The White Nights Festival and the Grand Hotel Europe – St. Petersburg, Russia

The Sun Never Sets on Russian Culture

Named after the season when the sun never sets, the relatively new White Nights festival of music has been thrilling audiences with various per­formances and cultural events highlighted by St. Petersburg’s superb opera and ballet company and the five-tiered theater that gives the company its name – the Kirov during the Soviet era, now (as in czarist times) the Mariinsky.

The one-month cultural festival provides an international audience the chance to see gala productions ranging from classical Russian ballets to concerts by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and visiting world-class artists.

The primary venue, the 19th-century Mariinsky Theater, together with the Bolshoi in Moscow, has produced some of the world’s greatest ballet dancers. Attending a perform­ance here should be a top priority even when the long summer nights have come and gone. Dress to the nines, have some Champagne during intermission, and blend in with those elated to relive a bygone era.

Continue your historical itinerary by staying at the Grand Hotel Europe. An inter­national joint venture, this miracle of a hotel is a heavily restored reincarnation of the former Europeiskaya, opened in 1875 and thus St. Petersburg’s oldest hotel. Much of the old-school aristocratic ambience is gone. In its stead – to the delight of international visi­tors following in the footsteps of Gorky, Strauss, and Debussy – is the sort of Euro­peanized five-star service and white-glove sophistication not yet a common commodity among Russia’s aspiring hotels.

Just barely off the Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s Champs-Elysees, the Europe was once a gleaming symbol of the City of the Czars’ prosperous days as Russia’s capital from 1712 until 1918. Now, once again, it is the pulse of a reawakened city: the elegant Caviar Bar is the rendezvous of choice for the New Russians, with their cell phones and cigars, and the prestigious Restaurant Europe offers a level of luxury and fine dining not seen in the city during Communism.

If you don’t stay here, stop by for the buffet breakfast under the Europe’s exquisite Art Nouveau stained-glass ceiling or the Sunday morning jazz brunch.

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