Russia is in the throes of the coldest winter in a long while, and that, by any standard, is cold. Across Moscow, locals scuttle from A to B avoiding the huge phallic icicles which jut into the street from the spouts of drainpipes. At the doors to the metro, babushkas in headcarves and battered furs hunch against the bitter wind, begging for pennies. And, all the while, just a few paces away, Russia's super-rich are proving their impunity to these testing conditions.
Day and night, chauffeur-driven Hummers deposit the capital's élite – dressed in little more than fine Italian suits and shiny mini-skirts – at the doors of the blingest hotspots in town. Breezing past bouncers who keep out the riff-raff with a strict "face-control" policy, once inside they routinely blow hundreds if not thousands of pounds on vintage champagne and tiny sushi canapés, without so much as a blink. And this trend for lavish spending is catching on, as the international-jetsetting crowd touch down in Russia's glitziest city.
If evidence were needed that times have changed here for the globe-trotting holiday-maker, just head to the Ritz-Carlton on one of the city's main strips. From 1970 to 2002, 3 Tverskaya was the site of the old Soviet landmark, the Intourist hotel – a vast grey carbuncle where travellers, drawn by the music, the ballet, the paintings, and the complex political history of this land, were met with temperamental heating units, bugged phones and notoriously po-faced staff. Today, following a $350m renovation, the same spot is home to an altogether more discerning crowd. Beyond the revolving doors, they recline in the lavish gold-plated foyer, reclining in thrones, swigging 1964 Château Petrus for the princely sum of $6,800 (£4,200) a bottle, or paying a more kingly $35,000 for a bottle of 1907 Heidsieck & Co Monopole Champagne. If you, too, want to kick back with the It-Crowd, a night's stay here will set you back from $1,000 to $16,000. But in return, you can expect more gadgets, remotes and general stuff in your private suite than you could possibly know what to do with. If – like Barack Obama, a recent guest – you fancy the Presidential Suite, you can expect bullet-proof windows and a steel-lined panic room overlooking the Kremlin, too.
But how to pass the time, when you're not enjoying room service in front of your LCD? By day, the super-tourist heads not to the Russian-doll stalls outside Lenin's tomb, but to the chandelier-bedecked halls of the Gum shopping mall, to pick out their souvenirs. The savvy art enthusiast sniffs in the face of the famed Russian Academy of Arts – and peruses instead the pricey wall-candy at Garage, the trendy gallery belonging to Dacha Zhukova, the wife of Roman Abramovich.
Finally, one can hardly do Moscow without the "authentic Russian experience". So, put any thought of a morning vodka at one of the supposed KGB haunts around Pushkin Square firmly out of your pretty head, and opt instead for the super-swish 02 Lounge overlooking St Basil's, where the seats are made of crushed metal and vodka is doled out from an ice-bar – with an adjoining Audi showroom – on the roof. Once suitably refreshed, bypass the Bolshoi, long considered the epicentre of Moscow night-life. For the modern thrill-seeker points his ride towards one of the bars which from early evening until the wee hours come alive with pop-techno beats and Lycra-clad, plasticated ladies of the night. After that, you'll be glad to retreat to your room, where, for a mere £125, a "bath butler" will pop special herbs into your sunken marble tub and leave you to lay back with a cognac and cigar. Isn't life grand?
Visit ritzcarlton.com or phone 007 495 225 8888
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