Discover the splendour and energy of Moscow & St Petersburg against the snow-blanketed landscapes of Russia’s romantic Christmas season. An astonishing wave of artistic experimentation broke across the Russian Empire at the dawn of the 20th century. Touching all branches of the applied and fine arts (from Fabergé’s Easter eggs and Diaghilev’s ballets russes to painting, literature, and music), this daring renaissance culminated on the brink of the Great War in the show-stopping names of the Russian avant-garde: Kandinsky, Malevich, Chagall, Goncharova. Cut short by the 1917 Revolution, Russia’s Silver Age left behind a dazzling legacy that still compels and entrances today.
Seven nights in one of the Russia’s most iconic Silver-Age hotels: the 1903 Moscow Metropol
Stunning art and architecture, from art nouveau to the avant-garde
Glide across the frozen park of one of the Tsar’s palaces in a troika
Performances by two great ballet companies, the Bolshoi and Mariinsky (with exclusive use in St Petersburg of the Imperial Box)
The restored art-nouveau interiors of the Alexander Palace, home of Russia’s last Tsar, Nicholas II
The interaction of snow, fairy lights, and onion domes of Russian Orthodox Christmas in Moscow’s Red Square
Days 1–7: Moscow. Discover the wealth, style and energy of Russia’s modern capital, with visits to the Old and New Tretyakov Museums, Roerich and Garage Museums, and Gorky’s House. Soak up Russian Orthodox Christmas in Red Square and the sight of the Kremlin under snow. Enjoy Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker at the Bolshoi.
Day 8: Fast train to St Petersburg.
Days 9–14: St Petersburg. Immerse yourself in the city of the Tsars, with its wealth of world-class museums, from the Hermitage and General Staff to the Russian and Fabergé Museums. Explore the glittering Catherine and Alexander Palaces, and glide across the snow-blanketed park by sleigh. At the Mariinsky, take a seat in the Imperial Box.
The tour begins at our hotel in Moscow and ends at our hotel in St Petersburg. Emirates and Qatar Airways offer suitable connections into Moscow and out of St Petersburg from most Australian cities. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Tuesday January 4: Arrive Moscow
Arrival day. Join the tour leader and manager for welcome drinks and a tour of Count Rostov’s haunts before a light dinner in our hotel, the famous Moscow Metropol. Overnight Moscow (D)
Wednesday January 5: Red Square & St Basil’s
The tour begins with a lecture in the hotel on the political and social history of Late Imperial Russia, from the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 to the October Manifesto of 1905 (which granted Russians their first political and civil rights) as the setting for the cultural and artistic explosion of the Silver Age. Afterwards, we depart on a walking tour of Moscow’s iconic Red Square, stately GUM shopping complex (glittering this time of year with Christmas lights) and the unmistakable St Basil’s Cathedral. Impressive at any time, Red Square resounds in winter with the swoosh of ice-skates. This evening we enjoy our own Russian-style Christmas dinner at a central Moscow restaurant. Overnight Moscow (B, D)
Thursday January 6: The Nutcracker at the Bolshoi (Orthodox Christmas Eve)
We begin with the first of several lectures on the art of the Russian Silver Age. Our focus today is on the “The Wanderers” (or peredvizhniki in Russian) who, in breaking away from the Russian Academy of Art in the 1870s, set in motion the revival of a distinctly Russian national artistic tradition and the arrival and reception in Russia of the principles and techniques of Western European impressionism. By tradition, the Bolshoi stages a sumptuous production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker every Christmas and this afternoon we enjoy a matinée performance of this classic ballet in its land of origin. The evening is at leisure. Overnight Moscow (B)
Friday January 7: Old Tretyakov & Pushkin Museums (Orthodox Christmas Day)
Today, we immerse ourselves in Russia’s Silver Age. Our first visit is to the so-called “Old” State Tretyakov Museum. Originally a private collection, the Tretyakov houses the world’s premiere collection of Russian art. We concentrate on the period between 1871 and 1914, when the focus of Russian art migrated from realism to landscape and impressionist-style experimentation. The gallery has a cosy restaurant and, after lunch, we explore the nearby Marfo-Mariinsky Convent (founded by Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna – elder sister of Russia’s last Empress – after the assassination of her husband in 1905) which is decorated with frescoes by the acclaimed Silver Age artist Mikhail Nesterov. We then travel by coach to Ryabushinsky Mansion (also known as “Gorky’s House”), a celebrated art nouveau dwelling designed by Russia’s leading architect of the style moderne, Feodor Shechtel, in 1902. After a break for afternoon tea, we conclude the day with a guided tour of the famous impressionist galleries of Moscow’s just renowned Pushkin Museum – a leading source of inspiration at the dawn of the 20th century for Russia’s emerging avant-garde artists. Overnight Moscow (B)
