While St. Petersburg garners most of the glory as Russia’s cultural heart, Moscow is proving to have charms of its own. The city, which was once geared toward business travelers, has since reinvented itself with a host of city festivals, developed under the unified Moscow Seasons concept. The Russian capital is now focused on promoting event, cultural and educational tourism. Scheduled throughout the year, the festivals feature a variety of themes timed to correspond to seasons. In October, visitors can experience the Golden Autumn Festival, which shares with them the many cuisines of Russia’s regions, and in December, the Journey to Christmas, Europe’s largest Christmas festival, captures the magic of Moscow with ice slides, carousels, ice ballets, spectacular light installments and traditional winter activities. There for Moscow City Day, which honors the city’s founding with street performances, concerts, exhibitions, free cultural events, fireworks and more, we were able to participate in the festivities and discover all this vibrant city has to offer.
With the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow as our home base, we were within easy walking distance of Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin and the famed Bolshoi Theatre. Also close by was the historic Hotel Metropole, which has become a must-visit destination by many thanks to its role in the best-seller, A Gentleman in Moscow. Other nearby hotels included the Four Seasons Hotel Moscow, which is just steps from the Kremlin and Red Square, and The Ritz-Carlton, Moscow, home to a lavish spa carrying ESPA and La Prairie products. On the horizon is the debut of Corinthia Hotels, a 54-suite hotel slated to open in 2021.
After participating in the festivities of Moscow City Day and ziplining over Tverskaya, Moscow’s main avenue, we visited VDNH, the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy. This exhibition center and park, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary, features a host of pavilions, many dedicated to republics of the former Soviet Union, as well as elaborate fountains, a cosmonautics museum, a space shuttle and more. It provides a fascinating look at the country’s accomplishments throughout the years.
Featuring centuries-old history, Moscow is a city that pays tribute to its artists, writers and poets. One who takes center stage is Alexander Pushkin, considered Russia’s most famous poet. The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, which bears his name, is just one example of the city’s rich cultural offerings. On our visit, the museum was featuring Schukin: Biography of a Collection, which includes masterpieces by Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso.
We also visited the legendary Pushkin Café, founded by restaurateur and artist Andrey Dellos in a Baroque mansion on Tverskoy Boulevard, which played a role in the namesake poet’s life. The antique-filled dining room provides a taste of both Russian history and cuisine. We dined on Russian salad, blinchiki (Russian pancakes) with black caviar, and a host of decadent desserts. The restaurant scene in Moscow owes much to Dellos, who founded Maison Dellos, a popular restaurant group. We were fortunate to dine at several other Maison Dellos standouts, including the lavish Turandot, set in a mansion that took several hundred artists, sculptors and artisans more than six years to restore. Inspired by the Chinoiserie aesthetic, the opulent restaurant specializes in Pan-Asian and European cuisine. Our favorite meal, however, was served at Kazbek, which was inspired by Dellos’s childhood memories of holidays spent in Georgia. Designed to resemble a typical Georgian home with framed family photos on the walls, the restaurant dishes up authentic Georgian cuisine, with favorites such as khachapuri, a traditional cheese-filled bread, and pkhali, a popular dish made of herbs, spinach and walnuts.
For those who don’t want to miss out on seeing St. Petersburg, it’s easy to fit in a one-day visit. We took an early morning express train, which got us there by noon, and returned to Moscow that evening on an overnight sleeper train, booked by Rail Ninja. In both cities, we enjoyed tours by Firebird Tours before returning home with a new perspective on Russia and its captivating cities.