By Prof. Barry Goldsmith
Hotel Corinthia St. Petersburg
Nevsky Prospect 57,
St. Petersburg, Russia
T: +7 (812) 3802001
F: +7 (812) 3801937
St. Petersburg is arguably the world’s most beautifully planned city; one of the urban metropolis’ ranking up there with Paris, Vienna, Rome and Venice. Like Venice, it’s a city of canals… like Rome, it’s a city dominated by buildings in pastel colors brightening the grayest of winters.
St. Petersburg was Russia’s capital from 1712 until the Russian Revolution, when the capital was moved to Moscow in March 1918. The Russian Revolution was the worst thing for its inhabitants, but the best thing for its buildings; the center city was spared the stark wrath of Stalinist architecture. The night of the Russian Revolution, St. Petersburg’s premiere theater, the Mariinsky ballet, performed The Sleeping Beauty ballet. The imaginary royal court onstage fell asleep for 100 years. Peter the Great’s city fell asleep from 1918 to 1991, when Leningrad reverted back to its royal name, St. Petersburg.
I am fortunate to have visited St. Petersburg when it was still Soviet Leningrad. And I’m even luckier to have visited St. Petersburg every year for the last ten years -- leading press trips, leading commercial tours and even having filmed in St. Petersburg for international television. So I have seen, firsthand, the renaissance of this magnificent Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical and Art Nouveau living-outdoor museum.
After 2003 (the year St. Petersburg native Prime Minister Vladimir Putin poured billions into restoring St. Petersburg for that year’s G-8 summit), you wouldn’t recognize St. Petersburg, Nevsky Prospect (St. Petersburg’s Fifth Avenue) or even the Hotel Corinthia St. Petersburg. Most of the facades on Nevsky Prospect have been restored -- from the Admiralty past the Fontanka Canal’s Horseman bridge all the way to the Moscow Railroad Station. In 2004 a uniform granite sidewalk was added (like the Champs Elysees’ new sidewalk from the 1990’s) and now all the buildings flanking the Prospect (Avenue) are dramatically floodlit at night.
This change is reflected in the dramatic renovation of the Hotel Corinthia Nevsky, which is so new, that even the name has changed – it’s now the Hotel Corinthia St. Petersburg. In fact, it looks like a very different, more elegant and classic hotel. The minute you drive up, the uniformed doorman just doesn’t open your door, he actually assists your exit. You’ll find these personal touches everywhere.
Through the second set of doors, a surprise awaits – a dramatic, stunning two-story Art Deco lobby welcomes you. (This new lobby replaces the former glass-enclosed modern lobby.) At the opposite end of the lobby is the symmetrical grand staircase – the perfect grand entrance to any function -- from a Romanov wedding to your wedding.
The staircase is an Art Deco interpretation of Rastrelli’s Jordan Staircase in the Winter Palace – the section of the Hermitage that housed Romanov Czars.
But before you even get close to the staircase, you are welcomed at the check-in desk by a young woman in traditional Russian-peasant garb offering “bread and salt” – the ancient Russian welcoming rite. The lobby’s black marble floor is so highly polished and pristinely maintained that I could swear there were two welcoming women, until I realized that she was reflected in the floor’s mirror-like surface.
If you arrive in the late afternoon, you can have an Art Deco tea in the lobby that reminds me of the tea in London’s Dorchester Hotel. Because of Stalin’s dislike of Art Deco, the Corinthia St. Petersburg is the only Art Deco Hotel in St. Petersburg. Or as I like to call it, “St. Petersburg’s Waldorf=Astoria.”
The main entrance and main façade are right on Nevsky Prospect. Since the renovation, the façade is now symmetrical with the main, larger building in the center, flanked by two smaller wings. The hotel is now the city’s largest five-star hotel, with nearly 400 rooms.
The main façade dates from the 1850s and was designed in an Historicism style with elements of the Italian Renaissance. The façade’s lower section on the left is a reconstruction, but I dare anyone to tell the difference. The old, towering, main façade was cleaned to match the newer construction. The hotel blends in perfectly all the 19th -century structures on the block.
In fact, the hotel incorporates another 19th-century structure – an entire museum, which is accessible from the street at the rear façade or from the hotel’s interior – with direct access from the hotel’s second floor. (There are a few other hotels in the world that have museums – museums dedicated to the history of that hotel such as Raffles in Singapore, the Taj Mahal in Bombay and the Metropole in Moscow).. The Hotel Corinthia St. Petersburg’s museum is a major sightseeing attraction of St. Petersburg. The Hotel surrounds and contains one of St. Petersburg’s most famous historic-home museums, the Samoilov Memorial Museum, which ranks with other famous historic homes: Pushkin’s apartment, Nabakov’s home and Dostoevsky’s apartment (which is just around the corner).
The Samoilovs were the Barrymores and Redgraves of Czarist Russia. Vasily Samoilov was perhaps the most renowned actor at the Imperial Alexandrinsky Theater (a short walk on Nevsky Prospect from the hotel). His apartment is fully furnished with personal mementoes from 1869. The museum also features a section on ballet, with costumes from the original 1890 premier of The Sleeping Beauty at the Mariinsky Theater. There are also exhibits dedicated to Anna Pavlova, Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Baryshnikov and many other ballet and theater legends.
You’d never know that you’re staying at the largest deluxe business hotel in St. Petersburg, with the most extensive convention facilities. And, whether you’re there for business or tourism (or both), you have free internet access at the business center. I’ve been to over 100 countries (and even more deluxe hotels) and I’ve never seen a business center with a help-yourself-to-snacks complementary buffet.
It’s these little touches that make the Hotel Corinthia St. Petersburg even more memorable. If you arrive in St. Petersburg without a prearranged tour, don’t worry. The head concierge, Maria Golubeva, will arrange top guides and help open doors to some sites that don’t normally admit tourists.
I’m glad that the Hotel Corinthia St. Petersburg just added over 100 rooms last year so that you stand a better chance of becoming a guest at one of Russia’ most popular hotels. The rooms have every possible convenience – and they’re all accessible at your bedside with just the touch of a finger.
As for dining, there’s the Vienna Café for a quick bite – and Russia’s best apple strudel. For more formal dining, the Imperial Café, lives up to its name with a royal view of Nevsky Prospect. The variety of its multinational cuisine is amazing. At its buffet breakfast you can enjoy everything from bread pudding (the best I ever ate) to blini with sour cream and caviar. You’re treated like royalty. (that is, royalty before the Russian Revolution.)
The Hotel Corinthia St. Petersburg takes its clientele seriously, but not itself. Every bathroom comes complete with something that makes your visit even more memorable – a souvenir rubber ducky!
© March 2010 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.