REPINO, Russian Federation, Mar 4 – England’s World Cup squad will seclude themselves in a modest hotel in the woods near Saint Petersburg, opting for the calm of a history-steeped village rather than a city closer to their group matches.
The four-star ForRestMix Club Sport and Relax — an affordable option for Russians looking to get away from it all — offers little entertainment but plenty of sleep.
Nervous fans back home might frown at the choice since England are playing nowhere near Saint Petersburg, Russia’s so-called northern capital.
Their three group stage matches will take Harry Kane and his teammates from the Volga River to the edge of Poland, making a total of 6,400 kilometres (4,000 miles) of back and forth travel.
England will play in Volgograd against Tunisia on June 18, in Nizhny Novgorod against Panama on June 24, and in Kaliningrad against Belgium on June 30.
But coach Gareth Southgate has decided that peace and quiet on the Gulf of Finland was what his men needed most.
“We want that environment where the players are relaxed,” he said in October as the FA settled its choice on the outskirts of President Vladimir Putin’s home town.
Located 27 kilometres (17 miles) northwest of Saint Petersburg, the village England will be calling home is named after Ilya Repin, a realist painter who settled there at the turn of the 20th century.
Repino became famous for its wooden country houses favoured by Russian artists, intellectuals and nobles, before being transformed into a Soviet rest home for workers and children.
These traces of history are still visible today: by the understated four-floor hotel stand quaint tsarist-era cottages and an imposing concrete sanatorium built by the communists.
The feel of Repino is decidedly serene and opportunities for players to go out on the town — repeating the fabled exploits of Paul Gascoigne — will be rare.
“Our hotel is for lovers of silence,” said manager Tatyana Zubochenko.
It is a place to focus the minds of the English, whose 1966 World Cup win on home soil has never been repeated and who enter the June 14-July 15 tournament as long shots despite being the so-called “home” of the beautiful game.
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Built in 2011, the hotel has 105 rooms with pleasant views of the surrounding forest and traditional Russian rugs overlaying the carpet of the more upscale suites.
A no-frills “Standard” room with two beige armchairs and a TV screen the size of a laptop computer is offered for $145 (115 euros), while a “Family” room with a balcony and a couch runs up to $240.
Normally able to accommodate 200 people, it has four restaurants, a “Fito Bar” offering fruit and herbal tea, a 25-metre pool and a fairly modern gym.
“We already have experience accommodating athletes,” manager Zubochenko said. “We also hosted (the Russian) Olympic judo team” as they prepared for the 2016 Rio Games.
The training ground is seven kilometres away in Zelenogorsk, which can be reached by bus in about 15 minutes.
“The location is very convenient,” said Zubochenko. “The training ground is nearby, the city centre is not far and we are in the woods.”
But travel might frazzle the Three Lions’ nerves.
Simply getting to and from Saint Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport is a hassle, requiring the team to cross the congested city of four million people, where traffic jams are a constant fixture.