One of the loveliest views in Moscow is the sudden sight of the 18th century wooden palace across the water at Kuskovo, country estate of the Sheremetyev family. In spring, the palace grounds are particularly lovely as wild flowers cover the triangles of lawn inside the hedges of the formal gardens, but there are also plenty of interesting things to see indoors if a fickle May morning turns sour on you. The grounds are full of whimsical buildings and house the State Museum of Ceramics. One of Russia's most romantic liaisons also took place here. The serf actress and opera singer, Praskovya Kovalyova, who later married Count Nikolai Sheremetyev, lived here with him, in apartments adjoining the palace. Turning right out of the train and leave the station. Turn left into 4th Veshnyakovsky Proezd and walk along it to the end, crossing two roads to reach Veshnyaky Railway Station. Go under the railway, using the steps to the right of one of the shops, and cross another road to reach the 17th century Assumption church, built by the Sheremetyev boyars. Follow the track leading left past the church, under the highway until it brings you out onto a little road, opposite a residential block. Take the initially unpromising path into the woods ahead, between the fence and a dilapidated hut. Persevere through some rather muddy paths, bearing right past a small sports' field and left past a pond onto a tarmac track. Follow this track until it brings you out near a bridge and an ornamental canal, at the other end of which you can glimpse the palace through the trees.
Cross the bridge and walk along the right hand bank of the canal until you reach the end, where the view across the lake and wooded island has changed surprisingly little in two centuries. Walk round the lake to the right until you reach the main gate to the formal gardens. There are currently at least six different buildings you can visit, each with its own ticket on sale here. Buying them all, especially at the foreigner's rates, is a fairly expensive proposition, so it is worth knowing that a ticket to any of the buildings entitles you to enter the gardens and wander freely around the outside. A detailed map in English and Russian, including a key to all 54 statues, is available for just fifteen rubles. Individual prices and descriptions are given below to help you plan your tour.
Continuing straight on by the water, you pass close to a wooden 19th century coach house and the ornate kitchen block, followed by the church with a statue of the Archangel Michael on top, the oldest building on the estate. The yellow belltower, modeled on the Admiralty in St. Petersburg, was added in 1792. The pink and white palace with its sweeping staircase, guarded by sphinxes, has been lovingly restored to its silk-wallpapered 18th century glory and is probably worth the entrance fee (150/250 rubles for Russians/foreigners) if you like visiting stately homes. Walking left from the entrance hall, you pass through rooms hung with Flemish tapestries and endless portraits of the Sheremetyev family and the "raspberry drawing room" with its crimson walls. The Ballroom is decorated with gold reliefs, mirrors, rock crystal chandeliers and inlaid wood floors while the delightfully-named "All-day bedroom" and the music room include portraits by the famous serf artists of the Argunov family whose members were also responsible for much of the estate's architecture. The views out across the garden, tiled stoves and painted ceilings are all quite picturesque
Turning right out of the palace doors, you pass the Swiss House and the Dutch House, both currently closed to the public, and the domed Hermitage, topped by the goddess Flora. Beyond the Hermitage, you reach a large stone Orangery which houses a beautifully eclectic display of ceramics ranging from ancient Greek vases through Alexander I's Egyptian dinner service to Soviet era plates with slogans on them. Next door in the rebuilt "American Conservatory" is the even more extensive national collection with seven galleries full of porcelain from different times and places. Unless you are a huge fan, you might decide that one of these museums is quite sufficient. The first one might have more general appeal and has the added attraction of being slightly cheaper (100/200 rubles).
Walking diagonally left back through the gardens, past the gilded cage of the aviary, you come to an interesting ensemble of buildings, set around a pond near the entrance gate. The small pink houses on the far side are a reconstructed "menagerie," though neither these nor the aviary show any signs of life. The large green and white building is the "Italian Cottage," a kind of mini-palace with still more 18th century paintings and furniture. Next door, is the bizarre "Grotto", whose rather crumbling interior was encrusted with shells and sparkling sand. Finally, don't miss the exhibition in the private chambers of Praskovya-Sheremetyeva, a secluded corner of the main palace, round the back near the church. A ticket for each of these last three costs 50/100 rubles and the exhibition is arguably the most interesting; a famous portrait of Praskovya in a red shawl, painted by Nikolai Argunov, hangs on the wall.
Leaving the palace grounds (there is a hot pie and tea stall near the gate), you can catch bus 133 or 208 from just outside, back to Ryazansky Prospekt. For variety, you can walk through some more of the woodland estate to the suburban station of Kuskovo from where trains run roughly every fifteen minutes to Kursky Vokzal. Sometimes on weekends, the back gate to the palace is open in which case the station is very near; if it's shut, you need to go back around the lake and the canal to reach the same point. From the far end of the lake, a road leads west over a bridge; turn right along a concrete track just after passing house 40 to reach the station. There is no ticket office at Kuskovo station, so you have simply to climb over the bridge, catch any train going into Moscow (left as you approach the station) and then pay nineteen rubles at the ticket office on the way out.