Saturday January 8: The Kremlin
The Orthodox religion, with otherworldly icons, liturgy and centuries-old mystical tradition, was “re-discovered” by Russia’s previously positivist and Enlightenment-inspired intelligentsia during the Silver Age. At that time, the Kremlin was as much a religious citadel as it was a political one, and our touring this morning begins with a visit to the Kremlin’s ancient, onion-domed cathedrals at their most beautiful under a crust of snow. Usually closed to tourist groups, the sumptuous Grand Kremlin Palace (the Tsar’s Moscow residence before the Revolution) will also open its door to us. Exiting the Kremlin for lunch, we resume with a guided tour of the Bolshoi Theatre, recently restored to its late Imperial splendour. Of all Russia’s Silver Age artists, none reflects its fascination with theosophy and Eastern religions as well as the controversial Nikolai Roerich, and this evening there is an optional visit to Moscow’s newly opened Roerich Museum. Overnight Moscow (B)
Sunday January 9: New Tretyakov Museum & Gorky Park
The morning begins with a second lecture on the art of the Russian Silver Age, which focuses this time on the emergence of the avant-garde of Russian post-impressionists (Malevich, Chagall, Kandinsky, Larionov, Goncharova). We then tour the New Tretyakov Museum, which houses a superb collection of the works of all these artists (as well as a large collection of Soviet Realism). When the USSR collapsed, redundant monuments to Soviet leaders were collected for posterity in a garden outside the Museum, and we conclude our visit to the New Tretyakov with a stroll through this evocative “Park of Fallen Statues”. A short walk brings us to Gorky Park – a vast pleasure ground that is location in winter for some of the world’s longest man-made ice-skating trails. Join thousands of Muscovites in one of their favourite wintertime activities or come on an optional tour of the nearby Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Russia’s foremost contemporary art venue. This evening we dine together at the famous Café Pushkin, which exudes the charm and elegance of fin-de-siècle Moscow. Overnight Moscow (B, D)
Monday January 10: Novodevichy Convent & Boris Pasternak’s house
This day begins with a visit to the beautiful, UNESCO-listed Novodevichy Convent in the city’s south. Founded in the 16th century, the Novodevichy (New Maidens’) Convent was reserved for the daughters of the Tsar and higher court aristocracy, and its central, onion-domed Cathedral of Our Lady of Smolensk is one of the great monuments of medieval Muscovite architecture (and particularly attractive under snow). Little known outside Russia, the leading intellectual figure of Russia’s Silver Age, philosopher and theosophist Vladimir Solovyov, lies buried in the convent’s necropolis, while other leading cultural and artistic figures of the age (Chekov, Prokofiev, Stanislavsky) are buried in the nearby cemetery. After lunch in a local restaurant, we travel by coach to the old Soviet Writers’ colony of Peredelkino on Moscow’s leafy, southern outskirts. Born in 1890, Pasternak came of age in Russia’s Silver Age and later evoked drama, tumult and demise in his great novel, Doctor Zhivago (which won him the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature). We visit the period home in which he wrote the novel, carefully preserved by his descendants. Overnight Moscow (B, L)
Tuesday January 11: General Staff Building & Russian High Tea
Today we migrate to Russia’s capital during the Silver Age, the former city of the Tsars, St Petersburg. Travelling by modern high-speed train, we reach St Petersburg just after lunch which we enjoy while watching Russia’s snow-blanketed winter landscape slip by beyond the windows of the train. Our residence in St Petersburg is the Astoria, opened in 1911 and again today one of the city’s most elegant establishments. This afternoon we visit the General Staff Building, an independent department of the State Hermitage Museum that houses an outstanding collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. Dinner tonight is taken in the form of traditional Russian high tea at the matchless Astoria. Overnight St Petersburg (B, L, D)
Wednesday January 12: Fabergé Museum & State Hermitage
We begin the day with a lecture on one of the Silver Age’s best-known and most tragic figures, Russia’s last Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Though widely disparaged as an incompetent reactionary, Nicholas created the conditions that made Russia’s Silver Age renaissance possible and his and Alexandra’s sense of aesthetics and spirituality were surprisingly in harmony with Silver Age preoccupations. Afterwards, we visit the Fabergé Museum, an outstanding private collection of the sumptuous, jewel-encrusted eggs that the Romanovs exchanged every year at Easter, as well as other works from Fabergé’s fabulous workshop. This afternoon we gather again for a guided tour of the world-famous State Hermitage Museum. One of the world’s great repositories of art, the Hermitage is housed in St Peterburg’s iconic Winter Palace (before the Revolution, the Tsar’s official home), and our tour includes the Palace’s history-laden State Rooms as well as the highlights of the Museum’s priceless art collection. Extended opening hours (until 9pm) leave plenty of time for further private exploration. Overnight St Petersburg (B)
