Moscow: The big city

1 Jun 2007 by Tom Otley
Moscow (iStock.com/Mordolff)

Since Russia opened up to foreign business in the early Nineties, first-time travellers to Moscow have regularly been appalled by the quality of accommodation available, and the sky-high prices they have been obliged to pay for it. Foreign investment is growing at well over 50 per cent a year, and the number of business travellers is increasing accordingly, yet the city suffers from a chronic shortage of hotel space: there are currently just over 160 properties, only a fraction of which conform to international standards.

There are reasons for the slow roll-out of new hotels. While demand keeps room rates high, the potential profits for investors in hotel developments are small by comparison with the speedy returns offered by the new housing market, and foreign hotel chains looking for local partners find it difficult to interest players in the Russian construction industry with the resources and connections to realise suitably large-scale projects. This is in contrast to St Petersburg, where the city government has offered tempting tax breaks and relaxed building and business regulations for hoteliers, with the result that the city centre is now full of small private hotels offering reasonable accommodation at competitive rates.

The shortage of mid-range hotels continues, exacerbated in the past 18 months by the closure of two of Moscow’s most famous properties, the Rossiya and the Ukraine, which between them had almost 5,000 rooms. The vast glass-and-concrete Rossiya block below Red Square, the construction of which entailed the razing of an entire quarter of the medieval city, is now in turn to be replaced by a smaller and considerably superior hotel, as well as an entertainment centre and car-park.

The Ukraine, housed in one of the “Seven Sisters” – the towering gothic skyscrapers put up in the Stalinist building boom of the early Fifties – has been completely gutted, much to the chagrin of those who felt that the grandiose Soviet interiors were worth saving for posterity, and is scheduled to reopen in 2008 as a world-class four-star property with full business services and amenities.

A similar fate has recently been announced for the all-but-forgotten Hotel Peking, a less imposing but equally fine Stalinist structure with a comfortable location a couple of kilometres north of the Kremlin on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad.

Finally, the much-derided Leningradskaya Hotel, the smallest of the Seven Sisters, is set to reopen at the end of this year as the Hilton Leningradskaya, the company’s first property in Russia. The building was singled out by Khruschev in his condemnation of the excesses of Stalinist building projects, not least because the hotel used only 22 per cent of the building’s available space. Located on Komsomol’skaya Ploshchad, the site of three of Moscow’s largest mainline stations, it will certainly be convenient for train travellers. It will also be intriguing to see what the management company do with the building, not least because they are attempting pretty much the equivalent of opening a five-star hotel in London’s King’s Cross area as it was 15 years ago.

The biggest story of this year, however, is the opening this month of the Ritz-Carlton Moscow. A few minutes’ walk from Red Square and the Kremlin at the bottom of Tverskaya Ulitsa – well known to seasoned Moscow visitors as the site of the old Intourist Hotel – the Ritz-Carlton was due to open in October of last year, but suffered a nine-month delay after the management company declared themselves dissatisfied with the finish quality in the first complete floor of guest rooms.

The new building has a plain facade that reflects late neoclassical tendencies, and gives little indication of the sweeping grandeur of the lobby behind. The interiors, by German designer Peter Silling of Hotel Interior Design, have been inspired more by St Petersburg’s Imperial Palaces than by the traditions of the city around.

The guests rooms are well equipped and luxuriously furnished, with entry-level Superior Rooms measuring a generous 42sqm. A spectacular roof-top terrace bar offers some of the finest views in Moscow, and a well thought-out range of concierge services includes, as one example, guaranteed entry for guests to the most exclusive of Moscow’s nightclubs with the help of the hotel’s Nightlife Butler. To ensure guests do not suffer at the hands of Moscow’s notoriously arbitrary door-staff, the hotel has signed individual contracts with many of the most exclusive and fashionable venues.

The one hotel that can truly rival the Ritz-Carlton in terms of size, services and sheer luxury is the Ararat Park Hyatt, opened in 2001 next to the Bolshoi Theatre on Neglinnaya Ulitsa. Regularly acclaimed as the best hotel in Moscow, it takes a more laid-back approach to luxury than most of its rivals, with rooms that are discreetly comfortable rather than lavish. The hotel gets points for its excellent and comparatively inexpensive restaurants, and for the fact that it is one of the few properties in the city that immediately matched the Ritz-Carlton’s provision of free wifi in all guest rooms. It also has one of the most extensive and flexible ranges of conferencing facilities in Moscow.

The other major recent addition to the five-star market in Moscow is the Swissotel Krasnye Holmy (go to businesstraveller.com for our review from December 2005 / January 2006). This ultra-modern business hotel is housed in an impressive 34-storey glass tower on the embankment close to Paveletsky Station, convenient for travellers using the express link to or from Domodedovo International airport, yet still with good access to the Kremlin and the rest of the downtown. Views from the higher floors, and from the top-floor City Space Bar and Lounge, are spectacular, and the large guest rooms are well equipped, with spacious bathrooms. Conference and event venues are geared to take advantage of its location in one of Moscow’s fastest-growing business districts.

Despite competition from the newcomers, however, Moscow’s most famous hotels still retain the cachet of their pre-Revolution reputations. First among them is Le Royal Méridien National Hotel, now part of the Starwood chain and located right next to the Ritz-Carlton. A landmark in its own right, the National’s stunning Art Nouveau exterior comes second only to the nearby Metropol. Both properties, along with the smaller but equally luxurious Savoy Hotel, were turned into Houses of Soviets – homes for the highest echelons of the new Bolshevik government and other VIPs – in the years following the October Revolution.

