by Nichole Brown

Russia’s Old World charms carry a luxurious allure.

From melting beneath the breadth of lavish hospitality to chipping away at the archaic veneer of seemingly stone-faced soviets, the vibrant cities of moscow and st. petersburg are ripe with opportunities to show travelers the warmer, more luxurious side of russia.

It seems that only in this land of the tsars would it be possible for overstated golden domes towering above deeply historic squares to seem like a fitting backdrop for the rich lifestyles offered to locals and tourists alike. although this powerhouse of a federation boasts almost 17.1 million square kilometers, it only ranks ninth in the world for population compared to other countries, with most of the population residing in moscow and st. petersburg. it’s in this northwestern region that these two cities stand proudly as the stately epicenters for luxury goods across the country. each city offers a completely unique experience for visitors-Moscow displays a blend of old and new Russia while St. Petersburg exhibits that historic Russian opulence known throughout the country.

When it comes to extravagant travel choices, these two cities are only 800 kilometers apart and offer only the best, from world-class entertainment and indulgent dining to exceptional shopping experiences and regally suited bedrooms, and give visitors immense opportunities to get lost in this world full of decadent art, architecture, food and culture.

TSAR GAZING IN MOSCOW

Home to the largest community of billionaires in the world, Moscow is also known as the Capital City of Russia and acts as the heart for the country’s affluent society with hints of the past blended in to Russia’s vastly growing future. The city glistens with frosty jewels adorning everything from its wealthy residents to the vast metro system that claims to be one of the deepest underground systems in the world with intricate mosaics, frescoes and chandeliers.

Other dazzling sights to see in this grand city include gazing at the magnificent Fabergé Eggs in the Armoury Museum (www.kreml.ru/en/museums/armoury), walking through the stunning cathedrals in the Kremlin complex and at the St. Basil Cathedral (www.saintbasil.ru), and exploring the famous Red Square … where shoppers will delight in scouring the palatial stores at the GUM center (www.gum.ru), which is comprised of three arcades centered around a fountain beneath a gorgeous glass ceiling. For art buffs, Moscow is home to some of the most incredible art museums including the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts (www. arts-museum.ru), the Tretyakov Gallery (www.tretyakovgallery.ru), and the State Historical Museum of Russia (www.shm.ru).

Located just a few short blocks from the Kremlin and the Bolshoi Theatre (www. bolshoi.ru)-the opera and ballet mecca of Moscow-is one of the city’s most prestigious five-star boutique hotels, the historic Hotel Savoy (www.savoy.ru). This luxury hotel first opened its doors in 1913 and has welcomed guests ranging from Luciano Pavarotti and Cindy Crawford to Finnish ex-President Marti Ahti Saari and sculptor Ernst Neizvestny. Although on the smaller side, each guest room has been carefully renovated to reflect the allure of the area.

Another fabulous place to stay while in Moscow is the luxurious Hotel National (www.national.ru), a grand monument of a hotel that has stood through more than 100 years of Russian history and has played host to royal families, foreign diplomats, and tsarist administration. Along with more than 200 rooms, the hotel also houses one of the finest restaurants in the city, Restaurant Moskovsky. Not only does this restaurant serve exquisite twists on traditional and European cuisine (try the Boyar’s Shchi soup and the Siberian-style Pelmeny), but it offers one of the best views of the Kremlin and Red Square with a glamorous atmosphere full of live piano music and rich lighting.

For a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience, visitors should reserve a seat at Chef Anatoly Komm’s exclusive, 32-seat molecular gastronomy table Varvary (www. anatolykomm.ru). It’s here that Chef Komm breaks apart the traditional views of classic Russian dishes with a three-hour dining experience full of emulsifications and other texturally re-imagined dishes like a borscht served as slivers of crisp beets dotted with garlic ice cream. Travelers looking for a more authentic Russian aristocratic feast need look no further than Café Puschkin (www.cafe-pushkin.ru) where not only can diners enjoy a re-created historic atmosphere, but they will also get the chance to savor genuine Russian delicacies.

It’s no secret that Russians love their vodka, and one sip of legitimate Moscow made vodka will truly give travelers an authentic taste for the city. Whether it’s a sip of the exclusive Kauffman Vodka-that is the only vodka with vintage varieties-or a shot of Stoli Gold Vodka, one taste of this authentic Russian spirit will convert any armchair liquor enthusiast into an aficionado of these superior spirits.

Palatial St. Petersburg

Whether it’s meandering through the gilded halls of the Winter Palace or listening to the delicate breeze blow past while walking along the canals, St. Petersburg is a hauntingly beautiful city with a rich history lined in intrigue and romance. St. Petersburg holds hidden stories of the great Romanov family throughout facets of the city, including Peter the Great’s mysteriously modest cottage where this famous Tsar first took residence while constructing St. Petersburg and the picturesque squares where history seems to come to life with stories of class struggles with the royal family.

Other imperial icons include the Grand Palace at Peterhof where Rastrelli’s ceremonial staircase ornately ascends to a gorgeous fresco lined with gilded figures and the Catherine Palace where, although the palace is not open to the general public, guests of Exeter International (www.exeterinternational.com) tour operators can offer exclusive access to the actual workshops where master craftsman meticulously rebuild the famous Amber Room panels.

For art buffs, the Hermitage Museum (www.hermitagemuseum.org) is a must see where more than three million pieces of art make this the largest art collection in the world with numerous gardens and golden fountains throughout the grounds. The Russian Museum (www.rusmuseum. ru) offers visitors a great chance to view the more contemporary artwork of St. Petersburg while the Mariinsky (Kirov) Theatre (www.mariinsky.ru) provides audiences with iconic live performances in this spectacular building that dates back to 1783.

With a day spent exploring St. Peters-burg’s history, it would only be fitting to keep history on the menu with a reservation at the ever-so-exclusive restaurant 1913 (www. en.restaurant-1913.spb.ru), named after Russia’s best year [in the owner’s opinion]. It was that year that Russia made the decision to lean toward Europe as opposed to Asia, and this cozy yet regal location offers a seemingly effortless elegance with a pan-European flare for the cuisine. Although there’s not a poor dish on the menu, the restaurant excels at royal dishes like red caviar blinis, traditional borscht, and Siberian meat-stuffed dumplings.

Just a short kilometer away rests one of the most intimate boutique hotels in the city. With only 89 rooms to its name, the Taleon Imperial Hotel (www.taleonimperialhotel.com) is an authentic Tsarist-era palace with its own gourmet restaurant on site, a pool at the top of the hotel, and imperial opulence around every corner.

For a grander hotel experience, guests need look no further than the Grand Hotel Europe (www.grandhoteleurope.com). This luxury hotel and cultural landmark boasts five-star elegance in each of its 300 rooms and is renowned for its intricate architecture and impressive façade. The Grand Hotel Europe stands adjacent to Arts Square where hundreds of musical, theatrical, and dance performances take place each week. The hotel has played host to such famous guests as Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Anna Pavlova, Bill Clinton and even Queen Elizabeth II, who was said to have praised the hotel’s kitchen.