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30km (19 miles) S of St. Petersburg

The park at Pavlovsk outshines even its impressive palace, and is perfect for picnicking on a clear day. Several enclaves dot the grounds, representing more human-size architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries. The town is named after the palace's original ruler, Czar Paul I (Pavel in Russian). In a reflection of their characters, Paul's summer home is as restrained and classical as his mother Catherine the Great's summer getaway at Tsarskoye Tselo is extravagant and baroque. Comparing the two is a key reason to combine visits to them in a single day.

Essentials

This trip is often combined with a journey to Tsarskoye Tselo. If you want to view it separately, you can try to arrange an individual tour through your hotel or a travel agency. Otherwise, you can take a suburban train (elektrichka) from St. Petersburg's Vitebsk Station. The train takes about 50 minutes, and goes through Tsarskoye Tselo first; Pavlovsk is the next stop. You must be able to read the name in Russian. The trip through town to the palace is about a 15-minute walk or ride on a local bus; it's not marked, but any resident can direct you.

What To See & Do

Here, as in Tsarskoye Tselo, the town's palace is the central attraction. More an imitation of a Roman villa than a royal residence, the yellow-and-white Grand Palace at Pavlovsk was built in 1782 on a bluff overlooking the Slavyanka River. The Nazis also occupied this palace, but curators managed to save many of its masterpieces by hiding them in niches behind false walls.

A who's-who of Russian imperial architects had a hand in the palace's interiors, including Charles Cameron, Jacomo Quarengi, and Carlo Rossi. You'll notice the split personality this produced in the contrast between the extravagant Throne Room and the simple, dignified Corner Drawing Room, lined in lavender marble and Karelian birch furniture. Note the table settings in the Dining Room, ready for imperial guests. Paul's Library includes tall tapestries given to him by Louis XVI soon before the French Revolution.

Paul's wife Maria Fyodorovna lived here another 27 years after his death, and her quarters constitute a separate little museum within the palace. The Dowager Empress Rooms, as they're named, feel lived-in, unlike the rest of the palace, with its cold ornamentation. The rooms especially come alive after you look at palace portraits of Maria and at her own artworks.

The 607-hectare (1,500-acre) park is a winding labyrinth of wooded lanes, shady glades, and pavilions, but it's well planned enough that you never feel lost no matter how far you wander. Highlights include the Circle of White Birches at the end of the Rose Pavilion Alley, Centaur Bridge, and the partly crumbled Apollo Colonnade on the riverbanks on the palace side.

Admission to the Grand Palace (Veliky Dvorets), 20 Ulitsa Sadovaya (tel. 812/452-1536) and grounds is 370 rubles adults, 180 rubles students and children 8 and over; to see the grounds alone costs 100 rubles for everyone. You'll pay an additional 100 rubles to visit the Dowager Empress Rooms. The palace is open Saturday through Thursday from 10am to 5pm (closed 1st Mon of each month).

Were To Dine

The grounds here are so ideal for picnicking that the best dining suggestion is to stop in the Great Column Hall (Bolshoi Kolonny Zal) restaurant and order food to go. (You can even get a bottle of champagne -- or technically, Russian sparkling wine.) Housed in the former servants' quarters, the restaurant has a cafeteria-style section and a full-menu section as well, in case the weather is dreary. The Russian dishes are more successful, though you can order international favorites like Caesar salad. Another charming but basic option in the park is Cafe Slavyanka, across Centaur Bridge from the palace and to the left.

For an enthusiastic, satisfying, and almost kitschy taste of Russian country dining, stop at Podvorye restaurant (16 Filtrovskoye Shosse; tel. 812/466-8544) on your way to or from Pavlovsk. The hunting-lodge-style restaurant is on the main highway leading to St. Petersburg, so you need a bus or taxi to get there. Wild boar steak, elk cutlets, and even bear meat are among your options; vegetarians should try the pickled garlic and mushrooms, or pretty much anything with garlic or wild mushrooms. Guests are greeted with free vodka samples. A milder drink choice is mors, a delicious cranberry juice made from stewed local berries.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.