Cox & Kings’ Neil Davis travelled to Moscow and St Petersburg in April. Here, he discusses some of the joys of travelling beyond the former Iron Curtain on one of Cox & Kings’ Russia Tours.
I was lucky enough to have travelled to both Moscow and St Petersburg before on a low budget holiday, back in September 2006. Returning six years later with Cox & Kings as part of a luxury tour group would be a very different experience, and I was keen to see what extra comforts and benefits this would provide me with.
My previous flights to and from Russia had been in Economy Class with Alitalia via Rome both ways; so I was delighted to discover that I had been reserved Club Class on direct flights with British Airways this time round. Our travel out to Moscow was in the newly introduced Club World service, meaning that I was greeted with a separate check-in desk at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and then had access to their beautiful private business lounge, making the early morning start a breeze. Once on board, I made full use of my flat-bed by catching up on some sleep. The three-hour flight flew by and, given the luxury of Club World, I think I would have been happy for the flight to have been another couple of hours longer.
Your hotel is, of course, always a key factor to any holiday. With the Moscow traffic being some of the worst I have ever seen, it is a huge bonus to be within walking distance of the main sights. Being stuck way outside the ‘Garden Ring’ as I was in 2006 may have been economical, but it was also frustrating. Luckily for me, this time I was staying at the 5-star Moscow Marriott Grand Hotel, which is located within strolling distance of Red Square and the Kremlin. From here, exploration was straight forward, and the comforts of a hearty breakfast, a very pleasant hotel bar for an evening drink and a sinking bed were all very well appreciated.
In St Petersburg, I was fortunate to be staying at the Renaissance Baltic Hotel, where once again the location, situated barely a five-minute walk from stunning St Isaac’s Cathedral, proved to be a key factor in the enjoyment of my trip. My well-sized room provided a great base to discover this most beautiful looking of cities, with many of the highlights such as the Hermitage and Nevsky Prospekt an easy walk away.
Train journey from Moscow to St Petersburg
Wow. Again, what a difference six years can make to a train journey. My memories of this journey from my previous trip were of trying desperately (and mainly failing) to get some sleep as my 12-hour overnight train jolted to a stop and then shunted off again at just about every tiny little town in between these two great cities. This memory has now been replaced by that of a superbly comfortable and efficient modern express train, which effortlessly bypasses snowy forests and completes the journey in under four and a half hours, having made just three or four very brief stops en route.
I thought that travelling in April would prove to be too early in the year to really enjoy the best of Russia, but despite the odd downpour, it was pleasant. Moscow even presented itself in blue sky and sunshine for a day, with a high of about 16C. There was still some snow around in places, but arriving into St Petersburg at 9pm and finding daylight was delightful. St Petersburg actually benefits from almost 24 hours of sunlight during the White Nights season that runs between mid-May and mid-June, which is a fantastic time to visit.
Top Tips – Moscow
- Where to stay – The Ritz Carlton for its incredible location overlooking Red Square.
- Where to eat – Les Menu’s at The Lotte Hotel is Moscow’s only 3-star Michelin restaurant.
- Where to visit – If you are looking for something different, then travel a short way out of the city to experience a working space centre at Star City.
Top Tips – St Petersburg
- Where to stay – Soak up the atmosphere and history at The Astoria.
- Where to eat – Experience the unique surroundings of the art deco L’Europe restaurant at The Grand Hotel Europe, booking ahead for the Friday evening Tchaikovsky Nights, which features a top Ballet show.
- Where to visit – Spend a day looking at the spell-binding collection of arts and artefacts at the Hermitage Museum
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