“ Address: Kalanchevskaya Street 21/40 / Moscow / Russian Federation 107078 / Tel: 7-495-627-5550 „
On a recent business trip to Russia, I had the chance to stay at a truly iconic and historic hotel, ranked amongst Moscow's best. The Leningradskaya is one of Stalin's famous "Seven Sisters" - a group of skyscrapers built in the fifties in the so-called Stalinist Neoclassical style. Having never stayed at a landmark hotel before (The Leningradskaya is also a tourist attraction in its own right) I was really looking forward to it and was determined to make the most of my stay.
GETTING THERE: TRYING TRAFFIC
Thanks to the stop/start grind of Moscow's near legendary traffic, getting to the hotel from Domodedovo Airport, which is located to the south of the city, proved something of a challenge. My colleagues had thoughtfully arranged for a taxi to pick me up from the terminal, but as a sign of things to come during my trip, the driver did not speak a word of English. The journey was eye-opening - Moscow drivers seem to have little concept of road safety if the dinks, dents and missing body work on most of the cars I saw were anything to go by. Having arrived in town around 5pm on a Sunday, I was hoping to avoid the worst of it, but having made the 30 kilometres from Domodedovo to the Moscow city limits in around 20 minutes, the final 10 kilometres to the hotel took almost an hour and a half. If you are travelling by taxi, ensure you try and agree a fixed rate before you travel, otherwise things can get very expensive, very quickly. In retrospect, and with a bit more confidence, I would have taken the forty-five minute airport express train service which runs every half an hour, on the half hour from Paveletskiy station, and costs a relatively reasonable 500 Rubles for Business Class or 300 Rubles for Standard (i.e. £10/£6 respectively at current exchange rates). As it happened, I opted for the train on my return.
The Leningradskaya is to the North-West of the city, just off the wide and busy Garden Ring - one of three broad concentric circular routes that radiate out from the centre of Moscow. The city is deceptively large - the tourist maps give little impression of its true, sprawling scale, so it can take some time to navigate what, initially, look like reasonable distances. The hotel is one of the busiest transport hubs in Moscow (Komsomolskaya Square), and very close to a nexus of three train and Metro stations, including the Leningradskiy, which provides the main link between Moscow and St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad and ostensibly the source of the hotel's name). There is virtually no parking in front of the hotel - I was expecting a dedicated in/out driveway or dropping off point, but was disappointed to be unceremoniously deposited vaguely in the vicinity of the front door. Given the traffic chaos I had just emerged from, and the onset of dusk, I didn't really get a sense of the grandeur of the place from the outside. In fact, the slightly industrial, proletariat feel to the immediate area around the property was initially quite disappointing.
However, things started looking up as I approached the main entrance. The doorman offered me some much needed help in welcome English - the first I had heard since debarking from my British Airways flight a few hours earlier - and once I had negotiated the narrow side doors (avoiding the even more claustrophobic looking revolving doors) I was greeted by an subdued air of dated but impressive opulence. The property was one of two Seven Sisters purpose-built as a hotel (the other is the much larger Hotel Ukraina, now operated by the Radisson Group) and I later learned from the friendly duty manager that the heavy, cumbersome and narrow front doors were deliberately designed that way - as both a subliminal (and not so subtle) reminder of the power and weight of the Soviet state, and a manifestation of its obsessive, and almost paranoid need for control.
The bank of three receptionists, sitting behind a grand, dark cherry wood counter were dwarfed by the high ceilings, decorative flourishes, wooden panels, polished marble floors and staircases, and gleaming gold fixtures. The hotel's colour scheme - dark brown and dark yellow - is flawlessly replicated throughout the establishment. Immediately and expertly assessing my native language - ostensibly from my gear - one of the receptionists greeted me in heavily accented, but otherwise flawless English. After establishing my bona fides and taking a copy of my passport (foreigners must carry their passport at all times in Russia) my room was sorted out in short order. I was given a credit card style room key, directed to the lifts at the other end of the lobby and, aggressively deflecting the persistent ministrations of the bellhop, I made my way through the well appointed lobby and the promise of my seventeenth floor room.
