Alexandrovsky Park in Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo), a European park sledge, a coachman in a beautiful livery, the unhurried pace of a pair of Russian trotting horses – it is so easy to feel like a court nobleman, a prominent dignitary, or even the Emperor or the Empress. Sleighing plunges into the atmosphere of a snowy Russian winter, Russian forest, and the magnificent era of the Royal court.
Tsarskoye Selo since its foundation in 1710 was built as an imperial estate, and then it turned into a residence. The founder of St. Petersburg, tsar Peter I (Peter the Great) granted land to his future wife, and a little later his daughter Elizabeth developed the area laying regular parks and building the Catherine Palace. For this purpose, she invited the count Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, «author» of the Winter Palace (now part of the Hermitage) in St. Petersburg.
The Catherine Palace
All subsequent emperors and empresses of Russia maintained the status of Tsarskoye Selo as the residence of the ruling family of the Russian Empire, making the city a place where the court aristocratic brilliance shaded decisions that influenced the fate of Europe as well as the whole world.
Two horses, harnessed to a sleigh are waiting for you on the Great Chinese bridge at the Golden gate of Alexandrovsky Park. Each sleigh has four comfortable seats covered with shaggy blankets. Additionally, you can get other two very warm blankets, so riding becomes very comfortable even in sub-zero temperatures.
The coachman starts driving gently and the sleigh moves slowly with its runners slightly creaking on the white snow along the central linden alley, leaving behind the main entrance to the Catherine Palace. The area of Alexandrovsky Park is almost 200 hectares, and even an hour ride is not enough to see everything in it. However, you’ll see all the sightseeings, beautiful bridges, amazing buildings as functional as fanciful. Most of them were recreated and restored in the last five years, therefore tourists have not yet had time to make Alexandrovsky Park their favorite attraction, although its set of elegant and graceful palaces and pavilions is superior to Catherine’s Park in Pushkin.
Once the hunting ground of the imperial house, the park in the middle of the 18th century became a place for entertainment and walks, hence its strict geometry and perfectly manicured state. It is ideal for quiet court talks and thoughtful discussions of the future imperial decrees.
Who knows how many interesting things these tall and graceful pines heard at that time, and now you are passing these trees in sleighs leaving behind the Chapelle – a Gothic ruin, or the Chinese village – a famous series of houses, in the style of chinoiserie?
Court coachmen were discreet and skilled. Serious demands were made and are still imposed, of course, to horses. There are two sleighs in Pushkin and four trotters — Krapivnik, Biser, Kaznachei, and Cyparis. They are professionally tamed and saddled, fed and cared for in accordance with special technologies; they are also trained to work in pairs, to feel each other, not to conflict. Raised by a large German specialist, horse pairs (Krapivnik – Biser and Kaznachei – Cyparis) are extremely reserved and very friendly towards people.
You are in a real Russian winter forest
Alexandrovsky Park is able to surprise. Trotters run gently, leaving buildings and bridges behind, and you are in a real Russian winter forest…
… and after a turn you suddenly see a majestically playful building as if transferred to this place from books about the Middle Ages or the Renaissance. For example, the Arsenal, where a personal collection of weapons of Emperor Nicholas I was kept.
Sleigh and the Arsenal behind
The sleigh is gently floating through the snow, and at some point you catch yourself thinking that you are experiencing an unusual for a citizen accustomed to wheeled or rail transport, feeling – you move through the forest as if by yourself, without any effort. Smoothness of movement together with clean air, white snowbanks, trees and bushes bring you into a light trance, set for a meditation. Sleighing is a great way to relax, get a psychological relief, a kind of folk wisdom from the Russian imperial house.
Sleigh Ride in Tsarskoe Selo
Place: Alexandrovsky Park, Pushkin. The sleighs are at the Golden gate opposite the main entrance to the Catherine Palace (this is not the entrance to the Palace from Catherine Park, where tourists come from); the sledge can pick you up from anywhere in the Park.
Working hours: Saturday-Sunday from 10.00 to 16.00, by prior arrangement – any day of the week.
Price: one hour – 10,000 roubles; 30 minutes – 7,000 roubles.
— cooking pancakes, kebabs, etc.;
— performance of folklore ensemble;
— a master class of horse harness.
❗ St. Petersburg has plenty to offer in horse drawn rides. Look at the excursions below: