Bathed in fairy tale colours of grandeur and luxury, immortalised by literature and revolution, Russia and its two most enthralling cities never fail to write a new chapter in any visitor’s life. Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the settings for Leo Tolstoy’s legendary (and lengthy) novel, War and Peace, rightly earn a place at the top of any New Years resolution list for 2016, offering not only a glimpse into one the most opulent and industrious histories of the world, but also immersion into a culture bursting with vigour and passion. With ornate, palatial landscapes, sprawling greenery and long tales to be told, Russia’s mystery and limitless wonder is reserved not just for the characters of a Leo Tolstoy novel, but anyone with a taste for adventure.
Moscow, perhaps best known as the site of the Kremlin and for Saint Basil’s cathedral, and its spiral ‘onion’ domes, has more than a few secrets to share. Red Square, home to Vladimir Lenin’s mausoleum, the Kremlin and its extensive armoury, and the State Historical Museum, originally earned its name, not for the colour of the local bricks nor its relevance to the Communist movement as is commonly believed, but instead from an old Russian word meaning “beautiful” – which, to stare in awe at the sheer magnificence of the great expanse that the ‘beautiful square’ covers, is no leap of the imagination. As the celebrated Moscow-born poet, Alexander Pushkin, wrote of his hometown, “Moscow… how many strains are fusing in that one sound, for Russian hearts! What store of riches it imparts!”
By river or by rail, the chance to travel on to Saint Petersburg is an unmissable opportunity to seek out the Russia of fable and legend. The younger contemporary to Moscow, St Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 and soon became the capital city, gathering engineers, architects and scientists from across Europe to create the Tsar’s vision of a truly modern city. With mighty palaces, museums and monuments, the regal pastels and golds that adorn Saint Petersburg’s every column and arch are the perfect contrast to Moscow’s striking tones, infusing the cityscape with a subtle and yet emboldened glamour. That War and Peace should open with a high society party happening inside of Saint Petersburg, filled with military and royal guests of the highest orders, feels only natural in this eternally blossoming, cosmopolitan city.
Like most fairy tales, there must be a moment of magic that changes the world – but Russia doesn’t just have a moment, it has most of June and early July. Known as the White Nights, Saint Petersburg enjoys near continuous daylight during this time, when ethereal blue skies in the dead of night are nothing short of awe-inspiring. This otherworldly phenomenon is celebrated with a festival of music and arts lasting throughout June, with events attracting over one million people from across the globe.
Russia has inspired centuries of artists, musicians and writers for a reason, building itself up high into the realms of majesty and igniting the imagination. Embattled, revolutionised, steeped in culture and academic fervour, the history and the life of Russia continues to fill the pages of great literature and inquisitive minds of the travellers who visit – will you be part of its next great epic?
Why not take a look at one of our holidays to Russia and experience the grandeur for yourself.