A ROOM WITH A VIEW
For once, I seemed to have hit the jackpot as the large and impressive door to the room for my four night stay was located directly opposite the bank of four lifts (usually, I have to wander endless corridors in search of my digs, which always seem miles from the lobby). That said, I soon learned that almost all of the residential floors have twelve rooms situated around the central lift core, and for the sheer size and bulk of the property, there are relatively few of them. The Leningradskaya, which was built in 1954 to be the finest luxury hotel in Moscow, has twenty-six floors, only nineteen of which are currently usable. It originally boasted over 350 rooms, but this was reduced to around 270 after the multi-million dollar restoration and renovation by the Hilton Group, which re-opened the hotel for business in 2008.
Stalin had envisaged something taller and perhaps grander, but the height and scope of the building was limited by the technology of the time. Soviet architects and engineers had copied the design of American skyscrapers, but totally over-engineered the construction, resulting in buildings that were much heavier (and therefore shorter) than their US counterparts. The room was large, spacious and generously proportioned, with a welcoming king sized bed that for once, did not totally dominate the room. In contrast to the period features in the public parts of the hotel, the rooms are decorated in a contemporary, modern style, with several possible and practical lighting configurations. There is plenty of storage space in the tall wardrobes next to the door, which accommodate a guest-operated large safe, an iron and full sized ironing board, several drawers and generous hanging space.
For the business-minded, there is a large work desk and executive style chair, a hard wired broadband access point, and plenty of plugs. Russia has the same voltage as the UK, but uses a two pin plug that's fairly common across Europe, so make sure you bring adapters. That said, I was rather impressed to find that a UK plug fitting (not an adapter, but an actual fitting) was provided at the desk for UK visitors. WiFi is also available throughout the property, but as with everything else, it comes at a significant cost. There are two download speeds and two time options you can choose from - an hourly rate and a daily rate. The daily rate at the best speed will set you back £25 a day for a 24 hour period.
In keeping with the room, the bathroom was very well appointed, with a large glass enclosed walk-in power shower with excellent water pressure, make-up mirror, plump terrycloth towels, hair dryer, bathroom scales and free high-end toiletries. The only misjudgement was that the loo was uncomfortably close to the vanity unit, making it rather cramped and awkward to use, but then, I am fairly generously proportioned, so I am sure most people would not have an issue. Entertainment needs are catered for by a large 32" LCD TV with a good selection of international channels and Pay TV, a DVD and CD player, and clock radio.
The room had a large window offering some compelling views over the Moscow cityscape, which were especially impressive at dusk when I first arrived. I investigated the fully stocked mini-bar, but a brief perusal of the prices on the menu was enough to induce the need for a lie-down. I knew Moscow was expensive, but nearly £9.00 for a litre bottle of Evian, £5 for a Kit Kat and £10 for a Jack Daniels miniature was eye-poppingly exorbitant (at least the tea and coffee making facilities were free!). Luckily, the bed and the selection of pillows provided were extremely comfortable, and having hauled myself out of bed at 5am on a Sunday morning for my 8:30 flight from Heathrow, I had to fight the overwhelming urge for some shut-eye to explore the rest of the hotel.
The hotel has a health club and spa on the lower ground floor which provides an extensive range of treatments and health and fitness facilities, including a heated 12 metre swimming pool, fully equipped gym, Jacuzzi, sauna and juice bar, all of which are open between 07:00 and 23:00 daily. I had brought my swimming trunks along, fully expecting to use the facilities, but the opportunity never arose, so I can't comment any further. From what I saw on my initial recce, they are as clean and well appointed as the rest of the property. The remainder of the facilities are all on the ground floor off the main lobby. A currency exchange facility and a Russian gift shop are available, both of which are shockingly overpriced and aimed at travellers or business folk whose time and convenience is perhaps more important than the health of their wallets.