Thursday January 13: A Cathedral, a Mosque & a Buddhist Temple
Founded by Nicholas II in 1895, the Russian Museum is today second only to Moscow’s Tretyakov for its ensemble of Silver Age art. We enjoy a curator-led tour of the collection, including renowned works by Bakst, Vrubel, Malevich, Kandinksy and Chagall. Intense spirituality was a major feature of Russia’s Silver Age, when Russians enjoyed freedom of conscience for the first time. After free time for lunch in the museum café, we depart on a tour of three of this period’s most visually arresting places of worship, including the famous 1912 Church on the Spilled Blood (with its 300 sqm of shimmering mosaics), and St Petersburg’s first mosque (1908) and Buddhist temple (1913). The day concludes with a private concert and hors d’oeuvres at the splendid apartment of Late Imperial Russia’s most celebrated bass, Feodor Chaliapin. Overnight St Petersburg (B)
Friday January 14: Tsarskoye Selo: Alexander & Catherine Palaces
Nestled in a line of low hills 30km south of St Petersburg, the so-called “Imperial Village” of Tsarskoe Selo is the site of the Alexander Palace which from 1904 until the Tsar’s abdication in 1917 was Nicholas and Alexandra’s permanent home and Russia’s de facto seat of government. Refurbished in art nouveau style in 1902, the Palace has been painstakingly restored to its Silver Age glory and offers a unique insight on the couple as a product of this period of experimentation. The vast park was a favourite winter playground for the Romanov children, and we relive their pleasure by gliding across its frozen surface in a traditional Russian three-horse sleigh or troika. After a warming lunch in a local restaurant, we enjoy a guided tour of the magnificent, gilded halls of Rastrelli’s rococo masterpiece, the Catherine Palace. Commissioned for Empress Elizabeth in the 1750s, the Palace houses the renowned Amber Room. We return, rosy-cheeked, to St Petersburg in the late afternoon. The evening is at leisure. Overnight St Petersburg (B, L)
Saturday January 15: Yusupov Palace & Mariinsky Theatre
Russia’s Silver Age renaissance ended in the triple catastrophe of revolution, civil war and Communist dictatorship. We begin with a lecture on how this came to be before a visit to St Peterburg’s Yusupov Palace, where the first act in the revolution took place: the murder in December 1916 of the Siberian “holy man” Rasputin. We tour the basement, where every fantastic step in the famed drama has been recreated by waxwork, as well as the rest of the Palace’s sumptuous rooms. The afternoon is at leisure before we reconvene for an evening at St Petersburg’s acclaimed Mariinsky Ballet (once the Tsar’s private company). With exclusive use of the former Imperial Box, we enjoy a view of the stage on which all the greats (Pavlova, Nijinsky, Kschessinskaya) of Russia’s Imperial ballet once danced from the very angle the Tsar himself would have enjoyed it. Overnight St Petersburg (B)
Sunday January 16: Romanov Mausoleum & Anna Akhmatova Apartment
We continue the theme of revolution with a visit to the Romanov Mausoleum in St Petersburg’s Peter & Paul Fortress. Founded by Peter the Great, the Fortress later became a political prison whose fall during the 1917 February Revolution was likened by contemporaries to the French revolutionaries’ storming of the Bastille. At the Fortress’s centre, the Cathedral Mausoleum housed the resting place of every ruling Romanov from Peter onwards. That now includes Nicholas II, his wife and children, whose remains – exhumed from the mud of the Siberian forest in which they were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918 – were interred here in 1998. Choose to enjoy our last afternoon at leisure or join an optional visit to the apartment of one of the Silver Age’s greatest poets, the indomitable Anna Akhmatova, who lived in the Sheremetyev family’s Fountain House as it and scores of other palaces were transformed by the Bolsheviks into workers’ communes. Between 1941 and 1944, the Tsars’ former capital was almost starved out of existence by the invading Nazis, and the day concludes with a brief visit to the moving memorial to the 900-day blockade’s 700,00 victims. This evening we gather for our farewell dinner at St Petersburg’s oldest operating dining establishment, Palkin Restaurant, which keeps the spirit of Imperial Russia alive with outstanding cuisine and liveried waiters. Overnight St Petersburg (B, D)
Monday January 17: Depart St Petersburg
The tour concludes this morning at the Astoria Hotel. Additional, private touring can be arranged for those with late departures. (B)
Dr Matthew Dal Santo
A writer, historian and foreign affairs commentator, with Honours degrees from both Sydney and Cambridge Universities.
