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Luxury Explorer's Top6Trips - Festive City Breaks

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"Venice of the North"

Russian Tsar, Peter the Great, founded St. Petersburg in 1703. He was determined to bring a rather reluctant Russian nation into the folds of Europe. However, unlike many cities which grew and developed organically over time, this magnificent city was built by force and under constant scrutiny from its creator, who named the city after his Patron Saint. He elected world-class architects in its construction and not a stone was to be laid without being near perfect. The result today is, quite simply, dazzling. Its magnificence is almost haunting, for, after three centuries, it still bears the near perfected glow of its master's intent. The crystalline square, the pastel palaces, the museums, the golden spires and gilded domes, the candlelit cathedrals and some knowledge of its history, leaves one lost in an out-of-this-world tale.

One of the grandest hotels in the world:
So, a Christmas break here? We think so, and here's why: there is nowhere more appropriate, more luxurious and more sentimental to stay in the former U.S.S.R., than Russia's first five star grand luxe hotel, the Grand Hotel Europe. The building is classified as a national landmark and is perfectly situated off Nevsky prospect opposite the Grand Philharmonic Hall. It has welcomed some rather appreciative and well-known guests from Bill Clinton to Paul McCartney. Being one of the grandest hotels in the World, it leaves you wanting for nothing. However, if you want to point your little red satin toes outside then the following events and venues might just tempt you.

Indulgence:
For total decadence (and why not?) there is no better place to indulge in a platter of the world's finest caviar than at Zov llyiche www.zov.ru. Here waiters in provocative Lenin-style garb will serve and surprise while all around the lush décor in deep red and gold will give you a taste of something between soft porn and kitsch. Never underestimate the strength of a good Russian shot.

Amazing boutiques:
Now for shopping. It has many very original and actually quite formidable boutiques. Reminiscent of the western designers, but with a twist of Eastern Europe, these fashion houses are well worth visiting. For exclusive designer elegance, visit Defile Boutique tel 571 9010. For fashion with a bit of creature bling visit Fashion House Ivina Tantsurina, tel 32 59976 and for that must have ball gown for New Year's Eve visit Fashion House Tanya Kotegova tel 346 3467.

How to spend it Russian Style:
Speaking of Balls, here are two on New Year's Eve that will be, quite simply, awesome. Jacob and Wilhelm Grim (who wrote Cinderella in 1812) may even wish to elaborate their Ball depiction with ideas from these two grand events, although it's a little late perhaps.

The Tsar's Ball in Catherine Palace is classically orchestrated with strings and gowns, chandeliers and ballerinas, lavish menus and charming waiters, adorned with all the paraphernalia of by-gone days. There is waltzing and dancing, a string orchestra and fireworks in the park at midnight. Coaches will leave from and return to the Grand Hotel Europe.

The other New Year's party is held at the Palace of the Grand Duke. Here again, it is based on century old traditions and is as lavish as you could possibly expect in surroundings that will make you start believing you are playing a part in a Zhivago cum Merchant Ivory masterpiece. For tickets@rusplus.com

A taste of true culture:
If it is prior to New Year you wish to visit the Grand Europe Hotel and want to get a less commercial take on that festive spirit than in the west, then there is the spectacular "New Year Week" which runs from the 24th-31st of December 2005 at the Marinsky. Here you can ballet and opera with choices from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker to Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro. The 7th International Winter Festival is dedicated to Dimitri Shostakovich and runs from December the 28th 2005 at the magnificent Arts Square.

So, adorned by so much culture and beauty, you may want a bit of market, and St Petersburg has its "fayre" share. Beware though, take cash only and don't fall asleep in a vodka den. Visit the market Apriaskin Drov for the most desirable stocking fillers.

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The Grand Hotel Europe

The Grand Hotel Europe

The Grand Hotel Europe

Quite simply, dazzling.

The Grand Hotel Europe

Suite excess...

The Grand Hotel Europe

...and pure indulgence.

The Grand Hotel Europe

Ballet in the Grand Hotel Europe Ballroom.

The Grand Hotel Europe

The Mariinsky Theatre

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