Gatchina Park is more overgrown and romantic than the other palaces’ parklands. The park has many winding paths through birch groves and across bridges to islands in the large White Lake. Look out for the frankly bizarre Birch House, which was a present from Maria Fyodorovna to Paul I. With a rough facade made of birch logs, the interior is actually very refined, with a beautiful hardwood floor made from timber from around the world.
Paul I later built a neoclassical ‘mask’ to hide the Birch House’s facade from the view of casual strollers.
Down on the lake, the Venus Pavilion is a beautiful spot jutting out into the water with an elaborately painted interior. Continue around the lake to find the best picnicking spots – it’s even possible to swim in a second lake (see where the locals go) if the weather is good.
It's also possible to visit Paul I's private garden, adjacent to the palace, laid out in the late-18th century by Vincenzo Brenna for the private use of the royal family. It's a charming place to stroll, full of sculptures, flowers and neatly trimmed hedges.