SAINT-PETERSBURG “IMPERIAL TRADITION”, 4 NIGHTS
Day 1: Saint-Petersburg (arrival)
Arrival in Saint-Petersburg
Transfer to the hotel
Welcome cocktail including traditional Russian «bread and salt» welcome ceremony. This ceremony is a thousand year old Slavic tradition during which hosts welcome their visitor with a loaf of circular bread laid out on a dish covered with an embroidered towel and crowned with a small container of salt. Bread was the most wide-spread food in the Slavic world, while salt was synonymous with friendship and one of the most valuable food products in ancient Russia. The visitor salted and ate a piece of the bread while someone recited the welcome ritual. The ceremony symbolizes friendship and hospitality.
Dinner at the hotel
Presentation of the program
Day 2: Saint-Petersburg
Panoramic tour of Saint-Petersburg. A guided tour completely in English, this tour is ideal for getting the feel of the city, and in particular its historical center and major monuments. Participants will enjoy Nevsky Prospect along with its most prestigious buildings: the Anichkov, Stroganov, and Belozersky Palaces; Lutheran, Catholic, and Armenian churches; the orthodox Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, the Eliseev, Singer, and Mertens buildings, and many others. We will cross the Fontanka, the river that, along with the Moika River and Griboedov Canal, formed the border of the city center. The banks of Griboedov Canal are home to the well-known Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, built in the so typically Russian style with its multicolored cupolas and gold onion domes. The former Winter Palace, once a residence of the tsars and now the Hermitage Museum, dominates the northern bank of the Neva River, while on the opposite bank the silhouette of the Peter and Paul Fortress and its high spire command the skyline. We will stop by the Aurora Cruiser, whose guns opened the Russian revolution, followed by the House of Peter the Great – it was from this modest residence that the Tsar personally kept an eye on the construction of “his” city between 1703 and 1708. On Vasilievsky Island we will see the Strelka, the Menchikov palace and a historical building which is part of the State University. We will pass by the Admiralty with its imposing gold broach, a symbol of the Russian navy on which Peter the Great wanted to base his empire. His equestrian statue is erected in front of the Senate building and St. Isaac’s Cathedral with its impressive columns made from Finnish red granite. Then there are the buildings of the Conservatory and Mariinsky Theatre on Theater Square, after which the tour will conclude with a visit to the St. Nicolas Naval Cathedral, surrounded by canals.
Visit to St. Isaac‘s Cathedral. This St. Petersburg landmark was designed and constructed by two main architects: the Spanish Agustin de Betancourt and French Auguste de Montferrand. St. Isaac’s Cathedral is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, while also one of the richest by the luxury of its materials: gold, malachite, lazuli, 14 varieties of marble, more than 40 minerals and semiprecious stones, granite from Finland, and 600 square meters of mosaics, along with numerous paintings and sculptures. The dome is covered with 100 kilograms of gold. The imposing columns are each 43 meters high and made from a single piece of granite from Finland. More than half a million workers took part in the construction of the cathedral, made particularly difficult by the swampy ground, the magnitude of the project, and the heavy materials that were employed – more than 300,000 tons! Today the cathedral is a museum, with only one small chapel used for religious purposes every day, though religious services are still held on the most important orthodox holidays.
Visit to the dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. From the open gallery around St. Isaac’s colossal cupola visitors can admire a splendid panorama of the majestic Neva and the city with its main monuments. You will appreciate the splendour of the imposing sculptures decorating the balustrade.
Lunch at Restoran. This modern restaurant is situated very close to the Neva River, where the river reflects the northern capital’s most beautiful landmarks, with the Hermitage, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the University, and Menshikov Palace just a few meters away. Its interior is decorated in a trendy, minimalist, but still cozy style where harmony reigns, blending three vaulted halls, solid wooden furniture, exquisite plates and dishes, a fireplace, and an original lighting system that creates a very special ambiance.
The menu features traditional Russian specialties in addition to European dishes.
Visit to the Hermitage Museum. The magnificent Hermitage Museum is the most important sight in St. Petersburg, occupying the Winter Palace, former residence of the Russian tsars, and three more adjacent buildings overlooking the Neva River. The Hermitage is Russia’s biggest museum and one of the most important in the world. It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and it grew richer through the centuries as tsars purchased entire art collections abroad. Today it is home to more than three million masterpieces and hosts invaluable collections of sculptures, pictorial art, crystals, porcelain, carpets, jewellery, engravings, antiques from the classical era, modern art, weapons, medals, coins, precious books, and many more. It is well known all over the world for its collections of Italian, Flemish, French, and Spanish pictorial art, and particularly for its paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Rembrandt; impressionists such as Gauguin, Matisse, and Van Gogh; and such geniuses of modern art as Picasso. Its sumptuous interiors, richly decorated by the most talented artists, are a marvellous frame for this unique collection.
