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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Alternative Allure Of the Urban Pensione

Complaints of exorbitant prices in Moscow's and St. Petersburg's best hotels and restaurants have become as common as they are ineffective. My friend and fellow columnist in this paper, Jo Durden-Smith, went so far as far as to put all the blame on Western government and corporate executives who come here loaded with money that isn't their own, and by thoughtless spending undermine the competition. The point, dear Jo, I'm afraid, is in the simple fact that there isn't enough competition.

Megahotels such as the Grand Hotel Europe and Nevsky Palace, renovated and run by Western management, will stay where they are with all their prices, boutiques and security. And they certainly should. But the saplings of a new breed have stuck their yet feeble heads out of the St. Petersburg asphalt.

Family-run, bed and breakfast type pensiones seem to be the answer. The three places I have been able to discover in St. Petersburg keep amazingly low profiles. They obviously prefer to rely on word of mouth -- the old, familiar Russian style of advertising. It is cheaper and, much more important, safer in an environment teeming with unwanted "protectors." All three establishments offer homey, cozy, quiet and safe accommodation. To get into the clean coziness of your room you may have to walk a few flights or use an elevator in what still looks (and sometimes smells) like a basic Soviet staircase. You won't have the royal luxury of a fancy hotel, but at $50 to $100 a night, they are a far cry from the inflated prices of the major hotels.

The first of them, Turgenev, quietly opened on a street off Nevsky Prospect about three years ago. A relatively small four-room apartment in a historic building, the Turgenev is favored by gallery owners and artists from Germany and guests of the Russian Museum.

Two blocks from the Grand Hotel is the Anichkov, the newest and best located of all three pensiones. Its six rooms in a former communal apartment have been completely renovated. There is a spacious and sunlit dining room with a fireplace and a huge terrace that commands a marvelous view of Nevsky Prospekt, the Fontanka river, the Four Horsemen Bridge and an entire ensemble of palaces, one of which -- Anichkov -- gave the name to the place.

Matisov Domik is the only one that has its own, newly built small building in the area of the Mariinsky Theater. Not quite a family type business, and one that is growing and expanding into adjacent premises, Matisov has been able to earn a reputation by its friendly and caring service.

Anichkov, 64/11 Karavannaya. Tel. 314-8619; Fax. 235-4102.

Turgenev, 13 B. Konyushennaya. Tel.: 314-4529; Fax. 311-5180.

Matisov Domik, 3/1 Pryazhka Ulitsa. Tel. 219-5445; Fax. 219-7419.