Dr Matthew Dal Santo is a writer, historian and foreign affairs commentator who currently resides in Copenhagen, Denmark. Born in Sydney, Matthew lived most of the past fifteen years in Europe. The current focus of his interest is Russia. From 2014 to 2017, Matthew was Danish Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen, with a grant to study how Russians think of themselves in the light of their history 25 years after the collapse of Communism and 100 since the 1917 revolution. He is particularly interested in how the revival of Orthodoxy has encouraged the return of the age-old idea of ‘Holy Rus’ as well as rehabilitation of the culture and achievements of Imperial Russia, as for example in the canonisation in 2000 of the last tsar, Nicholas II, and his family as saints. Matthew has travelled extensively in the Russian-speaking world, from Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus to Siberia and the Russian Far East. He is currently writing a book called The Romanovs and the Redemption of Putin’s Russia: Remaking Holy Rus. Before returning to academic work, Matthew was briefly a policy officer with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Matthew has a PhD in Ecclesiastical History from the University of Cambridge, where from 2005 to 2008 he held the Lightfoot Scholarship. In 2007 he was elected Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge’s leading college, and was appointed Associate Lecturer in the award-winning Faculty of History. Matthew also has an MPhil from Cambridge and a BA (Hons I) from the University of Sydney, where he won the University Medal in 2004.
In addition to English, Matthew speaks Danish, French, Italian and Russian.
We asked Matthew, what motivates him to lead a tour to Russia?
“I lead Academy Travel’s annual Russia tour. This is something I really enjoy. My aim with the tour is not only to provide people the opportunity to visit Russia’s famous historical sights and great collections of art in St Petersburg and Moscow, but also a chance to engage first-hand with the way the identity and world view of this most perplexing of countries has been transformed in the two and half decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. My lectures take a close look at Russian history and politics, with the aim of showing how ‘Putin’s Russia’ (so-called) is still grappling with processes set in motion hundreds of years ago, often in ways that have a deep effect on Russia’s often difficult relations with the West.
Coming from a long line of teachers, I also find the training and development tours that I lead for the NSW History Teachers’ Association a great source of pleasure and inspiration. Of course, Russia is a very big country and my view is that too few people ever get to its vast reaches east of the Urals.”
On this tour, the hotels we have chosen to stay in are an essential element of the total Silver Age experience. Both date from the early 20th century and, while carefully preserving the original period charm and character, have been extensively renovated to ensure maximum convenience and comfort.
The Metropol, Moscow (7 nights)
Opened in 1903, with a façade adorned with magnificent mosaic murals by the renowned Symbolist painter Mikhail Vrubel, the Metropol is a Moscow landmark known as the setting for Amos Towles best-selling novel A Gentleman in Moscow. To walk through the doors is to step back in time to Russia’s Silver Age, the art nouveau fittings (including the original leadlight lift) having been carefully preserved throughout. A champagne breakfast is served daily in the glass-domed ball room, often to the sounds of a live harpist, while the stylish bar is an ideal venue to relax after a day’s touring. The Executive Superior rooms we have reserved for the group’s use are spacious and have been fully renovated to modern standards of comfort. A five-minute walk to the Bolshoi Theatre, Red Square and the Kremlin leaves the heart of Moscow at your feet. metropol-moscow.ru/en/
The Astoria, St Petersburg (6 nights)
Opened in 1911, the Astoria effortlessly captures the aristocratic elegance of late Imperial St Petersburg. From the Gobelins tapestry hanging behind the reception desk to the Imperial Porcelain of the tea service, quality and attention to detail are never wanting. A Petersburg institution, Russia high tea (complete with savoury pirozhki, fresh bliny, and a mouth-watering array of pastries) is served daily in the refined yet intimate atmosphere of the Rotonda Lounge. The recently renovated rooms are equipped with all modern conveniences. Opposite the shiny gilded dome of St Isaac’s and a short walk from Nevsky Prospekt and the Winter Palace, the Astoria stands in the heart of Petersburg’s monumental historical centre. www.roccofortehotels.com/
What is included in the tour price?
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity