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Published on Friday, May 12, 2017

Legendary luxury

Rachel Roberts followed in the footsteps of Marlene Dietrich, Bernard Shaw, and David Bowie when she stayed at the Hotel Metropole Moscow.

First impressions: An inkling of what was to come during our stay at the legendary five-star hotel came when our private luxury car transfer from the airport hit gridlock in the capital's heavily congested traffic. A porter was quickly dispatched to escort us for the remaining five-minute walk to the hotel, brolly aloft to protect his charges from the pouring rain. Russian entrepreneur and art Savva Mamontov gathered an outstanding collective of architects and artists in the early 20th century to build the hotel in Russian modernist style, and the grand dame of Moscow's hotel scene is still capable of taking the first-time visitor's breath away. It's all the more impressive when you remember she survived the Russian Revolution of 1917, when Lenin and his comrades commandeered the hotel for Bolshevik operations, showing their distaste for her luxurious Art Nouveau adornments by spitting and stubbing out cigarettes everywhere. One of the highlights is the Metropol Zal (hall): restored to its former glory between 1986 and 1991. Today it's a twinkling fantasy of a place. From the jaw-dropping stained-glass dome to the beacon-like Hollywood lights and the wonderfully OTT marble fountain that's the centerpiece of the hall, it's old-school European style at its unapologetic, kitsch best.

Location: Savva was certainly savvy when it came to plumping on a site for the hotel, which he originally planned to house an opera. While that dream was never realized, a cinema, Opera-Kinemo (no longer in use), was opened in 1906 for Muscovites to catch the latest talkie. However, the Metropol, situated proudly on the northwest corner of Ploshchad Revolutsii (Revolution Square), does count the world-famous Bolshoi Ballet as a neighbour, and the hotel is just a couple of minutes' stroll from Red Square (home to the instantly recognizable St Basil's Cathedral and its psychedelic twisty-onion domes) and the seat of the Russian government, The Kremlin. The closest metro, Ploschad Revolyutsii, is a stone's throw away and is worth a visit even if you're not going to use the trains (for just 55 rubles/75p). The place is nothing short of majestic, a corridor of marble-lined arches flanked by life-sized bronzed statues depicting figures - and symbols of communist pride - including red guards and sportspeople, along with everyday people. Make like the Muscovites and rub the nose of the loyal dog, standing with his soldier master, for good luck.

Facilities: As with all the best hotels, you could easily hole up here (funds permitting) indefinitely and not actually need to venture out into the city. On-site facilities include a hairdressing salon, and if you have to grab a last-minute outfit for an evening at the Bolshoi, there's a Stella McCartney boutique on the ground floor, too. The hotel is justifiably proud of its new Executive Lounge. When we visited, the Japanese Prime Minister and his entourage were making full use of the refurbished business suite, opened in 2016. Weddings and functions can also be held in The Red Hall (as scarlet as it sounds). It's famous for being the place where Stalin and Chairman Mao shared a banquet in 1950 to honour the signing of the Soviet-Chinese Treaty of Friendship.

Bedrooms: The hotel boasts 388 guest rooms, with 69 unique luxury suites. A roll-call of famous faces from the 20th and 21st centuries have sunk into the luxurious beds here, including Marlene Dietrich, Bernard Shaw, David Bowie and Arnold Schwarzenneger (although Comrade Lenin preferred to stay in the rival National hotel, nearby). Our superior room had an original thick, wooden door, the kind that shuts out the outside world with a reassuring thud, cocooning guests in a luxury five-star bubble until the next morning (save for the chambermaid coming in to turn down the bed for the evening). The decor is a calmer classic style than the rest of the hotel, in a palette of tasteful creams and burnished gold, with a king-sized bed so incredibly comfortable, we were whisked off to the land of nod in micro-seconds. We were impressed with room service: an order of burger and fries was delivered in under 20 minutes and was still piping hot; no mean feat considering the cavernous size of the hotel. Free Wi-Fi was available, too, without any of that fiddly signing up business you sometimes have to do. However, while the en-suite bathroom was perfectly functional, the posh Molten Brown products weren't enough to save it from feeling a little dated.

For families: We didn't see many young children running around the place: it feels like a place you go for romantic or business pursuits. If you do have kids in tow, they can have fun in the swimming pool in the spa, and there's a gorgeous, fairytale carousel right outside the hotel, along with cute cabins selling every sugary treat under the sun.

Wining and dining: The international-style-buffet breakfast in the main hall is an occasion in itself (see 'highs', below) and that's even before you've chosen what to eat. Set off to the side in a decadent parlour room is a feast fit for a Tsar and Tsarina. Glittering black caviar, salmon pancakes, champagne on ice, a plethora of cakes and pastries, and fresh fruit are just some of the food displayed temptingly on plates inside. For a pre-dinner cocktail - and a spot of fascinating people watching - the Art Nouveau Chaliapin Bar is the place to be. Executive chef Andrey Shmakov heads up the hotel's Savva restaurant, bringing his experience from many Michelin-starred eateries, including Noma. His five-course signature menu combines modern Russian dishes with a Nordic twist and we highly recommend (and are still dreaming about) the dumplings with pike, served with a sour cream sauce, caviar and chives. And you won't forget the kick from the home-made horseradish vodka in a hurry, either. The friendly, well-informed Sommelier also made some excellent wine-pairing choices (Russian vineyards; who knew?) and for around £40, the meal is an affordable treat.

Highs: It's not every day you eat breakfast while being serenaded by the gentle strains of live harp music and the sounds of burbling water from a nearby fountain. The deliciously decadent experience offers a tiny glimpse of how Russia's fabulously wealthy elite would have lived, back in the day.

Lows: Tucked away like a shady secret in the basement, the Spa has a communist-throwback vibe that's not exactly conducive to getting your chillax on. A serious bling-over is needed to bring it into line with the luxury experience on offer everywhere else in the hotel. However, gym bunnies will be happy with the well-equipped gym.

Verdict: A taste of class, Russian style.

Superior Rooms start at around £203 per night, including breakfast.


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