This is a fine hotel in a good location, at the nicer end of the Bauman walking street in Kazan, immediately adjacent to two old churches. I stayed here for two nights with a friend during a recent three-day visit to Kazan to see the sights. If you speak Russian and have an expectation for upper middle class service in the Russian style I think you'll like this place very much if you don't mind the risk of cigar smoke. But for that I would recommend it. Let's cover the positives and the negatives:
Location - Bauman Street is a pedestrian-only walking street that runs from the kremlin in Kazan about two kilometers (a little over a mile) out to a shopping district where there is a metro station and a small shopping center. The Shalyapin Palace is at the far end away from the Kremlin, which is a good location because that is a much livelier part of Bauman Street.
Bauman Street is like the Arbat in Moscow or Bolshaya Pokrovka in Nizhny Novgorod, in that it is a pedestrian-only street lined with shops. However, unlike those other two examples Bauman is strikingly lifeless with relatively few people walking about even in fine weather on a weekend. I think the problem is that Bauman does not have very many shops or restaurants on it and what few there are seem to be about seventy percent souvenir shops selling more or less the same souvenirs. I suppose since those are not a draw for local people if there aren't any tourists in town then Bauman tends to have fewer people on it.
The end of Bauman near the kremlin has been recently renovated so the street level store fronts are completely empty. Not only is there nothing there but along the middle of Bauman in the two blocks near the kremlin are strikingly ugly metal covers over what appear to be planters or ventilation shafts for something underground. That contrasts with the much more charming appearance of Bauman at the end near the Shalyapin Palace hotel, where there are restaurants and stores and very charming bronze sculptures of various kinds.
A downside of the more livelier location is that if your room faces Bauman you will get all sorts of noise, sometimes very loud noise, late into the night from street musicians, revelers, miscellaneous drunks and the like. Our room was on the third floor in front and with the window open we could hear every detail of the bagpipe player who set up shop in the square in front of the hotel and played well past 11 in the evening. I will say the soundproofing was excellent in that with the window closed we could barely hear him.
That raises the first of what gives this hotel a Soviet-era feel to it sometimes and what holds it back from being more than a three star hotel: For hours during Saturday night a group of utterly drunk young people was shouting at the top of their lungs in the courtyard. They were shouting so loudly you could hear them through soundproofing that had almost completely blocked the sound of a bagpiper. But for whatever reason the hotel administration did absolutely nothing - if this were an international standard hotel the administration, manager and night manager would have the forethought to have established some connections with local police so they could make a call and get such a group moved on so their guests would not be disturbed. But that did not happen with this hotel, a more-or-less typically Soviet approach, a missed opportunity given the emphasis that Kazan as a city is placing on developing tourism.
Parking: The Shalyapin Palace has free parking in a small courtyard in back of the hotel. This is a tremendous plus when arriving by automobile as otherwise parking is very difficult in that part of Kazan. Although the parking is said to be guarded, I did not notice any guards. On the morning I departed (a Sunday) I did see that a Mercedes SUV parked in the courtyard had a rear window broken. That could have been, of course, nothing more than someone deciding a bit of payback was appropriate given that the Mercedes was parked diagonally to occupy two spaces of the relatively limited amount of parking. The Kazan police seemed to take the matter seriously (perhaps the driver had pull with local government) with several militia officers on the scene taking copious notes and photographs.
Pool, Gym and Spa: The hotel has a small pool which was well-used by guests for swimming laps. It was clean and we enjoyed it as well, a wonderful way to relax after a long drive when we arrived on Friday. The spa was booked solid for massages on Friday but squeezed us in for massages on Saturday evening. Good job! I used the gym, which has basic equipment that is a bit old fashioned but perfectly serviceable. I also liked the location at the end of Bauman for jogging, as one can do laps jogging down Bauman to the kremlin and back.
