Did you grow up in a royal family? Do you have a 15-bedroom villa in the countryside? Do you have very puffy (and impractical) dresses that you actually wear? If you answered ‘yes’ to at least one of the above questions, then we have very different lives.
Even though I’m pretty happy with my life, I have to admit that sometimes I like to think about how it would have been if I had royal blood (and lived a few centuries ago). The imperial estates near Saint Petersburg are perfect for this kind of daydreaming. If you’re more down-to-earth, they are still worth the visit for the incredible architecture and gardens, as well as for their historical importance.
During my stay in Saint Petersburg I was able to visit the Peterhof Palace and the Catherine Palace. I can’t tell which one’s my favourite so I’ll talk about both. They have a very similar atmosphere and architecture, though they have their own specific characteristics that differentiate them greatly.
Peterhof Palace and Gardens
This suburban estate is commonly known as the “Russian Versailles” because of the incredible fountains in the lower garden. If you’ve been to Versailles you will notice the similarity but also the difference. When I visited it, however, the bigger fountains were not working as it was still winter, so if you are going there, make sure to check when they turn them on. I do suggest going there in the summer, but even without water running through them, they look amazing. The gilded sculptures reflect every bit of sunlight and give this grandiose impression and enchanted atmosphere.
To enjoy it even more, you should definitely walk through the gardens as it allows you to see the Gulf of Finland, cute squirrels and obviously all the different fountains.
The interiors of the palace are also worth visiting as they offer a glimpse into what the life of the imperial family was like at the time. I personally love seeing this as it is so different from everything I know in my own daily life, yet it was probably very mundane for them.
The Peterhof Palace was commissioned by Peter the Great, and his daughter Elizabeth ordered the expansion of the Grand Palace and the construction of the fountain system. Later, Catherine II decided to move the court to the Catherine Palace in Pushkin.
This palace, located in Pushkin, is named after Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great. It was originally modest but Peter’s daughter, again, decided that it needed more, because she wanted to use it as her main summer residence. She had it reconstructed several times, leading to its current grandeur. The blue and white façade with gilded ornaments is spectacular and reminded me of the Hermitage, also called the Winter Palace.
After a usually long line, you can access the interiors that are splendid. The Golden Enfilade designed by the Italian architect Rastrelli is very well-known, but the palace’s popularity comes from the Amber Room. Its walls are covered with a mosaic made out of different pieces of amber that have different colours. It is absolutely breathtaking and unlike anything I have seen before. What really struck me was the amount of work (and money) that this kind of room required, even more when you think that during the Second World War the Germans ravaged the palaces, and many rooms (Amber Room included) had to be rebuilt.
A walk through the gardens is also really appreciated, though these ones are a bit different than Peterhof’s, with the huge lake that gives it a very romantic vibe. When I went there, it was obvious that spring was fast approaching as everyone came there to enjoy the sun and the nature.
The location of these two palaces is very convenient as they are not too far away from Saint Petersburg. They are easy to access with different kinds of transport, but I went to both with a marshrutka, a mini-bus that seems to have the characteristic of not stopping until you yell at the driver when you need to get off. In Russian, obviously. Needless to say, I was very grateful to my guide that did all the yelling and explaining.
They both are worth a visit and I wouldn’t know which one to recommend more, though I definitely want to go back to Peterhof in the summer to see the fountains!
Have you visited one of these palaces? Which one would you prefer?
Other posts about Russia:– My top 5 things to do in Saint Petersburg
– Studying Russian in Russia for a month