Dinner at the Volga-Volga floating restaurant. Enjoy excellent cuisine on board this ship-restaurant while cruising along the majestic Neva River. Admire the colorful facades of the historical palaces as they are illuminated by a twilight glimmer reminiscent of northern Venice while discovering delicious dishes made from both Russian and French recipes. The ship cruises past the most important city landmarks, including the Hermitage Museum, the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Summer Gardens, Menshikov Palace, and St. Isaac’s Cathedral. It was completely refitted by Russian designers and architects who fashioned a modern and cozy style, and it is managed by a professional, young, and experienced team. Guests enjoy their meals in the main hall, which is equipped with panoramic windows, or on the open air deck. Enjoy an unforgettable dinner during a cruise through St. Petersburg’s historical center.
Transfer to the hotel
Day 3: Saint-Petersburg
Excursion to Peterhof and visit to the Grand Palace and its park. Peterhof, rightfully called the “Russian Versailles”, and in former days “Petrodvorets”, was the main summer residence of the tsars. Located on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland near the sea and about 30 kilometers from St. Petersburg, it is undoubtedly one of the main centers of interest of the former tsar’s capital. Construction on the Grand Palace was initiated under the reign of Peter I as his summer residence, designed by the French architect Leblond, and was continued afterwards by the Rococo master, Bartolomeo Rastrell. Its main attractions are the monumental Ceremonial Staircase, the luxuriously gilded Ball Room and the private rooms of Peter I, such as the Oak Studio and the Throne Room. Even considering the magnificent interiors of the Grand Palace, the main interest of the visit is the park, where many small palaces, monuments and pavilions are scattered throughout the beautiful gardens. Don’t miss its famous ensemble of 150 fountains and three cascades, decorated with splendid golden statues, as well as its amazing “water play” which will surprise you during your promenade in the park.
Return to Saint-Petersburg by hydrofoil. We will leave Peterhof from the same pier in the palace gardens where the imperial family used to leave the summer palace on their way to their capital. After the leafy forests of the shores with the magnificent houses and small palaces of yesterday’s and today’s elite will come the urban scenery, along with the port and its hustle and bustle. From the Gulf of Finland we will enter the estuary of the Neva River and pass under its most famous bridges, arriving at the most beautiful place in the city, the Winter Palace, opposite the Strelka and the Peter and Paul Fortress.
Lunch at Russkiy Kitch. This restaurant is located on Vasilievsky Island in Old St. Petersburg, right on the Neva River. It is known for its unusual mixture of luxury and self-deprecating humor, an accurate caricature of New Russia. The decoration is, surprise, surprise… Russian kitsch! Green marble, polished and gilded bronzes, flower garlands, hand-painted murals on the ceilings, luxury sofas, a gallery adorned with the busts of native figures… The opulence and luxury are the perfect setting to enjoy the excellent cuisine and have an unforgettable time.
Visit to the Sheremetiev Palace. This beautiful palace was built in 1740 by Count Sheremetiev. A member of a Russian noble family, he was a direct descendant of the Boris Sheremetiev who fought with Peter the Great against Sweden during the Northern War and the son of a chamberlain of Tsar Alexander II. The count ordered a theater built inside his palace where servants and slaves played, one which eventually became the best theater in the city. The count fell in love with and married Praskovia, one of his servants and the main actress at the theatre, provoking a scandal in the city. The palace is currently the Museum of Theatre and Musical Art, featuring one of the most impressive exhibitions of musical instruments worldwide.
Private classical music concert at Sheremetiev Palace. Sheremetiev was a talented composer and choir director, and was even the main vocalist for the Imperial Chorale. He eventually created his own orchestra and gave concerts in his palace. The performances were so good that they were declared superior even to those of the Imperial Chorale. We will enjoy a classical music concert in this very same incomparable venue.
Dinner at Bellini. This restaurant occupies an old palace situated on the bank of the Neva in the most historical part of the city and is next to the oldest Russian university and the Kunstkamera. While its balcony offers stunning views of impressive St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the statue of Peter the Great, the restaurant’s interior is elegantly simple, accenting the beauty of this historical monument. It boasts spacious halls, a fireplace with a live fire, and enormous windows, its walls adorned with paintings and meals animated by the music of a classical quartet or lively jazz band. The entire restaurant can even be reserved for groups. The menu combines Mediterranean, European, and Russian cuisine, with different kinds of meat, fish, and seafood, as well as mild soups and a wide array of unique desserts. Guests enjoy an excellent culinary experience inside a historical building with modern, sober decor.
