Pavlovsk is the youngest of the grand Imperial estates around St. Petersburg. Named in honour of Tsar Pavel, this fine neo-classical palace and its extensive landscaped gardens are stamped with his taste and even more so with that of his wife, the German-born Maria Feodorovna. Although there was no love lost between Pavel and his mother, Catherine the Great, it was she who originally presented him with the 362 desyatinas - 607 hectares - of land around the Slavyanskaya River. Perhaps it was the impossibility of living with her son at TsarskoeSelo, combined with the desire to keep him and his family reasonably close, that prompted her to do so, although the official reason was the birth of her grandson, the future Alexander I.
Although lacking the dazzling splendour of the estates at TsarskoeSelo and Peterhof, Pavlovsk is well worth visiting both for the treasures in the elegant palace and for the charming, rambling park, which is one of the largest and finest English-style landscape gardens outside the UK.
Both the Park and the Palace at Pavlovsk were victims of wanton destruction during the Nazi occupation, and the extraordinary restoration project was not completed until the mid-1950s. Fortunately, there were extensive blueprints available for all aspects of the estate, so what you see now is almost entirely faithful to the original designs.
The Great Palace at Pavlovsk is somewhat staid in comparison to its near neighbour at TsarskoeSelo, forgoing that building's opulent ornamentation for classical elegance and harmony, painted in the deep yellow and white colour scheme typical of St. Petersburg neo-classicism.
The park's design, by Charles Cameron and Vincenzo Brenna - and, it is rumoured, Capability Brown - takes full advantage of the rolling countryside around the Slavyanka River's valley to create delightful vistas of copses, gentle slopes, winding streams and the occasional classical folly.
Stretching back to the north and east of the palace, the park covers a massive 607 hectares in total, much of it deep woodland. Although it would take almost a day to explore the whole area, the most interesting sections of the park - and most of the follies - are along the banks of the Slavyanka. From the terrace of the Great Palace, a fine view north reveals the elegant ruins of Cameron's Apollo Column, several delightful stone bridges across the river, and the circular Temple of Friendhip. Slightly further in the distance, the Vokzhalniye Ponds offer boating throughout the summer.
The park at Pavlovsk has been a popular weekend getaway for St. Petersburgers since the advent of Russia's first railway, which ran from the city to Pavlovsk, stopping at Pushkin on the way. It is the ideal place to come in summer for picnicking, with the size of the park making it always possible to find a secluded spot. In winter, the park is practically deserted, and eerily romantic under a fresh fall of snow.
Pavlovsk is just over 30km south of St. Petersburg, 5km further down the road from Pushkin/TsarskoeSelo. Many visitors therefore find it convenient to combine both estates in one day, spending most of the day in Pushkin, and a few hours in Pavlovsk towards evening. If you have the time, however, it is well worth spending a leisurely day in Pavlovsk, taking in the full glories of the vast park.