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The guest list is a who’s who of the world’s elite and includes Mikhail Boulgakov and more recently, Madonna, and Elton John among many others. It’s no surprise then that the Hotel Astoria’s charms are as five-star as they come, with views of the Saint Isaac's Cathedral from most of the guest rooms, and toe-curling treatments at a spa, which many consider the best in the city. Designs by Olga Polizzi are sleek and playful, and belie the hotel’s somewhat austere facade. The white marble bathrooms, teak flooring and colorful upholstery are the norm, and for the wow factor, the Royal Suite offers views of the cathedral, the Saint Isaac's Square, the Nicholas I statue and the Mariinsky Palace. Now that’s a sense of place. Afternoon Teas in the Rotonda Lounge are among the best in the city, and a prime location means cultural landmarks such as the Hermitage Museum and the Winter Palace are just a stroll away.