This past Saturday, my group went on another excursion – this time to the Peterhof Palace in Petergof, which is situated right by the Gulf of Finland. It’s often called the “Versailles of Russia” due to the pure opulence of the palace and gardens. It was built by Peter the Great, although it was expanded by the tsars that followed him, most notably Catherine the Great. It was also the Summer Palace of the Empire, used as a place of relaxation and vacation, versus the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. The excursion to Peterhof has by far been my favorite trip we’ve made! It was our first really sunny day, and my Russian tour guide was raving about the weather and how they only get around 60 “sunny” days a year (wow). When you arrive at Peterhof, you are at the balcony of the palace that looks out over the grand cascade, where there are 64 fountains, including the Samson fountain. In the fountain sits a beautiful gold statue of Samson fighting a lion. The biblical reference is parallel to Russia’s victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War; the lion is also a part of the Swedish coat of arms.
After the grand cascade, there are almost two hundred acres of gardens to explore. It’s all beautifully groomed and shows a side of Russia that I haven’t seen yet – the place exuded happiness. If you walk through the gardens towards the Gulf of Finland, you’ll come upon more houses, some of which were actually bathhouses. Because the area was a summer home, it contained features that would be used for relaxation. We got a tour of the bathhouses, but unfortunately, no pictures were allowed. It was extremely interesting – they had a cold bath set deep in the floor of one of the rooms, a hot bath in the next room to switch things up, a steam room with oak branches covered in leaves to add some soothing aroma, a massage-like table, and finally, a pool in the floor of a room with not only jets and an overhead shower, but fountains that came out of the floor into the pool. No worries, we got to experience it first-hand (while fully clothed). After being thoroughly washed, the royal Russians would exit their bathhouses into their beautiful gardens and also get an amazing view of the Gulf of Finland.
Overall, I had such an amazing time at Peterhof. If I had to recommend one place in Russia this would be it (so far!). It’s a much happier area than others I’ve visited, and it really makes all the difference. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s filled with important bits of Russian history. Definitely recommend!
Authors Note: if you were wondering why I put “medovik” instead of “cake” in my blog title, it’s because medovik is a staple dessert for Russians. Before sugar came to Russia, Russians relied on honey to sweeten their food and drinks. Most people don’t know that honey is a very important and traditional part of Russian food culture. I suggest watching Chef’s Table on Netflix and skipping to the episode featuring Vladimir Mukhin. He is an amazing Russian chef that transformed society’s idea of what traditional Russian food should taste like. A good chunk of the episode focuses on the role of honey and how he combined his modern version of medovik with the traditional recipe of his babushka!