It was the very center of the world. Like the hub around which the old ways turn, all roads in antiquity were designed to lead to and from St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Today, that promenade leads to the Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace as well. I stumbled upon that discovery on a recent visit to the City of the Czars. As the former capitol of Russia, the city twinkles with 5M residents and an influx of 5M tourists who come from around the world to peek behind the former Iron Curtain and into the city’s imperial past. The combined Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum is the single grandest museum complex in the world, and houses more than 3M items which annotates the expanse of 5000 years of human civilization. Indeed, the city founded by Peter the Great has transitioned from an empire to a soviet regime and on to the federal republic it is today. But nowhere in Russia’s illustrious past is that history distilled with more deference than by the Four Seasons nod to the Golden Rule. Founder and Chairman Isadore Sharp built his own empire around the “simple idea that if you treat people well—they will do the same.” While this golden thread of reciprocity is sewn through every religion throughout the Christian world, the Four Seasons and her mission now roar at the very center of the once averse east and western worlds.
The six-year renovation project resulted in 177 guest rooms including 26 suites each overlooking the Alexandraovsky Garden, Admiralty Building and St. Isaac’s Square. The 5th floor has personal terraces and sweeping cathedral views and each and every room is stocked with little touches compliments of L'Occitane, Hermès, and Bulgari. Even modern contrivances like the Illy espresso machine, iPod docking station and DVD player somehow compliment the high ceilings, luxurious marble bathrooms, and cathedral windows of yesteryear. But descending into the Four Season’s Ballroom, the largest in St. Petersburg, will veritably transport you there. Nearly 10,000 square feet of event space rivals the palaces of Nicholas II, who most certainly didn’t posses a 24-hour Business Center, high-tech boardrooms and video conferencing. Nor did he have a spa with 8 treatment rooms, a 24-hour Fitness Center, or a rooftop Relaxation Pool. Sunshine streams through a glass roof and into traditional Russian steam rooms wherein guests hover like mythological gods above a triangular-shaped courtyard.
With three St. Petersburg fine-dining venues, Four Seasons promises the city’s most fashionable restaurant destinations for drinks and exquisite dining in style, inviting international travellers to mingle with the local Russian elite. Yet where but the hotel’s clubby Xander Bar are you apt to sit amongst Dutch navel officers and share a cognac and cigar? Even Sintoho, the Asian-fusion cuisine inspired by Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Singapore draws guests and locals alike. Both Sushi Bar and Dining Room are supported by St. Petersburg's best and most expansive wine cellar. Seriously, did Nicholas II even have his own Teppanyaki Table? Perhaps not. But then again... This is the place where East meets West: a metaphorical crossroad where the best of both worlds are meticulously sewn together by a single, elegant thread of hospitality.
Founded in 1703 by royal decree on river-crossed marshland recently taken from the Swedes, St. Petersburg was a planned city from the start. Peter the Great intended it as Russia’s new European-facing capital: an all-season port that would be the envy of the modern world. The grand palaces and municipal buildings constructed in the first two centuries of the city’s existence reflect the architectural fashion of an imperial past, and those that came after the Russian Revolution were no less epic. But unlike Parisian boulevards or New York expressways, St. Petersburg retains its original DNA. The city is wonderful to explore by foot and by boat because its outdoor spaces—from public squares to building-lined canals—are among the most beautifully designed in Russia. Four Seasons Lion Palace represents whats best of that world—then and now.