The city of St. Petersburg prides itself on its position as the cultural capital of Russia.
While Moscow to the south is brash, wealthy and the seat of political power, its northern cousin presents itself as the more sophisticated, refined alternative.
It has every right to.
Visiting this year for the World Travel Awards Europe Gala Ceremony, I was delighted to discover a city at once comfortable with its momentous past and alive with confidence for the future.
The city was the back drop the Bolshevik revolution, one of the most momentous events in human history, a century ago this month, but is now a very different place.
From the Peter and Paul Cathedral, the final resting place of the last Tsar of Russia, to the Kazan Cathedral and Winter Palace, St. Petersburg offers historic attractions to rival any city in the world.
Many of these main sights are located in close proximity to each other, and are never more than a short walk away.
A city made of hundreds of islands, a great way to explore is by canal, with boats meandering slowly along the central Neva River before darting off down smaller tributaries.
But this is no museum, as Paris is often accused of being.
St. Petersburg is also alive with opportunity, from the hundreds of world-class shops that line the Nevsky Prospect, to the buzzing bars and contemporary art galleries in the surrounding side streets, there is always something new to see.
Stroll along the river at night, with the palaces all alight, and it is easy to argue the city is one of the most beautiful in the world.
There is a still a real decorum, too, in the public spaces.
There is an unspoken commitment to aesthetic beauty, at the expense of grubby commercialism, meaning every available surface is not covered in advertising as it would be in New York or London.
To a certain extent, St. Petersburg is also that holy grail of international tourism, undiscovered.
While it attracted a not insignificant seven million travellers last year, many were domestic visitors or from the surrounding former Soviet republics.
For western European visitors it remains a somewhat high-end market, attractive to older generations, but it is waiting to be discovered by younger travellers with an eye for cultural currency and a taste for the new.
The lobby at the Corinthia Hotel St. Petersburg
Corinthia Hotel St. Petersburg in many ways captures the essence of the city.
Located in the heart of the famous Nevsky Prospect and surrounded by buildings, monuments and anecdotes of historical significance, it is itself new, fresh and contemporary.
Having opened 15 years ago, it is currently undergoing a major refurbishment, with some 162 newly-designed rooms set to open in the coming months.
As it exists today, the property combines three buildings – two on Nevsky Prospect and one on Stremyannaya Street.
This must make it one of the most exclusive terrace houses anywhere in the world!
The oldest of the three was constructed by architect Martin Liven in 1834 and is historically renowned as the residence of the Samoilov Family, a famous Russian theatre dynasty, who lived on the second floor of the building from 1869 to 1887.
The main building, at 57 Nevsky Prospect, housed the Hotel Hermes from 1920 to 1957, which later ran as the Baltiiskaya Hotel from 1958 to 1989.
In 1993, Russia’s first international hospitality deal saw the opening of the Nevsky Palace Hotel, with the two buildings on Nevsky prospect and Stremyannaya Street connected via a glass dome.
In 2002, the hotel was bought by the Maltese group Corinthia Hotels, which invested a further €100 million towards the refurbishment of the original building.
Today, Corinthia St. Petersburg has established itself as one of the leading five-star hotels in this cultural and cosmopolitan city, for both business and leisure travellers.
Indeed it was voted Russia’s Leading Conference Hotel for the fifth time earlier this year.
Arriving midweek on a colder autumn day, the property is a haven from the world outside.
The lobby is warm and inviting, a living space unlike the dull, functional receptions included in many new hotels.
The rooms are spacious, modern and have a sumptuous feel about them.
On offer are the now obligatory espresso machines, huge television, pillow menu, and super-fast Wi-Fi, while invited guests can also make use of the only five-star executive lounge in the city.
Downstairs on the lobby level, Café Vienna welcomes residents to one of the most celebrated coffeehouses in St. Petersburg.
The hotel chefs create a tempting collection of sensational cakes and desserts daily, while an extensive selection of savoury snacks, as well as lunch and dinner, are available.
On the second floor, the Imperial Restaurant is recognised as one of St Petersburg’s finest establishments.
For a truly unique dining experience, guests can enjoy Mediterranean dishes with a hint of Sicilian flavour among a stylish, bright, and spacious setting overlooking the Nevsky Prospect.
As a brand, Corinthia has for a long time been associated with MICE tourism, particularly with its properties in Prague and Lisbon.
More recently the company has sought to move into a more luxurious bracket, particularly with its flagship hotel in London.
But this does not mean sacrificing its roots.
The event spaces at the Corinthia St. Petersburg exude luxury, and create a stylish platform for any gathering.
With a 1,000-guest capacity, the hotel boasts the largest five-star conference and meeting facility in the city and an additional 17 meeting rooms.
From mouth-watering catering to state-of-the-art connectivity, handsome boardrooms to historic ballrooms, the elegant spaces and specialist staff at the Corinthia Hotel St. Petersburg will make any event unforgettable.
This is a brand on a journey, evolving all the time, much like the city it calls home.
Located at the heart of Nevsky Prospect, the city’s main thoroughfare, Corinthia St. Petersburg houses 388 elegant rooms and suites, including 95 executive rooms.
It is a 21st-century grand hotel located in the heart of the city, created with a passion for craftsmanship and an understanding of authentic, world-class service.
Corinthia St. Petersburg was acquired by Corinthia Hotels in 2002 and underwent a huge renovation and expansion in 2009.
Find out more on the official website.