With its sizzling slices of bed-hopping and aristocratic intrigue, the BBC’s six-part Sunday night adaptation of War And Peace is helping to lift the January gloom.
But while Leo Tolstoy’s epic cocktail of battles, banquets and betrayal is set during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century, the Russia it portrays can still be seen in the 21st.
And the best place to follow in the fictional footsteps of the Bolkonskys and the Rostovs is St Petersburg…
Splendour: The BBC series makes a star of the Catherine Palace, a rococo feast of a building, 15 miles south of the centre in Tsarskoye Selo
The TV version: Lily James and James Norton dazzle in lead roles in the six-part Sunday adaptation of War And Peace
A LITTLE HISTORY: St Petersburg, where Tolstoy’s saga opens in 1805, was the power base of Russia’s monarchy from 1703 (when it was founded by Peter the Great) to 1917 (the Russian Revolution).
And it is still crammed with palaces and mansions.
GOOD TO KNOW: Russia is usually expensive, but due to the weak rouble — 106 to the pound — it is now cheap to visit.
St Petersburg is at its best in June and July, when temperatures hit the 20s and daylight lasts 20 hours.
This is the season of the White Nights Festival — a collection of cultural events, including opera, classical music and ballet.
THE WAR & PEACE TRAIL: The BBC series makes a star of the Catherine Palace, a rococo feast of a building, 15 miles south of the centre in Tsarskoye Selo (eng.tzar.ru; £3.60).
Its wonderful main ballroom was used for the scene where Natasha Rostov (Lily James) is swirled around the floor by the smouldering Prince Andrei (James Norton).
Back in the city, the Yusupov Palace (yusupov-palace.ru; £6.50) was home to the powerful Yusupovs.
Opulent: In St Petersburg, the Yusupov Palace was used as a filming location for the home to the powerful Yusupovs in the story
It witnessed the murder of infamous royal adviser Grigori Rasputin in 1916.
The Hermitage, meanwhile, is arguably the world’s finest gallery (hermitagemuseum.org; £5.50), and also features in the TV drama.
Many of its masterpieces (including works by Rembrandt, Monet and Picasso) are displayed in the Winter Palace — the Tsar’s official residence from 1732 to 1917.
Lavish: Dip into the 19th century at the fabulous, five star Grand Hotel Europe — which opened in 1875 and still clings to the elegance of pre-Revolutionary Russia
Drama: With its sizzling slices of bed-hopping and aristocratic intrigue, War And Peace is helping to lift the January gloom
WHERE TO STAY: Dip into the 19th century at the fabulous, five-star Grand Hotel Europe — which opened in 1875 and still clings to the elegance of pre-Revolutionary Russia (belmond.com, 0845 077 2222).
Money no object? Slumber in the Romanov Suite — named in tribute to the last Russian imperial family.
Standard double rooms start at £108. The stylish, four-star Angleterre Hotel (angleterrehotel.com, 007 812 494 5666) is next door to St Isaac’s Cathedral. Doubles from £59, room only.
OTHER SIGHTS: Take a stroll along Nevsky Prospekt, St Petersburg’s gilded main avenue.
Pause at Great Gostiny Dvor (bgd.ru) — a sumptuous arcade of shops which was founded in 1757.
On the same street, the glorious Kazan Cathedral (kazansky-spb.ru) is firmly tied to Tolstoy’s tome.
It was built between 1801 and 1811 — the period in the book.
Mikhail Kutuzov — Russia’s military commander in the struggle with Napoleon — is buried inside.
WHAT’S NEW? Novaya Gollandiya (New Holland; newhollandsp.ru) is an excellent recent arrival — a former naval prison which has been reinvigorated as an al fresco area of sculptures, bars and eateries.
Colourful: The Church of the Saviour is one of the main sights of St Petersburg with its breathtaking and bold design
Stars on screen: War and Peace features actor Paul Dano as Pierre Bezukhov (top left), Lily James as Natasha Rostova (centre) and James Norton as the smouldering Prince Andrei Bolkonsky
WHERE TO EAT: Five-star Hotel Astoria (roccofortehotels.com, 007 812 494 5757) has played host to everyone from Lenin to Madonna.
Its Astoria Cafe serves an extravagant range of caviars.
Or try trendy Mansarda (ginza-mansarda.ru) — a glass walled rooftop restaurant close to St Isaac’s which offers a tempting cocktail list, and beef stroganoff with mash for £8.
HOW TO DO IT: Russia expert Exeter International (exeterinternational.co.uk, 020 8996 5163) can organise tours of the backstage areas of the historic Mariinsky Theatre and the storerooms of the Hermitage — and sells three-night breaks at five-star Hotel Astoria from £1,395 pp.
The Ultimate Travel Company (theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk, 020 3553 0379) offers ‘St Petersburg: Treasures Of The Russian Tsars’, a five-day guided tour in the company of Tania Illingworth (née Tolstoy) — a descendent of the author.
Two trips in February cost from £2,295 per head with flights.
DETAILS: Brits need a tourist visa, which takes five working days to process and costs £88.40. Apply at ru.vfsglobal.co.uk.