St Petersburg in winter: ‘Like stepping into a Russian novel’

I used to have a good friend who live din Saint Petersburg as a psychiatrist. His cards, letters, and photos of the place were superb.

Travel Associate

St Petersburg, the setting for key scenes in the BBC’s dramatisation of ‘War and Peace’, is at its best under a blanket of snow.

On the edge of a frozen lake, somewhere outside St Petersburg, I am stretched out on the wooden racks of a rickety banya, or sauna. Clouds of steam part to reveal several lobster-pink Russians on the racks below. Some maniac has just thrown a bucket of water on to the hot stones in the corner, and the temperature – already somewhere between gas mark 8 and Dante’s Inferno – rises dramatically. I feel my bone marrow is melting. Meanwhile, my new best friend, Seva, is whipping me with birch twigs – “For improving circulation,” he grunts.

St petersburg Neva River

Russian banya are the Baltic equivalent of ginseng; they cure everything: liver complaints, skin conditions, muscle ache, sexual dysfunction, broken hearts, spiritual unease. They are an integral part of the…

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