laneway that leads to a small courtyard area originally used as stables. This is typical across Saint Petersburg (and much of Europe) and adds a sense of history and intrigue. Locals use the laneways as shortcuts to get around the city and minimize their exposure to the harsh winter weather. Reception is located on one side of the laneway and the quaint hotel restaurant on the other.
The hotel is full of character and “quirks” that you only find in heritage buildings like the Pushka Inn. Reception is located at the end of the entrance corridor and includes a small lounge and library area. Immediately adjacent is the main staircase and lift well, which feels like something out of a medieval castle. The elevator is an experience in itself – definitely not a feature of the original building, its bespoke design is barely large enough to fit two adults (who are preferably intimate / very close friends). But it did its job and I quite enjoyed its “uniqueness”.
Our room was on the fourth (top) floor facing the rear of the building overlooking the courtyard and adjacent buildings – not a stunning vista, but a pleasant outlook over the cityscape. Rooms at the front of the building overlook the Moika River and the Palace Square. The room itself was nicely appointed, of a good size with a comfortable king size bed and modern bathroom. The corridor of each floor also includes a tea / coffee / drinking water station (European hotels often don’t provide in-room tea and coffee facilities). Complimentary bottled water is also provided in each room.
The staff were friendly and helpful and I really felt for the poor porter struggling up and down the stairs / tiny lift with guests’ luggage, but he always did so courteously and with a smile.
Unfortunately the restaurant was closed for a private function when we arrived (it was just before Christmas after all) but the reception staff offered to recommend other nearby restaurants. However after a very long day and night travelling and eating aeroplane food, we elected to head straight to bed. The next morning we awoke early (jetlag) and headed to the restaurant for breakfast as soon as it opened. The restaurant was quaintly and traditionally decorated with additional obligatory Christmas “bling” at that time of year. The buffet was typical of European hotels with a good selection of cereals, fruit, yoghurt, cold-cut meats, fish, cheeses, bread and pastries. In addition to the buffet, breakfast included a cooked-to-order hot meal and we went for an omelette each, which was very good.
Anyone up for some herring at 5am?
After breakfast we checked out to begin our first day’s sight-seeing. Apart from a few challenges negotiating the tiny elevator with our luggage (I didn’t have the heart to trouble the poor porter again), everything went smoothly and we were on our way!
Pushka Inn and our view from the 4th Floor
After a long day visiting the town of Pushkin and the summer palaces of Catherine and Pavlov we checked into the Kempinski Moika Hotel. Located just a few doors down from the Pushka Inn on the Moika River, it shares a great central location. Like the Pushka Inn, the hotel is situated in a former mansion, but, other than the façade, its previous use is barely recognisable. The entrance to the hotel is via the original laneway and on each side there is a hotel bar and library and café. The courtyard of the old building has been enclosed with a glass roof and forms a large open atrium housing the hotel lobby and breakfast restaurant.
Kempinski Moika Hotel on the waterfront
After some trouble reaching the hotel (President Putin was visiting that day – yes, it’s that sort of hotel), check-in was extremely professional and courteous and the porter promptly delivered our luggage to the room. We again had a room on the fourth floor (only about half way to the top floor this time), but because of the hotel layout, we were facing the internal atrium of the hotel. This wasn’t a problem for us, but if you want windows that open to get some fresh air, it’s probably best to request an outside room.
The room itself was immaculate and quite grand with a large and very comfortable king-size bed, a couple of armchairs, desk and a massive bathroom including a large bath tub and separate shower. If it’s important to you, the bathroom also included a bidet…..
After settling in and making use of the beautiful bath, we headed down to the lobby bar for a light supper (that was all we could manage after a huge four-course lunch). We opted to share the “Russian Club Sandwich” which came with caviar and salmon instead of the usual chicken and bacon. It was delicious and enough to share if you aren’t particularly hungry. The hotel also has a Bistro on the 8th floor for more substantial meals.
Still suffering from jetlag, we were in bed early and I woke before 5am. To avoid facing the wrath of my blissfully slumbering partner, I grabbed my phone and tablet and headed down to the large and comfortable lobby to catch up on some emails (complimentary wi-fi, of course) and pass a couple of hours until the breakfast buffet started at 7am. There was a self-service coffee machine in the lobby, which was very popular with those making an early start to the day.
The breakfast buffet was quite sumptuous and included four different styles of salmon and French champagne for those needing a kick-start to the day. Like the Pushka Inn, hot breakfast meals were included and cooked to order. My partner opted for eggs benedict and I went for the scrambled eggs to have with my four different sorts of salmon. Both were very good.
The hotel also includes a small fitness and spa area on the top floor with a sauna, steam-room and spa bath. The spa bath offers nice views across the city skyline and roof tops. The spa opens quite early so we had time for a quick morning visit, which was a very nice way to start the day.
With another busy day ahead we checked out and the staff once again were very helpful and efficient – we even commandeered 3 porters to take our luggage to our car waiting across the street. Maybe it was just our bank, but the only hiccup we had was with our American Express card which wouldn’t work anywhere in Saint Petersburg, but the Visa on the same account worked fine, so we sacrificed a few frequent flyer points.
After another full day of sight-seeing, we checked in to the Domina Prestige Hotel for our third night. Like the Kempinski Moika, it featured an enclosed courtyard atrium style lobby, though on a much smaller scale, housed behind an historic façade. Inside, the Domina Prestige is an extremely “hip” and modern hotel featuring artworks and a striking interior design and colour scheme.
Check-in went smoothly and luggage arrived promptly. After another four course lunch we again were looking for a fairly light meal, so headed down to the lobby bar. The interior design and colour scheme extends throughout all areas of the hotel, including the restaurant and lobby bar. The menu was international and modern – you certainly won’t find traditional Russian favourites on the menu here. We went for the meat tasting plate (similar to antipasto but with a Russian twist) and the quesadilla to share and both were tasty.
Another early night followed with yet another jetlag-induced early morning. Breakfast is served in the hotel restaurant on the ground floor with another generous buffet offered. Hot dishes were included in the buffet, but other ala carte options were also available for an extra charge.
Decadent Russian breakfasts
Our final night was spent at the Rocco Forte Hotel Astoria. All I can say is “wow!”. Built in the early 1900’s, the hotel offers grand, traditional 5-star luxury. We were lucky enough to be upgraded to a junior suite which included an extremely comfortable king size bed, large couch and armchairs, desk and a stunning bathroom including a full size bath and separate shower (and a bidet if it’s important to you…).
The hotel feels like something out of a James Bond movie and the celebrity guest list displayed in the lobby is pretty impressive. It is very grand, decorated with art-deco and period features throughout and a visit to the stylish Lichfield Bar in the lobby is a real treat. The customer service was simply outstanding. Reception staff were friendly and efficient, we received a personal escort and tour of our room and the lobby café and bar staff were highly attentive and welcoming.
The hotel is located directly across from the stunning Saint Isaac’s Cathedral and about 10 minutes’ walk from Nevsky Prospekt shops. The beautiful Mariinsky Theatre (we had ballet tickets that night) and Yusopov Palace are also within easy walking distance.
The hotel’s restaurant is a stunning space, again decorated in the art-deco style. It offers a lavish buffet breakfast with hot dishes cooked to order, as well champagne and caviar. We really didn’t want to leave the Hotel Astoria, but we had a tour of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral and the Russian Museum to do before taking the afternoon train to Helsinki.
In summary, although all four hotels were very different, we enjoyed them all and would happily visit any of the hotels again. If you’re looking for a “character-rich”, quaint or historic experience (or travelling on a budget), the Pushka Inn is a great choice. The Kempinski Moika offers a modern, quality, but somewhat clinical 5-star experience, with high standards of service, similar to what might be expected of a reputable, international 5-star hotel chain. If you enjoy the “art-series” hotels or are in to cutting-edge, modern design and art, the Domina Prestige is probably a wise choice. But, if like me (and budget permitting), you enjoy the grand, traditional luxury of a bygone era, you can’t go past the Hotel Astoria.
Arcticle by Matthew Rutter, guest of 50 Degrees North.