Hugging the Gulf of Finland, 29km west of St Petersburg, Peterhof – the ‘Russian Versailles’ – is a far cry from the original cabin Peter the Great had built here to oversee construction of the Kronshtadt naval base. Peter liked the place so much he built a villa, Monplaisir, here and then a whole series of palaces and ornate gardens. Peterhof was renamed Petrodvorets (Peter’s Palace) in 1944 but has since reverted to its original name. The palace and buildings are surrounded by leafy gardens and a spectacular ensemble of gravity-powered fountains.
What you see today is largely a reconstruction, as Peterhof was a major casualty of WWII. Apart from the damage done by the Germans, the palace suffered the worst under Soviet bombing raids in December 1941 and January 1942, because Stalin was determined to thwart Hitler’s plan of hosting a New Year’s victory celebration here.