We had only taken about six steps through the gates of Kuskovo Estate when I made one of those minor parenting decisions that you shortly come to realise was a Big Mistake. “Can I throw sticks in that pond?” asked Beanie-boy. “No, sweetie, let’s go on a bit further and find somewhere else.” He pouted and replied: “But I like this pond”. I looked at the algae-covered water and the steep edge, and (picturing him falling in) said firmly: “No, let’s find somewhere else”. A small decision. But it resulted in approximately 90 minutes with Beanie-boy grumping, whining and generally sulking, which wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for our visit to the beautiful Kuskovo Estate.
Kuskovo is the former country estate of the Sheremetevs, once the wealthiest family in Russia (to be as “rich as a Sheremetev” was actually a saying). As well as the wooden palace (from the picture at the top of the page you’d never guess it wasn’t made of stone!), there is also an extensive number of pretty buildings which mostly date from the 18th century. Kuskovo is one of the gems of the Moscow country estates. If you read the small-print, a lot of other estates were so badly damaged or neglected during the 20th century that much of what you see today is replica (Tsaritsino, the palace of Catherine the Great, was almost completely rebuilt in the early 2000s), but in 1929 Kuskovo was turned into the State Museum of Ceramics and, as a result, even the lavish interiors managed to stay intact.
Kuskovo is also worth visiting for its tragic romantic history. In the 1760s the Sheremetevs established their own opera company, based at Kuskovo. All the musicians and singers were serfs from the various Sheremetev estates who had been selected and trained for their roles, and the reputation of the company was such that in 1775 the Empress Catherine attended a performance here. In the late 1780s the leading singer was Praskovya Kovalyova. Count Nikolai Sheremetev fell in love with her and by the 1790s she became first his mistress and then essentially they began (when in privacy) to live as man and wife. Legal marriage, however, to a serf was unthinkable for the richest man in Russia, but despite the Count’s attempts to hide his relationship with Praskovya, the rumours spread and Count Nikolai became isolated from much of society, and even his own family. Eventually in 1801 the Count (perhaps figuring he had little left to lose) granted Praskovya her freedom from serfdom, and married her in a secret ceremony in Moscow. One year later, Praskovya, who was already ill with Tuberculosis, died in childbirth. The Count was grief-stricken and spent much of his time and money devoted to charitable works. He wrote: “My wife’s death has shocked me to the point that the only way I know how to calm my suffering spirit is to devote myself to fulfilling her behest of caring for the poor man and the sick.”
We spent our time in the beautiful gardens that Count Nikolai and Praskovya would have known so well, admiring the collection of neo-classical sculptures, the enormous lake (you can hire rowing boats), and of course the pretty buildings. Little Pickle particularly liked the aviary with the peacocks, and she spent lots of time examining the tulips. Possibly some of the musical history of Kuskovo was still floating in the air because Little Pickle spent a fair proportion of her time singing (mainly Twinkle-twinkle Little Star but occasionally breaking into Happy Birthday.) I think Kuskovo was a big hit with her.
Beanie-boy’s mood marginally improved when we found a trail of ants going into a hole in the ground. Chocolate ice-cream improved things a little more, but it wasn’t until we actually came to a pond with a little bridge over it where he could throw his sticks (and pine-cones, and stones) that we finally got a proper smile out of him!
Kuskovo has a cafe but I’m afraid I can’t tell you what kind of food it serves because we took a picnic. Unlike at Arkhangelskoye, children are not allowed to ride their scooters in the grounds (scooters have to be left at the entrance) but, as the buildings in the gardens are all very close together, you can see quite a lot without walking very far. There are toilets on site, and a car park.
Kuskovo is located just inside the MKAD at Ulitsa Yunosti 2, and is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 20:00. The estate website is http://kuskovo.ru/en/