Comprehensive introduction to St Petersburg over a week-long series of guided visits
Three separate half-day periods in the Hermitage Palace Museum
Visit all three major country Palaces: Peterhof, the Catherine Palace at Tsarkoe Selo &Pavlosk
Very comfortable 5* hotel looking out onto St Isaac’s Cathedral & close to both the Hermitage & Nevsky Prospekt
Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, St Petersburg reflected the Tsar’s belief that Russia must alter course, leaving behind its inheritance of medieval splendour and cultural isolation and now look outwards for new ideas. In essence, he started the process by which Russia opened itself to the habits, technologies and expertise of the western world. In a sense, the rebirth of the city in recent years, following on from decades of communist rule, re-enacted this process, adapted for modern times, though now somewhat halted by the re-emergence of long-held suspicions of western influence.
Traffic was not all one way and is particularly apparent in what today remains the most tremendous range of fine buildings to survive from the rule of the Romanov dynasty. Designed, decorated and furnished in all the leading styles of Europe and beyond, not only by native Russians but also by Italians, Swedes, French, English and Scots, the city’s palaces, public buildings and churches are of huge interest. The full cavalcade of European styles are there, from Baroque through the Rococo to Neo-classicism and beyond. These are frequently interpreted in a manner tinged by Russia’s ability to infuse ‘foreign’ vocabularies with its own inimitable, often gilded, textures.
Our visit will take advantage of the restoration and refurbishment that overtook St Petersburg in preparation for the tri-centennial celebrations of 2003 and which still continues under Mr Putin’s patronage. As a result, there is now an unrivalled opportunity to see several palaces and buildings that have not been available since damaged during World War II. Indeed, the city looks fresh and clean in a manner not seen for over a century.
We shall stay at the 5* Astoria Hotel, a member of the Rocco Forte group of hotels, ideally located a few minutes walk from the banks of the River Neva and the Hermitage. Sitting on one side of an impressive public space with the magnificent St Isaac’s Cathedral in its centre (framed from the main reception rooms of the hotel) we shall take advantage of our central location as the city’s main shopping street, Nevsky Prospekt, is round the corner and most of the major theatres are within walking distance. Participants will be able to attend opera and ballet performances – details will be issued once the programmes are published.
Day by day
- Day 1: Monday 18 September
- On arrival in St Petersburg we travel into the city via an Introductory Bus Tour of the main monuments. We have dinner in our hotel, the 5* Astoria – wine, water and coffee are included with all group dinners, water and coffee with all group lunches.
- Day 2: Tuesday 19 September
- We begin the day with a short walk across St Isaac’s Square to the banks of the Neva to see The Bronze Horseman, the famous sculpted monument to the city’s founder, Peter the Great. Nearby is the fine Neo-classical Admiralty, founded by Peter the Great in 1704 on this site, though today’s complex is the result of a later rebuilding campaign during the 1820s. We visit St Isaac’s Cathedral, the finest of the great classical churches from Romanov times. Said to be the fourth church on this site dedicated to St Isaac of Dalmatia, it is the masterpiece of the French architect, Montferrand. We join our coach and cross the Neva to visit the Peter and Paul Fortress, scene of so many dramatic events in the Tsarist history of Russia and the church where the Romanov Tsars from Peter the Great to Nicholas II, together with their families, are buried.
- We shall have a group lunch at a nearby restaurant followed by our first visit to the Hermitage Palace and Museum, part introductory ‘route march’ and part ‘logistical exercise’ as we come to terms with the vast number of rooms and their astonishing contents – in a way, a ‘highlights’ tour with a purpose! One’s first impression is of great magnificence as a series of truly palatial staterooms reveal the majesty of this complex building. We conclude the day with the first of a two-part look at the collection of Italian Old Masters, the highlights of which are fine works by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and a small sculpture by Michelangelo. The evening will be free.
- Day 3: Wednesday 20 September
- We return to the Hermitage, continuing with the Venetian Old Masters, featuring a group of stunning Titians. There are also the later Italian Schools from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Finally, we look at the marvellous works by Flemish and Dutch Masters, including Rubens, Van Dyck and above all, Rembrandt. The Rembrandts are extraordinary and they form a marvellous overview of his career. We have a group lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Neva after which we visit the Menshikov Palace, built for the friend and minister of Peter the Great, Prince Alexander Menshikov. In the care of the Hermitage Museum, it is a remarkable building with many of the original contents still in situ. The evening will be free.
- Day 4: Thursday 21 September
- This morning we shall enjoy a picturesque Canal Cruise offering an enchanting panorama of the city. We then visit the Church of the Saviour on the (Spilled) Blood, commissioned to stand on the place where the assassination of Tsar Alexander II took place on 1 March 1881. We break for an early lunch, not included, after which we visit the nearby Russian Art Museum. This is housed in a magnificent neo-classical palace, formerly the home of Grand Duke Michael, brother of Tsar Alexander I. You will be free from mid afternoon and you might like to explore on your own, taking a stroll along nearby Nevsky Prospekt and the surrounding area? The evening will be free.
- Day 5: Friday 22 September
- We leave the city in spectacular fashion with a journey by hydrofoil (weather permitting) out on to the Gulf of Finland for a visit to Peterhof, the justly famed palace of Peter the Great with its spectacular terraced gardens and gilded fountains. We lunch in one of the eighteenth century pavilions in the park, continuing to explore this delightful setting. Access allowing, we continue to Oranienbaum to view some of the undamaged eighteenth century park buildings, including Catherine the Great’s famed Chinese Pavilion. We return by coach and the evening will be free.
- Day 6: Saturday 23 September
- We return to the Hermitage to see the marvellous French paintings, particularly from the eighteenth century onwards. There will also be some free time to explore and have lunch, not included, within the museum. In the afternoon we drive out to visit Catherine the Great’s retreat at Tsarskoe Selo - her favourite country palace. It contains a remarkable ensemble of interiors charting many changes of style from the rococo exoticism of the fabled Amber Room to the cool sophistication of Charles Cameron’s neo-classical interiors. The surrounding park should be at its Autumnal best. There will be a final group dinner that evening.
- Day 7: Sunday 24 September
- Our last visit of the week will be to Pavlosk, built for Catherine’s son, Tsar Paul I, by Charles Cameron but much extended by later Romanov owners. For many, it is the most elegant of all the country palaces. We shall have our final lunch in a nearby ‘country’ restaurant, after which we continue to the airport for the return flight to London.
- Price: £2,795 per person
- Deposit: £375
- Single Supplement: £395 (Double Room for Sole Use)
- Tour Manager: Tom Duncan
6 Nights with Breakfast at 5* Hotel Astoria
City View £385 per room (sharing), subject to availability
Outward: BA878 Depart London Heathrow (Terminal 5) 0920, arrive St Petersburg 1435
Return: BA879 Depart St Petersburg 1530, arrive London Heathrow (Terminal 5) 1705
2 Dinners with wine, water & coffee, 4 Lunches with water & coffee, all local transfers, entry fees & gratuities, services of Tom Duncan & our local tour manager Elena Levchenko
Travel to/from Heathrow, 4 Dinners & 2 Lunches.
From approx £100 excluding agency fees: please note that as part of the process you will need to provide biometric data, fingerprints, at either the Russian Embassy or CIBT Visa Agency offices in London – full details will be sent with the booking confirmation
Weather Conditions for St Petersburg in September are:
Average Temperature between: 9oC - 15oC / 48oF - 59oF
Rainfall: 64mm / 2.5 inches
We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.