Restaurant and breakfasts - We ate breakfasts at the restaurant which has a buffet style breakfast featuring a variety of foods, including English breakfast style hearty foods and fresh ground / fresh made coffee. Readers of my other reviews know one of my tests for a good breakfast restaurant is how well they do oatmeal - I figure if something this simple cannot be produced there is a fundamental flaw in the kitchen. In this case the first morning, Saturday, the oatmeal was utterly awful, more like thin oatmeal-flavored soup than hearty oatmeal. That's a particular disappointment since "kasha" as oatmeal for breakfast is known in Russia, is one of the hallmarks of a good Russian breakfast. I complained to the restaurant management and the next morning the oatmeal was perfect. Good for them for changing, but very Soviet of them to have such poor management that they could have missed this detail on Saturday.
The restaurant occasionally ran out of some choices. For example, a local Tatar speciality in Kazan is chak chak, which is thin, spaghetti-like extrusions of dough that are fried in oil and then lifted out of the oil, patted dry, mixed with honey and then pressed together to form small balls or cakes. It is eaten as a sweet or for breakfast. For Americans, the effect is somewhat like rice krispies treats. The Shalyapin Palace restaurant had especially good chak chak in the breakfast buffet, but unfortunately by 8 am Sunday they had run out, a disappointment.
Rooms - Rooms were comfortable and clean. However, the bed sold as a "King Size Bed" on Expedia was not remotely king sized. It was at most a queen sized bed but I suspect actually smaller than a western standard queen size and possibly just a larger twin. I asked at the front desk and that's all they have when it comes to one bed in a room (as opposed to two smaller beds).
Cigar smoke - the primary reason this hotel does not get a higher rating from me is the grossly negligent attitude they have to cigar smoking, a big problem given the physical layout of the hotel. Walking into the hotel there is a large, very nice, staircase that goes up to floors above Walk through the reception area and into the restaurant and bar are and you enter what is an inner atrium that is open above to all the floors above.
That sounds like a nice effect except that if you have an inconsiderate swine sitting in the bar smoking a cigar not only will the cigar smoke and smell pollute the bar, lower atrium and restaurant area, it rises upwards to pollute the floors above as well. All it takes is one jerk with a cigar to provide such a heavy odor of cigar smoke that your clothes will smell of it just from the walk from the elevator to your room even if your room is on the third floor.
Anyone who lives in and visits Russia knows perfectly well that it is a smoking culture with far more smoking of cigarettes in public places than, say, in the US. But even in Russia usually the management of hotels and restaurants understands that cigar smoking is crossing the line. Regrettably, the management of the Shalyapin Palace hotel does not have that understanding or courtesy towards its guests. Two nights in a row some swine sat at a bar table and smoked away with a cigar, polluting the entire atrium and the floors above.
That's one of those Soviet era touches which are a deal-breaker for me. When visiting Russia it is critically important to pick a hotel where you can trust management to deal with jerks on your behalf, as it is far too personally risky to confront anyone yourself over behavior that ruins the experience for everyone else. If a hotel is not managed well enough for someone in authority to walk over and suggest to a guest with a cigar that he take it outside, I'm not going to stay there. For that reason I cannot recommend this hotel whereas otherwise it would be OK and a reasonable choice.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- "Shalyapin Palace Hotel" in Kazan is a restored architectural monument from the last century filled with all the mystery and grandeur of times past and embodying the greatest hospitality and comfort demanded by even the most exacting visitor. This hotel offers 123 comfortable classical-style rooms which still embrace modern materials and the national décor. In such a quiet and intimate environment it is possible to work productively using wi-fi or to carry out business negotiations in our perfectly equipped conference halls or in the hotel Business Center. Our guests may also regain their energy and improve their moods in our Fitness Center taking advantage of our free pool, sauna and exercise room. After a long day sit back and enjoy refined dishes in our restaurant "Capella" or savour a cup of tea or coffee at our "Piano" bar. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Shalyapin Palace Hotel Kazan