We were delighted, excited and have promoted captain's choice to our family and friends since returning home.
P & L Fuller, South America by Privately Chartered Qantas 747
We have just celebrated Christmas in Australia, and are now bound for a second Christmas celebration in Russia and hopefully, a spectacular display of The Northern Lights.
We land in St Petersburg and are whisked directly to the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe, our home for two nights. The Neo Baroque and Art Nouveau hotel has been a part of St Petersburg’s history for 140 years and even served as a hospital, orphanage and government offices before being restored to its former glory. This evening, we celebrate the start of our journey with a champagne reception followed by a delicious dinner in the hotel.
Schastlivogo Rozhdestva! Or Merry Christmas! Today is Rozhdestvo, the Russian Orthodox Christmas, and we are spending it in the former seat of Imperial Russia. Founded by Peter the Great, this city served as the capital of Russia until 1918 and remains its cultural heart. Opulent palaces and historic monuments are neatly divided by charming canals, and the city glitters with Christmas decorations. Visitors to St Petersburg can be torn between touring Catherine’s Palace, often booked out well in advance, and seeing a Russian ballet performance. But we won’t miss a thing. First, we tour Catherine’s Palace, a lavishly decorated Rococo building. This is followed by the State Hermitage Museum, once the Winter Palace of Russia’s emperors and empresses. The innumerable masterpieces contained within it began as Catherine the Great’s private collection, and subsequent rulers continued adding to it. Then this evening, we celebrate with Christmas dinner at L’Europe Room within our hotel, before being treated to a private ballet performance.
We visit the city’s most important sites, including St Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city, and Nevsky Prospect, the Champs Elysées of St Petersburg. Lined by palaces, cathedrals, churches, department stores and the Russian National Library, it is a thoroughfare for all. The boulevard even appears in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. After lunch, we are driven to the station to board the luxurious Golden Eagle train. Next stop, the Arctic Circle. The supremely well-appointed cabins are designed in a classic, understated style. This evening, we indulge in the Golden Eagle’s signature Gala Caviar Dinner and a live band.
After last night’s excitement, today is set aside for quiet relaxation and appreciation of the snowscapes outside as our train steadily heads north. Comfortably warm in our carriages, we can choose to attend a talk by our guest astronomer over an afternoon tea of Russian cake. The astronomer enlightens us with lesser known facts about The Northern Lights. Sometime in the evening, the Golden Eagle crosses the Arctic Circle.
The crisp air of the winter morning greets us as we step off the train at the Russian border town of Nikel. With our overnight bags, we board a bus that takes us across the border into Kirkenes, Norway. We check in to the otherworldly Snowhotel, where everything from the walls and roof to the beds are made of packed snow and ice. After welcome drinks at the snow bar, we take a tour of the hotel’s ice sculptures. It is hard to imagine, but when spring comes, the entire hotel melts away and is rebuilt again in winter. This evening, we dine on traditional Scandinavian fare, after which, we board a bus in search of the aurora. If we are lucky, the lights reveal themselves. Our guest astronomer points out the constellations and tells us a little more about the lights.
Take full advantage of this unique location with these Your World experiences.
Leave the modern world behind and search for The Northern Lights on a husky sledge.
The Arctic king crab can grow up to two metres from pincer to pincer and is one of the most delicious and indulgent seafood dining experiences. Today, you have the rare chance to catch your own. We take a snowmobile-drawn sledge over frozen fjords, make a hole in the ice, and pull in the crabs. At a nearby fisherman’s lodge, we warm up by the fireplace as our king crabs are cooked for a feast we will not soon forget. After this satisfying lunch, choose from these Your World experiences for the afternoon.
Our adventure in Kirkenes ends today. We recross the border into Russia and board the Golden Eagle once again. Spend a leisurely day enjoying the scenery as we travel east through frozen lands. As before, we look forward to an afternoon tea of freshly-baked Russian treats while our guest astronomer regales us with stories about the stars.
