The Grand has seen a great deal in its 130-year history. Not just the start of the Bolshevik Revolution, which began just round the corner, but George Bernard Shaw dining with Maxim Gorky, and the composer Tchaikovsky contemplating suicide on his disastrous honeymoon.
Over the years, writers such as Turgenev, Dostoevsky and HG Wells have boarded here, as well as a raft of composers from Johann Strauss II and Debussy to Igor Stravinsky and Elton John. The Grand is also the hotel of choice for visiting politicians.
So famous is The Grand, in fact, that it featured in the 1995 James Bond movie GoldenEye, though a “stand-in” was used for the exteriors; according to the cast list, the part of The Grand was played by the Langham Hotel in London.
Conspicuous consumption is the keynote of the hotel today. This is an expensive venue in an expensive city but many will say it's also the best.
Track it down
Positioned on the intersection of Nevsky Prospekt, St Petersburg’s most splendid avenue, and Mikhailovskaya Street, the former Hotel Evropeiskaya is in the centre of the artistic district of St Petersburg and within walking distance of both the Russian Museum and Mussorgsky Theatre.
Transfer time to the hotel takes approx 45 minutes from Pulkovo-2, St Petersburg’s International airport and a taxi can cost as little as Rbs700 (£15) to Rbs1,500 (£32), depending on traffic. Hotel transfers from the airport can be arranged in one of a fleet of BMW limousines. These beautiful beasts are upholstered in natural leather and wood and are fitted with seat warmers. But you’ll have to budget Rbs3,000 (£64) per journey.
The marble-and-gilt décor and sweeping staircases of the lobby were installed by Friedrich Lidval and Leon Benois, the Russian-born grandfather of Peter Ustinov. Just before the First World War these two men imposed the new Franco-Belgian style “Art Nouveau” on the hotel.
Reception staff speak Russian, English, French, Italian and German. The hotel also offers “Speedy VIP” check-in at its own discretion. Fortunate guests are met and led to the guest relation desk. Here drinks and canapés are offered while the check-in is completed and priority is given to luggage. There is also a “Special Guest Check-in” which is carried out in the guest’s room.
Room to manoeuvre
There are 301 rooms, all conspicuously plumped with cushions and scattered with elegant reproduction furniture. Even the most basic Classic Rooms feature an entrance hall, marble tiles with underfloor heating and a seating area in the bedroom.
Terrace Rooms are located on the fifth floor and, as you might expect, enjoy terraces overlooking the city. The best are these that face Arts Square and the Church of the Spilt Blood.
Moving up the price list, Duplex Rooms are decorated with modern Russian paintings and have a bedroom upstairs with lounge and working area below. There are three kinds of suite; “Belle Chambre” Junior Suites, which deliberately recall the hotel’s 19th-century origins, plus Classic Suites and Executive Suites, both of which feature lounges and extra washrooms or bathrooms. Top of the range are the two Presidential Suites, which are big enough for meetings, or the occasional international summit.
Soaps, body lotion, shampoo, conditioner and shower gel are by Molton Brown with additional amenities by Bulgari and Lady Primrose.
High-speed internet connection is available in all guest rooms, conference and public areas. Rates are per Rbs350 (£7.50) per hour, Rbs960 (£20) per 24 hours and Rbs2,400 (£51) per 72 hours.
There is a Business Centre on the ground floor near the hotel reception, which can provide secretarial assistance, interpreters and translators at a rate of Rbs850 (£18) per hour. It also offers a private meeting room, which can double as a temporary office. Postal and courier services can be arranged and there are the usual fax and internet connections costed at Rbs5 (10p per minute).
There are numerous rooms for meetings and conferences, including the spacious Kryscha Ballroom on the hotel’s top floor, the Kryscha Terrace and the Lidval Room. The Billiard Room and Museum Room are both ideal for private dining. The three Tchaikovsky Rooms will combine to make a large conference room, while the Gorky Room is good for formal receptions.
The Planet Health Club is on the Mezzanine Café level and offers all the standard cardiovascular exercise machines plus a sauna and plunge pool. Open weekdays, 7am to 10pm, weekends and holidays, 9am to 9pm.
Raid the minibar
From Russian beer at Rbs180 (£3.85) to Romanov Classic Champagne at Rbs2,800 (£60) this is a well-stocked bar. A half-bottle of red wine costs Rbs1,600 (£34) and white Rbs1,800 (£38). Imperial Vodka and Bombay Sapphire Gin miniatures both check in at Rbs400 (£8.50). Use of the corkscrew Rbs500 (£10.50). You picked a very good week to give up alcohol!
Prices are cheaper in the bar downstairs, with a shot of vodka costing as little as Rbs125 (£2.70), but it can quickly climb to Rbs1,500 (£32) per measure depending on the vodka.
Breakfast is served from 7am to 10.30am in L’Europe Restaurant on the Mezzanine. Go for the buffet which is pretty extensive and caters for most needs at Rbs1,200 (£26). Continental Breakfast is also available at Rbs900 (£19). Breakfast in your room can be ordered from the room service menu.
The hotel now has five restaurants and two cafés. L’Europe specialises in French and European cuisine in Art Nouveau surroundings and is recognised as one of the best restaurants in St Petersburg. Rossi’s Restaurant offers Italian fare in more relaxed surroundings. Next door, Chopsticks provides Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine. The Caviar Bar and Restaurant is another Art Nouveau setting, this time offering Russian food and vodka. The Mezzanine Café is the ideal spot to enjoy fresh breakfast pastries in the morning, traditional afternoon tea and light snacks all day long. The hotel’s other café and restaurant are in the nearby Philharmonic building. The hotel’s Lobby Bar provides live jazz and blues in the evening .
A Classic Standard Room starts from Rbs12,000 (£255) per night room only. Junior Suites start at Rbs18,900 (£400) and Presidential at Rbs66,100 (£1,400) per night.
Grand Hotel Europe, Nevsky Prospekt Mikhailovskaya Ulitsa 1/7 St Petersburg, Russia (00 7 812 329 6000; grand-hotel-europe.com).