The business centre is located directly opposite the reception desk and provides photocopying, fax and PC facilities for those who need them. The main Leningrad bar is just to the left of the lift banks, and staff provide a comprehensive food and drink service in the impressive and ornate Lobby Lounge. I had some time to kill on my first night as I was meeting friends at 10pm for a very late dinner and drinks. Feeling peckish, I settled into a comfy corner chair and ordered a steak sandwich, coffee and apple pie - all beautifully presented - but just enough to satisfy the appetite of a church mouse at an elephantine cost. As I signed the bill for £32, I thanked my lucky stars someone else was paying for it.
Breakfast is served in the Janus Restaurant, which rivals the lobby for grandeur and impact. Floor to ceiling windows let in paradoxically little natural light, so the massive room is illuminated by ornate chandeliers suspended from exposed wooden beams. It is a grand setting for breakfast and matched by the bewilderingly huge array of buffet options on offer. It seems every possible nationality is catered for, which is just as well, given the wide ethnic and cultural make-up of the diners in the room. The selection changed on a daily basis, but everything was of excellent quality.
I tried something different every day, and although not all of the food was to my taste, it was professionally and expertly prepared. Service was perhaps a bit overly attentive and slightly obsequious, but you can't fault the staff for aiming to please. If you can picture it and you know your Bond films (From Russia With Love), the female Maître D had the mannerisms of Rosa Klebb but with the sultry looks of Tatiana Romanova. I can safely say that breakfast each morning was a real treat.
OUT & ABOUT
I spent most of my travel time in Moscow in the back of various taxi cabs (in five days there, I took a total of fourteen), and, for a first time visitor, it is still a good way to get around, although travel times vary greatly depending on traffic. Most trips around the capital will set you back around 400 to 700 Russian Rubles (i.e. £8 to £14). For example, on my final day, I met some friends near Red Square and the taxi journey took around 25 minutes and cost just under £10. The Metro is extensive and much cheaper, and will get you to within spitting distance of most tourist destinations. The system is considered a tourist attraction in of itself, and one of its grandest stations - Komsomolskaya - is a short walk from the hotel. The Leningradskaya is probably not the best located hotel for sightseeing, as it is in a relatively unremarkable and busy area and there is nothing really notable in walking distance, but its travel connections and its proximity to the Garden Ring - one of Moscow's main arteries - more than makes up for its slightly off-centre location.
WORKERS OF THE WORLD! STAY THE NIGHT!
My four nights at the Leningradskaya were simply brilliant. I was able to experience first hand (and at someone else's expense) the small touches and flourishes that distinguish a very good hotel from an exceptional one. Everything at the Leningradskaya is geared toward guest comfort - from the colour coded labelling system at breakfast, to the lights next to the lift which indicate which car is going to arrive first. Nothing is too difficult or inconvenient for the staff, who, to a person, were friendly, engaging and thoroughly professional. I was really made to feel valued and special. The real surprise, given this was one of Moscow's premier hotel properties, was that my company only paid £210 per night, which is not far off their normal rate for the room I stayed in (only a little dearer at £230).
To put this in context, I recently paid £200 for one night at the Express by Holiday Inn near Old Street in London. It doesn't take much imagination to spot the difference in value. That said, despite the relatively reasonable room rate, given just how expensive everything was, I found myself quite restrained in the use of the facilities and amenities. I tend to spend my company's money as if it is my own and baulked at the idea of forking out the outrageous prices for internet connectivity, food, drink, and laundry, even though I was entitled to (within the constraints of our travel expenses policy). That said, given that we are encouraged to use the hotel because it is run by the Hilton Group, I will most definitely be staying here again on my next visit to Moscow.
Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya
21/40 Kalanchevskaya Street
Hotel: +7 (495) 627 5550
Reservations: +7 (495) 627 5555
Fax: +7 (495) 627 5551
© Hishyeness 2010