Moneymen may be in meltdown around the world, but Moscow’s millionaires are determined to party on to the end
Russians will tell you Moscow doesn’t believe in tears, so it’s hardly surprising that while the world tightens its belt, Europe’s largest and most expensive city is ordering more champagne and trying to party on regardless. After all, with more billionaires than any other metropolis on earth, even a credit crunch can’t stop the flow of petro-dollars around Red Square. So what’s the best way to splash the cash with Moscow’s most minted?
To start with, book into the Ritz-Carlton hotel. The prime Tverskaya site, with Kremlin views, once housed a dowdy Soviet-era Intourist monolith. Now the cheapest rooms start from $1,000 and there's a gourmet 'Tsar’s Breakfast' of Cristal champagne, beluga caviar and truffle omelette. With the city's only Michelin three-star chef in the Jeroboam restaurant, and a wine list boasting a $68,000 Chateau Petrus, you can continue to punish your plastic here all day. The guest list is a roll call of big names: Chelsea’s Champions League squad, Naomi Campbell, the remaining members of Queen and a string of visiting dignitaries from near and far.
But there’s more to do than just sleep: jump in your chauffeured limo, make sure your designer shades match the tinted windows and have your man drive you into the city’s frenetic club-life. Rai - the name means ‘paradise’ - has the city’s most unyielding ‘feis kontrol’ (door policy) to keep out the poor and ugly. As always, money talks: bosses of Russia’s leading metal corporations booked up the venue for a recent celebration and were asked for a cool $2,400 per table of 10. That still wouldn’t get you near the top table, perched above a waterfall with frolicking unicorns at your feet, but it would buy you a dangerous quantity of the most expensive vodka in town (starting at $40 a shot).
If your wardrobe isn’t up to the mark for Rai, don’t despair. The streets around Petrovka and Kuznetsky Most - particularly Stoleshnikov Pereulok - are crammed with designer boutiques. Since Tsarist times this has been the chic shopping strip: Tolstoy and Chekhov were among those who wrote of the lavish goods on offer. As well as international names, local hero Denis Simachov is steadily earning a global reputation for his designs. And helpfully he has a bar/nightclub of his own with slightly more relaxed door codes.
Retail therapy or dancing the night away works up an appetite, and the perfect place to fight off hunger is the Yar Restaurant. Once it was a Tsarist institution; surprisingly Stalin reopened it in 1951 as part of the showcase Sovietsky Hotel. In addition to the finest Russian imperial cuisine - think caviar; think sturgeon poached in champagne - the restaurant boasts its own theatre, and a full-on chorus line of glamorous Russian lovelies strutting their stuff in the leggiest folk-dance show in town.
For those whose wealth is out of this world, Russia has long been the go-to destination for space tourism. Not everyone has the physique to cope with the demands of a real launch in the national space programme - though for about $10 million it’s possible - but the Star City complex in Moscow Region offers a chance to experience weightlessness and get a sense of what it might be like to realise that childhood dream of visiting other worlds. Real high-fliers might prefer the chance to hop in a MiG fighter jet and take a supersonic trip to the edge of the atmosphere - in the hands of an experienced Russian military pilot, of course.
More sedate but equally exclusive travel is available along the epic Trans-Siberian railway. Forget the wheeled dormitories of Russian Railways. Since its 2007 launch, supported by Prince Michael of Kent, the Golden Eagle private train has sent luxury wagons swaggering across the steppes on the way to Beijing or Vladivostock. The last tsar may have abdicated from a rail carriage near Pskov, but royal refinements are back on the rails once more. With elegant, comfortable trains, and guides on hand to help unlock the mysteries of darkest Siberia, it’s the high-class option for exploring this vast country as well as neighbouring Mongolia and China.
BA, BMI, Aeroflot and Transaero have scheduled services between London and Moscow. The Russian National Tourist Office on Piccadilly in London is a good starting point for arranging visas and can advise on travel.