The National and the Metropol, both close to Red Square, have suffered slightly from being among the first hotels to get a full renovation after the fall of communism. While their public spaces and eateries are sumptuous, and the fascinating history of the buildings is attraction enough for many guests, standard rooms in both properties lack many of the features that we have come to expect from five-star hotels in the last 20 years. Equally, only in the suites do the décor and furnishings quite live up to expectations bred by the glorious facades – and by the very high rack rates.

To a lesser extent, the same is true of the Baltschug Kempinski, perennially popular with business travellers, which also has a superb position in another smart early 20th century building just across the river from the Kremlin. As with the majority of hotels in Moscow, all these properties would benefit from thorough refitting, but must have difficulty justifying the time out in the current climate of constant high demand.

The Savoy, which has a more secluded location on a side street behind the Bolshoi Theatre, did complete a full renovation in 2005. The 67-room hotel, now a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection, has taken a similar approach to design as the Ritz-Carlton, but with even more gilt and Empire excess. Whether this is quite such a good thing in the much more intimate interiors of this charming little building is a matter of taste; the Russian management company is certainly doing its best to provide a quality of service that matches the lavish interiors. They have even managed to fit a 25-metre swimming pool in the basement, and the conferencing facilities, while limited, are nonetheless first class.

The other small, privately run property in Moscow that deserves particular note is the Golden Apple Hotel. Opened in 2004, the 92-room property occupies a beautiful 19th-century mansion on Malaya Dmitrovka Street, just off the Boulevard Ring that runs round Moscow’s medieval centre. The house was used at the turn of the last century as a complex of serviced apartments, with Anton Chekhov among the residents.

Inside, however, the Golden Apple is slick, modern and quirky, with ultra-fashionable minimalist room designs augmented with colourful touches. The hotel is particularly popular among well-heeled younger travellers, and as well as free wifi has a lobby bar sunk just below ground level, with comfortable couches and an international menu that includes excellent sushi and tapas.

Clearly heavily influenced by the Golden Apple’s success, the Peter I Hotel, which opened earlier this year, is a new four-star annexe to the Budapest Hotel, another Soviet throwback that has the advantage of being located very close to the Kremlin on the same street as the Ararat Park Hyatt. While not as stylish as the Golden Apple, the 133-room Peter I does have a good range of business and leisure amenities, including the almost unheard of luxury of underground parking. While it is getting on its feet, it may be worth checking for last-minute vacancies.

Two more small private hotels in the city that deserve mention are the Sretenskaya Hotel and the Hotel Kebur Palace. Both are within comfortable walking distance of Red Square and the Kremlin, and both offer charming superior accommodation with an individual character. The Sretenskaya has a prominent but pleasing Russian fairytale motif, and the Kebur Palace offers traditional Georgian elegance, including the excellent Tbilisi Restaurant, which was well-known in Moscow long before the hotel was built.

Those planning last-minute trips, or those who are simply fans of the chain, can usually rely on Marriott. Even before the opening of the Ritz-Carlton, the company had a huge presence in Moscow, including the flagship Marriott Moscow Royal Aurora which, with its fairytale Art Nouveau facade and excellent situation on Ulitsa Petrovka, does a very fair imitation of a grand historic hotel. There is also the Marriott Grand, a more business-oriented property about a mile north of the Kremlin up Tverskaya Ulitsa, Moscow’s big central thoroughfare; the four-star Marriott Tverskaya further up the street; the large and modern Renaissance Moscow, which was built as part of the 1980 Olympic Village and has suitably impressive fitness facilities; and the new Marriott Courtyard Moscow City Centre. Altogether, that makes for nearly 1,500 rooms, although rates may be a little higher than you expect from the brands elsewhere.

For many people, however, the biggest challenge in Moscow will be trying to book a hotel at short notice or for peak periods. It can therefore pay to take advantage of the local knowledge of one of Moscow’s numerous booking agencies. Moscow-hotels.net is among the most reliable, and offers discount rates on almost all the hotels mentioned above – it also has extensive information about all its partner hotels online, and helpful, well informed, English-speaking staff.

Within a couple of years, the increasing level of competition in Moscow might see hotel rates coming down but, for now, don’t bank on it. For the foreseeable future, visitors are advised to book several months in advance, and to ensure that their trip does not coincide with any of the increasing number of large international conferences and exhibitions.


Ritz-Carlton Moscow
Tverskaya Ulitsa 3-5
tel +7 495 225 8888


Ararat Park Hyatt
Neglinnaya Ulitsa 4
tel +7 495 783 1234


Metropol Hotel
Teatralny Proezd 1/4
tel +7 499 501 7800


Savoy Hotel
Ulitsa Rozhdestvenka 3/6
tel +7 495 620 8500


Le Royal Méridien National
Ulitsa Mokhovaya 15/1
tel +7 495 258 7000


Golden Apple Hotel
Ulitsa Malaya Dmitrovka, 11
+7 495 980 7000

Kebur Palace
Ulitsa Ostozhenka 38


Peter I Hotel
Neglinnaya Ulitsa 17
tel +7 495 105 3050


Swissotel Krasnye Holmy
Kosmodamianskaya Naberezhnaya, 52, Building 6
tel +7 495 787 9800


Moscow Marriott
Royal Aurora
Petrovka Ulitsa, Building 11/20
tel +7 495 937 1000


Sretenskaya Hotel
Ulitsa Sretenka 15
tel +7 495 933 5544




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