‘It’s breathtaking’ I proclaim, with the glass on the brightly lit display cabinet steaming up with my warm breath as I gaze at a jewel-encrusted Faberge egg.
I am at the Faberge Museum in the Shuvalov Palace in St. Petersburg. It houses the collection of the nine Imperial eggs designed by Peter Carl Faberge, which were commissioned each Easter since 1885 by the last two Russian emperors. The displays pay tribute to the Russian jewellery designer, Carl Faberge, goldsmith to the Romanovs, with each of the eggs depicting religious symbols of rebirth.
Lilies of the Valley Faberge Egg
My favourite egg is the Lilies of the Valley egg in pink enamel, which stands on four dainty legs, swathed in tiny pearls, with its green enamel leaves adorned with sparkling diamond dewdrops. The surprise inside this egg is three framed photographs of Tsar Nicholas II and his two eldest daughters, edged in pink diamonds that pop out of the egg.
I’m staying at the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe, which was the first luxury five-star hotel to open in Russia in 1824. Situated in the heart of the city, it’s close to the historical sights and just around the corner from Nevsky Prospekt, the central boulevard with upmarket shops and buzzy restaurants.
Entrance of Belmond Grand Hotel Europe
The hotel has 266 guest rooms spread across 14 different categories, ranging from superior rooms to opulent historic suites. While I absorb the opulence of my room, my butler unpacks my suitcase and runs me a warm bath.
Historic suite at Belmond Grand Hotel Europe
I head to the illuminated bar open 24 hours in the smart art-nouveau inspired lobby for a nightcap. This is quite the spot to people watch and soak up the sophisticated atmosphere of St. Petersburg’s night life.
Lobby Bar at Belmond Grand Hotel Europe
The following morning I am serenaded at the breakfast banquet in L’Europe Restaurant by an accomplished pianist (performing on the exact stage from where Elton John gave an impromptu concert when he stayed at the hotel). Behind the piano is an ornate floor-to-ceiling stained glass window depicting Apollo, the Greek god of the sun and patron of travellers and sailors. The carved wooden balconies and private alcoves with velvet curtains add to the historic ambience of the restaurant. I am made to feel like a well-known returning guest by the attentive staff fussing over my culinary requirements.
The hotel’s Caviar Bar and Restaurant includes an experience with the world’s first vodka sommelier and caviar master, Alexander Dmitriev. He explains how drinking vodka, without mixing with any other alcohol will stave off any hangover, if followed by an egg. Perfect timing to sample the hotel’s signature dish, a truffle-infused scrambled egg with caviar.
There are few cities in the world that incorporate such beauty, charm and elegance as St. Petersburg. This grand dame of a city was the capital of the Russian Empire for over 200 years until the Russian Revolution in 1917. Peter the Great built St. Petersburg from marshland in 1703, drawing inspiration from the canal cities of both Venice and Amsterdam.
Comprising 42 islands connected by almost 400 statue-adorned bridges, St. Petersburg is home to five million people. The city has retained its low-laying landscape, with its UNESCO-protected historical architectural masterpieces set around its many grand squares.
Exterior of the Winter Palace
I visit the State Hermitage Museum, which forms part of the Winter Palace, built for Peter the Great in 1764. With around 1000 gold leaf painted rooms and three million pieces of art, the opulence is as striking as the sheer size of the museum.
Interior of Winter Palace, St Petersburg
At the Russian museum I head to the display of some 6,000 icons from the 12th to the 17thcentury. The museum is home to the world’s largest collection of Russian art, including works by Chagall and Kandinsky. My suave guide, Sergey, brings each of the paintings to life with his exuberant historic narratives.
Inside the State Russian Museum, St Petersburg
For my final cultural indulgence in St. Petersburg, I take a cab to the Mariinksy Theatre to attend the Nutcracker ballet, written by Tchaikovsky. Ironically, he spent his honeymoon in very same hotel I am most fortunate to be staying in – the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe.
By Amanda Bernstein
Three-night stay including return airport transfers from Pulkovo International Airport to Belmond Grand Hotel Europe, Daily breakfast, Special Russian gift, Guided tour of theHermitage Museum, Two tickets to the opera or ballet at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, One guided palacetour: Peterhof, Pavlovsk or Pushkin, One set-menu dinner in L’Europe or Caviar Bar & Restaurant, Pricedfrom 28,640 RUB / £334 + VAT per night based on 2 people. Available till 31/03/2019. For more details and to book visit: Belmond.com