Autumn is the perfect time to wander the historic streets of the Lefortovo district. The leafy park, palaces, gardens and cemetery here are pleasantly far from the beaten track. Few present-day tourists ever get this far, but the picturesque old foreigners' quarter influenced Peter the Great and, through him, changed the course of history. It was here, in 1703, that he decided to move the capital to St. Petersburg. Peter's father, Tsar Alexei had forced foreigners to live in this ghetto on the banks of the Yauza, which, ironically, became a magnet for the young Peter. The company of foreign women in low cut dresses, at parties where the wine flowed freely and tobacco clouded the air, were not least among the pleasures that drew him to this European enclave.
The atmosphere of the suburb is clear as soon as you turn right out of the metro and left onto Baumanskaya Ulitsa. Across the road at No. 40, a bust of Alexander Pushkin as a boy stands in front of a school. This marks the site of the cottage where the poet was born in 1799. Go on along the road and take the second turning on the left into Starokirochny Pereulok. The yellow house with columns at No. 5, at the far end, was the home of Peter the Great's mistress, Anna Mons. Daughter of a Westphalian wine merchant, she was described as an "exceedingly beautiful blonde, with flashing eyes and a bold easy laugh". Peter divorced his wife, Evdokia, and sent her to a convent, but he never married Anna, who married the Prussian envoy instead and continued to live in this house.
Turn right into 2nd Baumanskaya Ulitsa to take a look at the palace of Franz Lefort, the Swiss mercenary and bosom friend of Peter the Great, who has given his name to the whole area. Peter had this palace built in 1697 as a venue for his "Drunken Synod" whose members were to "get drunk every day and never go to bed sober". It now houses the historical archives of the Defence Ministry. The even larger palace beyond it, now a technical institute, was home to a succession of important statesmen, including Catherine the Great's chief minister, Alexander Bezborodko. Retrace your steps to the top of the hill and find a small lane leading right from behind the kiosks along the side of Lefort's palace. At the end of this lane, turn left along the bank of the Yauza River.
Cross the bridge and go on up Gospitalnaya Ulitsa. The impressive stone palace on the left, with columns and bas reliefs, is the military hospital commissioned by Peter the Great. Turn right into "Golovinsky" Park and follow the path leading diagonally right to join the main avenue which runs straight down and up again through what were the gardens of the former Golovin palace. There is a bust of Peter to the right, behind the café. The summerhouse which shelters him is encased in renovators' netting, but a detour to peer in also provides a great viewpoint for admiring the grotto across the pond which dates from the 18th century when the garden was redesigned as a European-style landscaped park.
Turning left out of the gates at the far end, along Krasnokazarmennaya Ulitsa, you pass the white service buildings and the red barracks, built by Catherine the Great's militaristic son Paul as an addition to her palace nearby. Cross over the road at the end and turn left through well-maintained gardens. After passing two war memorials, head left towards the road for a great view of the Yekaterininsky Palace, built on the site of an older palace belonging to Peter's prime minister, Fyodor Golovin. The current palace was built in the late 18th century by Domenico Gilliardi. The huge row of grey columns in the red façade is certainly imposing. The building is now owned by the military.
Cross over Energeticheskaya Ulitsa. The infamous Lefortovo prison is to the right along this road. Dissidents have been held here since the late 19th century and it is still the FSB's interrogation centre. A more cheerful destination is the Peter and Paul Church, on the left at the end of 1st Krasnokursantsky Proyezd. Turn right beyond the church, following the tramlines, and then left into Nalichnaya Ulitsa, to arrive at the Vvedenskoye Cemetery. This atmospheric graveyard has numerous stones with German, French or English inscriptions. It is sometimes referred to - like the area - as the "German" cemetery from the old Russian word for foreigners ("nemtsy", meaning literally "mutes") which has now come to mean "German". If you want to find out more about the "German quarter", you can visit the Lefortovo Museum, round the corner on Kryu kov skaya Ulitsa. The cemetery is particularly beautiful in October with the golden maple leaves falling on the urns and weeping angels.
Outside the gates on the far side of the cemetery, you can catch any tram to Semyonovskaya metro station. Opposite the metro station, there is a statue of one of Peter the Great's model soldiers from the Semyonovsky Guards regiment. The nearby branch of the canteen-style Grabli could provide snacks.
If they've had enough after the park, there are trams running right past the exit to take you back to the metro. The No. 24 goes to Kurskaya and all the others back to Baumanskaya.
Landmark of the week
Church of Saints Peter and Paul in the Soldiers' quarter
Built in 1711 for the soldiers of Lefort's regiments, this whitewashed, blue-domed church houses a baroque, 18th century iconostasis with several fine icons in it.