Welcome to the clean but rustic ForRestMix – England’s World Cup hotel
Gareth Southgate has chosen his squad’s base in the village of Repino – we sent Alec Luhn to stay there
Vladimir Lenin once hid from the Tsarist police in this sleepy seaside village on the northern outskirts of St Petersburg, and the famous artist Ilya Repin – after whom it was later renamed – sheltered here from the commotion of what was then the Russian capital.
England’s football team will also avoid the hustle and bustle of the city of five million when they stay in Repino during the 2018 World Cup in Russia. But their choice of lodgings, the clean but rustic ForRestMix hotel, has raised eyebrows.
“ForRestMix? They could have found themselves something better,” said Dmitry, the proprietor of a small shooting gallery with a portrait of Lenin on the wall.
“There are lots in the city. The Astoria or the Grand Hotel Europe,” he added, referring to two five-star hotels in St Petersburg’s historic centre. “Even our national team don’t stay in such places when they travel. It’s simple, nothing special.”
He noted that the Residence Hotel and Spa, a renovated Soviet complex built on the site where communist writer Maxim Gorky briefly took refuge, was considered the top accommodation in Repino, although it only has 60 rooms compared to the 107 in the ForRestMix.
England qualified for the World Cup by beating Slovenia at Wembley on Thursday – and manager Gareth Southgate has reportedly already chosen ForRestMix as the team’s base and has even been to inspect it.
The hotel has a number of advantages. It is just six miles from Zelenogorsk, where the Three Lions will train at a complex being built for Russia’s youth Olympic reserve team. It is a good thing they are not training at the hotel, which has only two child-size goals on its grounds.
While it is on the other side of St Petersburg from the airport, the new highway that cuts across the Bay of Finland, running by the city’s World Cup venue Zenit Arena, has reduced the trip there to less than an hour.
Thanks to the sea breeze, the air is much fresher in Repino, a weekend getaway for the Soviet intelligentsia and now the nouveaux riches, than in St Petersburg.
Repino’s location, however, could backfire, as at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when players complained about being isolated in Rustenberg. The village is a 45-minute trip from St Petersburg’s historic Finland Station on a rattletrap commuter train, but if there is traffic on the highway, the trip to the city could easily take twice as long.
A 15-minute walk from the beach, ForRestMix is cut off from the decrepit Soviet sanatoriums around it by a fence, guardhouse and boom gate. It has underground parking and a ‘helicopter pad’ – a parking lot with a large ‘H’ painted on it.
While this is an upscale hotel by provincial Russian standards, it is still a far cry from the £500-a-night Auberge du Jeu de Paume in Chantilly where England stayed during Euro 2016. Rooms – decorated in gloomy brown and gold – cost £100-£200 a night. Across the street, an old Soviet sanatorium has been converted into a dormitory for migrant workers from Central Asia, who hang their overalls out to dry on the balconies.
Staff said ForRestMix was a family recreation destination, and there were strollers outside several rooms and an occasional crying baby in the lobby.
Judging by other noises coming from the rooms at night, it is also a romantic getaway – a dim restaurant with elaborate drapery, white baby grand piano and a candelabra on every table is geared toward this clientele.
The menu was extensive, especially the 16-page drink list, and food ranged from simple Russian dishes to fancier fare like duck, crab and veal liver.
ForRestMix has a gym, pool and a small sauna and hamam, as well as a VIP spa area, but England will have to bring a few more massage tables at the very least.
The hotel could be considered high quality if not for the small flaws here and there: the stock art on the walls, a toe-stubbing slight change in floor elevation at a doorway, an out-of-order shower, an ‘exit’ door that does not actually open.
Reviewers have given the hotel a cumulative 4½ stars on TripAdvisor and five on Booking.com. Some, however, have not been impressed, with one comparing ForRestMix on TripAdvisor to a “transit hotel in Poland for the price of luxury accommodation”. Southgate’s team might be in for a surprise.
Downmarket: ForRestMix has been compared to ‘a transit hotel in Poland for the price of luxury accommodation’