Before the revolution it had around one thousand palaces. The best known is the huge Winter Palace overlooking the south bank of the Neva River. It’s home to the world-famous Hermitage museum. This amazing collection consists of around three million works of art, but even with five other buildings now dedicated to its display, only around 15% of the collection is on view at any one time.

Top of my priority list, however, was a visit to the Fabergé museum. Opened in 2013, it’s located in the Shuvalov Palace, restored specifically to house the exhibition, and contains four thousand jaw-dropping works of art all owned by Viktor Vekselberg. It’s the world’s largest Fabergé collection and includes nine Imperial Easter Eggs.

I went from there to the Church of the Spilled Blood, constructed to commemorate the assassination of Alexander II. Its colourful onion-shaped domes are matched by an amazing interior that initially appears to be painted and gilded but actually consists of nearly eighty-five thousand square feet of mosaic tiles.

A drive along the city’s main street took me passed the Mariinsky Theatre. Completed in 1860, it’s home to Ballet, Opera and Orchestral companies and is where Swan Lake was first performed in 1895. The nearby Stroganov Palace was home to the Counts Stroganov. If this sounds vaguely familiar then you’re right. The Stroganovs were rich peasants who never lost track of their roots. They fed the local poor of St Petersburg with a beef stew that included mustard and sour cream, hence Beef Stroganoff.

Keen to see more, I took a thirty-mile drive to the Palace of Peterhof.  Peter the Great was inspired by the palace at Versailles to build an out-of-town palace with ornamental grounds and fountains. However, much of what visitors now see was as a result of his daughter, Elizabeth, who created the current Palace and formal gardens. If the word ‘bling’ had been around in those days, the many gilded statues would be a classic example; it makes Versailles look a little plain.

St Petersburg really is Russia at its very best.

Good to know

Visitors by cruise ship are allowed seventy-two hours visa-free entry, but excursions must be booked either with the ship or online with an approved company, otherwise visas are required.