The Kuskovo Estate, nicknamed the Moscow Versailles due to its formal French gardens, is a perfect example of an 18th century Muscovite country residence. The history of the estate dates back to 1715, when Tsar Peter the Great awarded the village of Kuskovo to Boris Sheremetev, a Russian general who excelled at the battle of Poltava and who decided to build a summer residence there. The Sheremetyevs were one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Russia and the estate was used by several generations of the family.

Its present layout is owed to Boris' son Pyotr, who devoted himself to managing the estate after he inherited some 200,000 serfs from his father and married Varvara Cherkasskaya, whose dowry included the talented serf architects Fyodor Argunov and Alexei Mironov. In its heyday the estate included an impressive zoo covering some 230 acres of land, but it gradually fell into disrepair after Pyotr died and his son Nikolai chose instead to spend his summers at the family's palace at Ostankino. The estate was looted by the French army during the Moscow campaign of 1812 and was later repaired but remained one of the family's summer residences and a site for private receptions, celebrations and festivities until the Bolsheviks nationalized it in 1918.

The estate comprises the central palace and a number of smaller buildings and architectural follies dotted throughout an extensive landscape park, which includes formal French gardens, ponds, lakes and Russian and Italian sculptures.

These buildings were designed and built by both French and Russian architects and took over 40 years to complete.

The centerpiece of the estate, the wedding cake-like main Palace, was constructed entirely of wood and although damaged by the French during the Napoleonic Wars of 1812, has since been completely restored to its former glory. It's painted salmon-pink and white exterior was completed between 1769 and 1777 by the serf architects Argunov and Mironov and supervised by the professional architect Karl Blank. Visitors enter the palace through its ornate Grecian Vestibule, decorated with fake antique urns and lashings of marble, and proceed through an impressive enfilade of 18th century interiors.

These include a silk-wallpapered card and billiard room, a mirrored dining hall, a tapestry room hung with original Flemish tapestries, a grandiose state bedchamber featuring an allegorical fresco, Innocence Choosing Between Wisdom and Love, and a cozy study made entirely of solid oak paneling. But the highlight of the palace is undoubtedly the magnificent ballroom, sumptuously decorated with gold ornamentation, crystal chandeliers and relief panels depicting the exploits of the ancient Roman hero Mucius Scaevola, who thrust his hand into fire to prove his indifference to pain. The hall also features a fresco of Apollo and the Muses, glorifying the Sheremetevs and their fame, wealth and power.

Behind the palace in the estate's charming geometrically laid out French garden stands the yellow, white and green Grotto. The building features a prominent dome and wrought iron gates and boasts an interior decorated by the famous St. Petersburg architect Johannes Fokt using shells, stones, textured stucco and porcelain.

Nearby visitors will find the delightful Italian Cottage, a miniature palace in its own right which houses a period grandfather clock that still chimes the hour. Beyond the estate's Aviary and open air Green Theater stands the Orangery, which houses a magnificent Ceramics Museum.

The museum's features an impressive collection of ceramics and glassware, including more than 33,000 pieces of Italian majolica, Venetian, English glassware and Meissen, Sevres and Oriental porcelain. However, Kuskovo's most prized pieces are to be found in its extensive collection of Russian porcelain from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Visitors can see everything from the Egyptian dinner service of Tsar Alexander I to vases commemorating the construction of the Moscow metro system. Elsewhere in the park you'll find Blank's Baroque Hermitage, topped by a statue of the goddess Flora, the 1749 brick Dutch Cottage, the elaborately gabled Swiss Cottage, created by the St. Petersburg designer Nikolai Benois, and a black obelisk built to commemorate a visit by Empress Catherine the Great.

During the summer the estate's main palace hosts occasional classical music concerts and festivities, organized by the US and French Embassies, to celebrate Independence Day on June 4th and Bastille Day on July 14th. The celebrations usually involve music, fashion shows, period costumes, games and air displays and tickets can be bought as you enter the estate gates.