Murmansk, 195 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, was originally a settlement on a railway built during the First World War to link Petrozavodsk to the Barents Sea. Unlike other cities this far north, Murmansk’s climate is influenced by the warm Gulf Stream, which keeps its port ice-free year-round. Russia is the only country in the world that builds and uses nuclear-powered icebreakers, and Murmansk is home to the fleet. We have the unique experience of stepping aboard the Lenin, a decommissioned icebreaker that has been turned into a floating museum.
From Murmansk, we travel to Petrozavodsk, at the other end of the railway line. The city is set along the western shore of Lake Onega and is the capital of the Karelia region. Its architecture is mainly of a neoclassical style, and its culture sets it apart from the rest of Russia. Folk poetry and rune singing are much a part of traditional culture, so at tonight’s dinner, we are regaled with a Karelian folk performance.
Vladimir, founded in 1098, is regarded as the cradle of Russian language and culture. We tour the World Heritage-listed Assumption Cathedral here. Called Uspensky Sobor in Russian, the cathedral was the mother church of medieval Russia from the 13th to 14th centuries. We travel on to Suzdal, a perfectly preserved walled city dating to 1024. Wooden cottages, church cupolas and the Monastery of St Euthymius characterise the town’s idyllic nature. At the monastery, we have the privilege of listening to a choral performance by its resident monks. The day ends with a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the picturesque town.
The final city on our journey is Moscow. We arrive here in the morning, then check in to the Ritz Carlton for one night. Moscow’s major sights tempt us today - Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral, the grand façade of the GUM department store and Lenin’s tomb. Later, we tour the subway. Of all the metro systems in the world, Moscow’s stations are some of the most extravagant. Each is unique, designed in a Baroque, Art Deco or Futurist style, and decorated with frescoes of Russian history. This evening, we toast the end of our adventure with a farewell dinner in our hotel.
One last experience awaits. Exclusive early entrance to the Kremlin and its Armoury this morning allows us to appreciate the magnificent buildings before the crowds arrive. See an unrivalled collection of Russian, Western European and Eastern applied arts. As you recline in your seat later, contemplate all your favourite cultural and natural encounters from this journey. We arrive in Australia on Friday, the 18th of January.
Sometimes travelling can be a chore, distracting you from the fascinating places you are in. That’s why everything mundane has been moved behind the scenes. You will never have to carry a map, luggage, small change for tips or bargain for a taxi fare.
There are no hidden costs. Everything is included – flights and other travel arrangements, luxurious accommodation, travel insurance, all dining and drinks, and sightseeing trips. Even the Your World experiences within your itinerary and internet access when available.
With its sweeping staircases, marble and gilt interiors, this hotel is high on the list of St Petersburg’s architectural treasures. Associated with the who’s who of music, dance and theatre, from composer Tchaikovsky to Debussy and Stravinsky, this hotel graces Nevsky Prospect, adjacent to Arts Square.
A residence unlike any other, the Snowhotel features just 20 rooms, each decorated with ice sculptures by artists from around the world. While it is truly freezing outside, the hotel’s interiors are maintained at a steady -4°Celsius. However, warm clothes and a thermal sleeping bag come with your room, ensuring a cosy experience.
Nineteenth century Imperialist Russian design, with dark cherry wood and gold accents, characterise the interiors. While the glass-enclosed rooftop lounge features sweeping views over Red Square and the Kremlin. As this is a Ritz Carlton property, the service is impeccable, discreet and outstanding.
Fares are based on a Silver Class Suite aboard Golden Eagle. Per Person, Twin Share.
Fares include Emirates flights from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. Prices from other cities available on request.
Land Only Guests join the tour in St Petersburg for dinner on Day 2 and depart Moscow after lunch on Day 13.
Golden Eagle Suite Upgrades per person, twin share
Gold Class Suite $2,700
Imperial Class Suite $13,850
Solo Suite Supplements per person
Silver Class Suite $6,700
Deluxe Class Suite $7,550
Solo availability at the above prices are limited.
This rail journey aboard the Golden Eagle will operate as an exclusive private charter for Captain’s Choice guests.