Story and Photography by Barbara Penny Angelakis
The Sokos Hotels Palace Bridge
V.O. Birzhevoy Pereulok, 4
199004, St Petersburg, Russia
Close to the embankment of the Neva River on fashionable Vasilievsky Island is the Sokos Hotel Palace Bridge. While Sokos Hotels are hardly a household name in the U.S. they are well known abroad and in fact, Sokos is the largest hotel chain in Finland with 50 hotels throughout Finland, Tallinn (Estonia), and St Petersburg. It is said that location is everything... and in this case the location of this hotel is within easy walking distance to many outstanding sights in the stunning city of St Petersburg. Sights such as Pushkin’s House, the Menshikov Palace, and across the Dvortsovyy Bridge, the famous aqua and white colored Winter Palace/ Hermitage Museum, the Alexander Column in the Palace Square, or the fabulous St. Isaacs Museum/Church with its gold dome that took over 200 pounds of 24K gold to cover. A bit further and you are on the main shopping street, Nevskij Prospekt, and a spectacular view of the Saviour on the Blood Church with its famous decorated onion-dome headdress.
And while the location of the hotel is good for the wonderful walking city St Petersburg is, the warmth and ambiance of the hotel really feels like a home away from home. On arrival we were treated to a traditional bread and salt greeting offered by a lovely young lady, complete with musicians, all dressed in traditional costumes. The bread is beautifully decorated and so appealingly offered that someone grabbed a huge chunk before I had time to focus my camera.
The lobby is more like a living room then a formal space, with comfortable couches in well designed groupings for private conversation, or to host a few friends for drinks and laughs. Of course there is a bar but this is so much more intimate and comfortable, and service is prompt. Past the reception are the elevators that will whisk you to anyone of the 241 standard rooms, 56 superior rooms, 20 suites, or 7 executive suites, ranging from one to three bedroom apartments, all handsomely designed and furnished. My suite had a roomy living/dining room with a fully equipped kitchen, a large comfortable bedroom, and a bathroom with round Jacuzzi, and separate enclosures for commode and shower. Perhaps the hotel felt so homey because many guests enjoy extended stays and to accommodate those longer stays, there is a much appreciated ATM machine and a laundry in the lower level. Of course all rooms are air conditioned, have free wireless Internet, satellite TV, ironing facilities, and a room safe.
For business travelers there are meeting and conference facilities, and anti-stress spa treatments. For family travelers there is a swimming pool and a bowling alley with trained aids available to assist children. Plus, from Wednesday to Sunday from 11am to 8 pm children can play games, watch cartoons, or draw, all under the watchful eye of a professional nanny. A special menu for children is offered in the play room but also in all the other restaurants at the hotel. And speaking of restaurants, there is Sevilla serving dishes from sunny Spain, and Portofino featuring seafood dishes from Italy’s coastal regions. And for my special dining experience, read my review in (see Restaurant Notes). Breakfast is a bountiful meal with appetizing offerings from cold cereals to dinner entrees and everything in between. Don’t pass up the oatmeal. I think of oatmeal as a cold weather comfort food but at Sokos it is a gourmet treat… however they do it, it is a dish truly fit for a Czar. I encouraged everyone around me to dip into the pot and they all thanked me for it.
The most outstanding design feature of the hotel is the old brick building it is built around. The building dates back to 1824 when a soon-to-be prosperous merchant family by the name of Eliseev built a soaring arched brick building to house their growing wine trade. They became well known throughout Europe, winning many awards of excellence, and were honored by the Czar himself for their expertise in wine. In fact the Czar’s own supply of Champaign was housed in the arched cellar area where private dinners are now served.
The other outstanding feature of the hotel is the spa, it is unlike any other. It is housed in a three-story complex that maintains separate pools for children and adults. The main pool is designed in the style of an Ancient roman bath and there are hydro-massage pools and numerous types of showers. The spa offers beauty and massage treatment rooms and has an extensive list of body and facial treatments. There is a beauty salon, a tanning salon and a fully equipped gym. But what really sets it apart is the eight different types of saunas available, including the Aqua Zone which is under a glass cupola…brrrr.
From St Petersburg I took the St. Peter Line overnight cruise/ferry to Helsinki, where
I stayed at the historic Sokos Hotel Torni, right in the center of the city. It’s a charming hotel, one of the oldest in Helsinki. The hotel was the center of political intrigue throughout the Second World War, and through the years of the cold war it played a pivotal role as the home of the Russian delegation of the Allied Control Commission. Since then it has undergone many renovations, always keeping in mind the original style of the hotel. Rooms in the old wing are chintz homey while the new wing has ultra-modern glass enclosed bathrooms. Sokos Hotel Torni is also home to one of the best restaurants in Helsinki. www.ravintolatorni.fi
St. Peter Line offers overnight ferry service to St Petersburg from Stockholm or Helsinki, for a maximum 72 hour stay without requiring a visa, a saving of time and money. Options include taking the St. Peter Line back to either city. St. Peter Line can also provide hotel reservations; excellent English speaking guides, a necessity for negotiating Petersburg’s highlights on a three-day visit; VIP entrance tickets; ballet and opera tickets; and restaurant reservations. www.stpeterline.com
© December 2011 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.