Transfer to the hotel
Day 4: Saint-Petersburg
Visit to the Peter and Paul Fortress. Located on a small island opposite the winter palace and dominating three branches of the Neva River, the Fortress was intended to protect the city from a naval assault. It was the city’s first building and is considered the foundation of St. Petersburg, while the tsars also used it as a political prison for their main opponents. Now it is a museum and one of the best spots in the city to enjoy magnificent panoramic views of the Neva’s southern bank. One of the guns on the top of its bulwarks is even fired every day at noon, and what was initially a small wooden church built inside the big fortress was eventually expanded and improved on, becoming the current cathedral, both hits with visiting tourists. There we will take in the graves of all the tsars of the Romanov dynasty and their families, including the grave of Peter the Great, founder of the city, and those of Nicholas II and his family, killed during the Bolshevik revolution of 1918. Their remains were buried in the cathedral in 1998.
Quest at the Peter and Paul Fortress. This unique program takes place in the heart of St. Petersburg. Teams search for an antique cache hidden many years ago by the builders of St. Petersburg, and in order to find where the cache is hidden they have to get through a set of trials and puzzles. The Peter and Paul Fortress is set on an expansive, multipurpose area that is suitable for both active, teambuilding stunts and individual activities with a historical flair where each participant can dive into history. Along the way, participants appreciate the beauty of the Peter and Paul Fortress and witness real historical events. They are split into teams of 8-12 that proceed sequentially through 8-10 check points that are marked on their map or team-card. For each stunt the team is met by a costumed animator who explains the rules of the stunt, talks about sightseeing and the historical events that have taken place at that spot, and assesses the team’s performance. Afterwards the animator provides the team with a new piece of the map. When the last stunt is successfully finished, the full map will show the point where the cache is hidden, the exciting adventure ending in a summary of the results and presentation of prizes.
Lunch at the Metropol restaurant and brewery including beer degustation. Today Metropol charms its guests with as special an atmosphere and as luxurious and rich an interior as ever. The restaurant has always enjoyed fame and popularity among the citizens and guests of St. Petersburg, as before the Revolution decadent poets such as Valery Bryusov, Konstantin Balmont, and other bohemians liked to visit Metropol. Official state events were also held here: Leonid Brezhnev, Ronald Reagan, Jacques Chirac, and other politicians have dined at Metropol. During the renovation the interior with its stucco and exclusive beautiful shades was restored and the stonework that dates back to the end of the 18th century was cleaned. Most importantly, Metropol now has its own brewery, something that is unique in all of Russia. The menu combines European, Belgian, and Russian culinary traditions and cuisine, while a beer tasting can also be held, in addition to the elegant dinner.
River and canal cruise with cocktail on board. St. Petersburg is rightfully called the “Northern Venice”, as it was built on the marshy area on the delta of the Neva River. Because of its location the architects had to design a major, complex system of canals for drainage to surmount the environment – more than 100 canals spanning 300 kilometers were built in total, a trademark of the city today. Cruising along the canals and rivers in St. Petersburg is undoubtedly both the best way to get acquainted with the unique spirit of the former imperial capital and to admire the facades of the city, along with its pink granite embankments and several of its 350 bridges, each with a specific name and history. The most beautiful bridges have decorative wrought-iron railings and ornamental sculptures.
Transfer to the hotel
Farewell dinner at Gymnazia. This restaurant is located in a former gymnasium for girls in the historical heart of the city, just a short walk from St. Isaac’s Cathedral. The main hall is decorated classically to resemble the interior of a palace, with elegant columns lining the hall, beautiful, historically accurate furniture, and fine lamps decorating the walls. The contemporary and elegant bar hall is a lovely contrast, mixing black tones with massive red chandeliers that softly light up the dark space. When the weather is good, guests enjoy the summer veranda in the restaurant’s yard. There is a wide selection of the best dishes from Russia, Asia, and Europe, while the rich wine list deserves special attention. Dinners occasionally include entertainment in the form of a laser show, live music, an orchestra, DJs, or live performances.
Transfer to the hotel
Day 5: Saint-Petersburg (departure)
Visit to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan. This cathedral is a real treasure of 19th century Russian architecture, built in 1800 by order of Paul I and based on the same model as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The plans were designed by Voronikhin, originally a serf of the Stroganov count before becoming professor of architecture at the Fine Arts Academy. Kutuzov, hero of the war against Napoleon, was buried here in 1813, and the epitaph on his tomb was later written by Pushkin. During the Communist period the cathedral was transformed into the Museum of Atheism. It reopened at the end of the Soviet regime as a place of worship and today is one of the city’s main orthodox churches.
Transfer to the airport