A trip to St Petersburg is a magical experience, especially during the snowy winter season. With so much history and culture on your doorstep, there’s an amazing amount to see and do, from live Russian ballet to tours of grand imperial palaces. The best way to see the city like a local is to get an insider’s guide to St Petersburg from a lifelong resident. Lidia Leontyeva, Director of Guest Relations at Hotel Astoria, takes us on a journey through her hometown, from the city’s most fascinating secret spots to the best of Russian hospitality.
You were born and raised in St Petersburg and never left. What do you love most about the city?
“St Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world – even some guests from Paris say that it’s even more beautiful than Paris. There are also a great number of places of interest, from museums and theatres to palaces. It’s impossible not to fall in love with the city.”
Where are your favourite places in St Petersburg?
“My favourite places are where I live, Fontanka River, and the very beautiful Anichkov Bridge with its sculptures of horses. I’m so lucky because I live not far from Hotel Astoria in a very beautiful place near Mikhailovsky Castle, which was once a residence of our Russian Tsars. I also like the Summer Garden, where Russian poet Alexander Pushkin sat and wrote his famous poems.”
Are there any secret spots that you’d recommend visitors see?
“The city has many connections with Russian literature. For instance, our famous writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky lived in St Petersburg for many years – visitors can explore the museum apartment dedicated to him. Other famous writers like Nikolai Gogol also lived not far from the hotel. We do special excursions about poetic places connected with famous writers which are very interesting.”
Why is winter such a magical time to visit St Petersburg?
“Summer is beautiful but when it snows, the city is even more so. Our royal family traditionally used to spend only the winter in St Petersburg because they thought the city was more beautiful when covered in a sheet of white. During winter, I recommend guests visit the stunning palaces at Pavlovsk – the former residences of our royal family – and enjoy a Russian troika (horse-drawn sled) ride. The winter season also attracts a great number of exhibitions and the city centre is nicely decorated with illuminations for Christmas and New Year – it’s like a winter wonderland.”
You have worked at Hotel Astoria for 27 years. What is your favourite thing about working in hospitality?
“My favourite thing is the people. My wish is for guests to feel at home when they come here. Whether they’re travelling for business or leisure I want them to experience another world of Russian hospitality. I also love the hotel. When I started working for Hotel Astoria it was one of the best hotels in the city – it became like my home.”
What makes Hotel Astoria stand out above other hotels?
“Hotel Astoria has a nice connection with St Petersburg because it is one of the oldest hotels in the city. It’s also located right in the centre. All of the most famous places of interest, like the State Hermitage Museum and the Russian Museum, are within walking distance of the hotel. There are also fantastic views and a nice ambience – our guests say that since the hotel opened in 1912 we’ve managed to maintain the same atmosphere of previous centuries.”
Please tell us about the connection Hotel Astoria has with Russian ballet.
“Historically, we have a good connection with the famous Mariinsky Theatre, which is just over the road. Russian ballet is famous and there are new shows practically every year. Also, for the past 12 years we’ve organised the International Ballet Festival at the beginning of spring. All of the star dancers stay at Hotel Astoria and people from around the world come to visit. It’s fantastic. Another opportunity we give our guests is to visit the Vaganova Dance Academy, which has been open for 200 years, to see the dance lessons being undertaken by young girls and boys.”
What is it about Hotel Astoria that keeps guests coming back time and time again?
“We have a great number of guests who come again and again, even up to 1,000 times. They love the hotel, the history and the service. For many people, the hotel is part of their heart.”
Visit Hotel Astoria to meet Lidia in person and experience true Russian hospitality. Guests can experience special offers throughout the magical winter season.