If St. Petersburg is Russia’s showcase city then Peterhof Palace must be part of the reserve collection. This prized palace, estate and gardens sit inside the wooded shorelines of the Baltic Sea rendering solitude and singular opulence all at once. The property is a palatial estate constructed and realized under the same spirit of grandeur with which the city of St. Petersburg itself was conceived.
A visit to St. Petersburg would not be complete without a daytrip excursion to this palace by the sea. The Palace is easily reachable by the hydrofoil boats going to and fro from the center of St. Petersburg. Entrance to the grounds, gardens and most of the spectacles is free and the museum within the palace may be accessed for a reasonable fee. The parks and gardens are more than inviting and so if you enjoy a good picnic lunch this is certainly the place to have it.
The Peterhof Palace is just one of many in the St. Petersburg area. It reflects much like the city itself the creative vision of Peter the Great and the fantastical wealth of the Russian Tsar’s. It is a balancing of the scales to see the crowds that enjoy these properties today, when they were originally built for the exclusive pleasure and opulence of only a few. Peterhof possesses a graced charm of gold, stones, and many other precious ornaments arranged by man, but the location has a distinct loveliness and tranquility which comes from its own situation within nature itself. When I first found myself pulling in from the speedy hydrofoil ride I was stunned by the cool air coming off the Baltic Sea. Even in the heat of summer this deep sea provides a cooling effect far away from the sun baked streets and dust of the city. As I moved down the pier towards the pine tree lined shore I beheld a dazzling array of color. The trees and lawns seemed to glow almost a nuclear green, such was the vibrancy of life and color present in this place. The pier opens up just inside the treeline to a promenade of granite sidewalks with a canal running down the center of the clearing. The canal is nothing irregular here. In fact the city of St. Petersburg has so many canals and bridges one wonders how sturdy the city blocks of land really are.
The pillars of the earth are quite stable here thanks to the engineering and sheer impetus of the men who reclaimed this once swampy terrain. The canal continues right up to the Palace itself, but the 5 minute walk is anything but dull. Many statues and carvings grace the sidewalks while golden faced Bacchi pour out water into the canal from surrounding drainage. Finally the promenade opens up spaciously at the bottom of the hill upon which the palace is built. Here a massive series of fountains, probably the most iconic vestige of the entire property come into full view. The fountains form a series of cascading waterfalls over unique stones and the actual spouts are ornately shaped lead statues covered in gold. The statues represent figures from all sorts of mythology and the array is a museum in itself.
From here one approaches the main Grand Palace in the background. The palace is not large compared to others, but the fountains garden and the building itself resemble a take on Versailles. Indeed it was Peter the Great’s impression of Versailles that lead him to construct this edifice. The palace is more narrow than broad and although well furnished it is quite stark compared to other palaces in St. Petersburg such as Yusopov Palace. There is an extra entrance fee to enter but it is well worth it especially to see the ceremonial staircase of Rastrelli and the Ballroom which is almost entirely gilded. The wood finishings of Peter the Great’s study chamber are simple yet impressive. The palace is open Daily, from 10.30am to 5pm. It is closed Mondays and the last Tuesday of each month.
Exiting the palace one may explore gardens in virtually every direction. Don’t feel compelled to see them all since this would take a lot of time and effort. It’s better to enjoy what you find and take the leisurely pace that the property invites. To the right hand side when exiting the Palace on the side facing the sea one may explore the rose gardens and enjoy sumptuous cakes and teas at the established eatery which looks like it could have been the imperial doll house for the princesses. This is the area known as lower gardens. Then proceed along to the Garden of Venus with a dazzling array of flowers and sweet scents coming from the nearby orchards which are quite a sight in spring bloom. All the walkways sport hefty hedges and open areas are lightly wooded to provide shade and breeze during summer months.