By Victor Burnett
It was winter in Moscow, snow was beginning to gently fall, as I walked through a deserted Red Square in the quiet of night. The Kremlin towered above and St Basil’s famous church shone in the moonlight. We had just arrived from London, after a short 3-hour flight, and were heading off to take our first meal in Moscow at a chic restaurant called in Russian “The country that doesn’t exist” – a reference to cuisines of former USSR countries now part of Eastern Europe such as Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Much is changing in Russia right now. Moscow is a modern bustling city with history all around, but for the Epicurean traveller, the magnificence of her Imperial past has an everlasting and enduring appeal, whatever the age.
2021 could be the best year to experience the delights of Russia’s past. With more airline routes than ever from London to St Petersburg or Moscow and great value on offer with the rouble falling dramatically against the Pound, this could be the perfect time to take a luxurious mini-break.
Moscow, on the Moskva River in western Russia, is the nation’s cosmopolitan capital. In its historic core is the Kremlin, a complex that’s home to the president and tsarist treasures in the Armoury. Outside its walls is Red Square, Russia's symbolic centre. It's home to Lenin’s Mausoleum, the State Historical Museum's comprehensive collection and St. Basil’s Cathedral, known for its colourful, onion-shaped domes.
There is so much to see in Moscow, a guided tour of the major sites is recommended to get most out of it. There is also a boat cruise along the river, which is a spectacular way to see the city. Make sure you see the radiant splendour of Moscow’s Metro stations, with their extravagant architecture. And if you have still got an appetite after that, head to Café Pushkin, a short walk from Red Square, for a truly 19th Century style eating experience.
St. Petersburg is a Russian port city on the Baltic Sea. It was the imperial capital for 2 centuries, having been founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, subject of the city's iconic “Bronze Horseman” statue. It remains Russia's cultural centre, with venues such as the Mariinsky Theatre hosting opera and ballet, and the State Russian Museum showcasing Russian art, from Orthodox icon paintings to Kandinsky works.
St Petersburg is a very different city to Moscow - the streets are much wider and designed to European layout. It is also home to many fascinating ornate churches and the magnificent Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world, which celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2015. Check out the Elgin Marbles, which have been loaned from the British Museum to mark the occasion.
St Petersburg cultural heritage is well-known globally, and none more so than its world famous ballet and opera performances at the Mariinsky Theatre. An evening watching such talented dancers is a treat in itself and the wonderful surroundings and old-fashioned formality of the old theatre setting takes you back in time to the turn of the century. After the ballet, which was coincidently set in Scotland, we headed on for our final dinner of the trip to the “Tsar’s Restaurant” – a suitably imperial setting to end our Russian excursion.
The wonders of the magnificent Imperial Russian culture are something that every Epicurean traveller should experience first-hand – we sincerely hope you do!
Where to stay:
Baltschug Kempinski Hotel, Balchug St. 1, 115035,
Conveniently close to Red Square.
Ritz Carlton Moscow
Luxury hotel with 2 restaurants, a spa & an indoor pool, plus a rooftop bar & city views.
Lavish hotel offering posh rooms & suites, plus butler service, upscale dining & a spa.
Four Seasons Hotel, Lion Place
Stately luxury hotel in a 19th-century palace offering refined quarters, a spa & 3 restaurants.
Belmond Grand Hotel Europe
Centrally located – luxury and elegance combined.
Located in a historic mansion on the Moyka River