A 19th-century Russian palace in St Petersburg has been transformed into a luxury hotel – without losing touch with its past.

In Alexander Pushkin’s 1833 poem The Bronze Horseman, the Neva River is flooding the city of St Petersburg. As the water rises, the poem’s hero takes refuge atop one of two marble lions guarding the entry to a Russian mansion.

While the poem and its protagonist were fictional, the lions weren’t. Nor was the mansion.

It was, in fact, a Russian palace built in 1820 – which is now the Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace.

It’s easy to see why the two lions – said to be about 200 years old – might have inspired Pushkin. Carved by renowned Italian sculptor Paolo Triscorni, they stand tall against the hotel’s imperial-yellow façade – a fine example of High Classical architecture. The building wasn’t always this salubrious.

Designed by one of the world’s most influential Neoclassical architects, Auguste de Montferrand, the palace housed a hostel, a school and a design firm during the Soviet era. It was around this time that the building fell into disrepair, with much of its interior either destroyed or removed. Now restored to its original grandeur, stately columns soar in the high-ceilinged lobby, complete with intricate plaster detail.

A grand staircase, with steps made from the original granite, takes guests to the hotel’s first floor, where there’s an expansive health club. In the guest rooms, ivory-coloured wardrobes, gilded doors, velvet cushions and silk drapes recall the palace’s connection with its past.

The views from the rooms tell their own story. Some bring the city of tsars to life, others take in Saint Isaac’s Cathedral – St Petersburg’s architectural masterpiece and Montferrand’s best-known work. The hotel’s pièce de résistance, however, is the Lobanov Presidential Suite – in particular, its bath, carved from a single slab of marble. But sinking oneself in a bathtub fit for a tsar comes at a price – about $16,500 a night. 

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