The demurely dressed woman at check-in makes herself clear. ‘This is a “dry” hotel, so there’s no alcohol at all.’ Then she hands me a brochure and says: ‘But we do have a spa with all these treatments.’
It’s hard to see how a spa stands in for a bar — and harder still to picture Harry Kane and the lads returning from a victorious quarter-final hoping to sink a few celebratory post-match pints and being given detox tea, followed by a session of ‘Radiance Facial and Nail Polish pampering’.
But that’s exactly what England manager Gareth Southgate has in mind for his squad at next month’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar. After five visits to the Souq Al Wakra Hotel Qatar by Tivoli — the first one way back in the summer of 2019 — he selected this as the team hotel.
Game on: Ed Grenby checks into the Souq Al Wakra Hotel Qatar by Tivoli (pictured), which has been chosen as England’s World Cup base
The Souq Al Wakra Hotel Qatar was selected by England manager Gareth Southgate after five visits to the property, the first one way back in the summer of 2019. Pictured above is a Superior Sea View room
‘As well as a comfortable bed and a discreetly marbled bathroom,’ writes Ed, ‘my Junior Suite (above) has a plush sitting room with a huge TV. But the only other “entertainment” option is the copy of the Koran I find in the bedside drawer, along with a prayer mat’
The hotel has 101 rooms with ‘comfortable’ beds
Over a glass of mango juice, the hotel’s sales director, Aiman Merenciano, tells me that although most big hotels in Qatar’s capital, Doha, sell alcohol, Southgate’s shortlist contained just three resorts — all of them booze-free. What’s more, Gareth seems deliberately to have picked the most modest and borderline-boring accommodation he could find.
While the Dutch team is staying in the capital’s glitzy centre, at the £350-a-night St Regis Doha, where every room comes with a butler who will ‘arrive after your morning wake-up call to draw your shades’, England’s hotel sells rooms from £64 and is in the sleepy suburb of Al Wakrah.
It’s laid out, as Arabic houses traditionally are, in a series of quiet courtyards, each with a shady tree or sssshhh-ing fountain at its centre. There are 101 rooms, so no need for any of the players to share as they used to until the 1990s.
The biggest danger may be boredom. As well as a comfortable bed and a discreetly marbled bathroom, my Junior Suite has a plush sitting room with a huge TV. But the only other ‘entertainment’ option is the copy of the Koran I find in the bedside drawer, along with a prayer mat.
The hotel has a restaurant, coffee bar, tiny gym and the aforementioned spa — and that’s about it. The FA clearly want players focused on football, but they’ll be bringing in their own table football and ping-pong tables.
While the Dutch team is staying in Doha’s glitzy centre, at the £350-a-night St Regis Doha, where every room comes with a butler, England’s hotel sells rooms from £64, reveals Ed
The Souq Al Wakra Hotel Qatar is laid out, explains Ed, as Arabic houses traditionally are, in a series of quiet courtyards
Ed says that for the England team, their biggest problem at the Souq Al Wakra Hotel Qatar may be boredom
Ed writes: ‘Gareth seems deliberately to have picked the most modest and borderline-boring accommodation he could find’
More than 150 security staff will guard the hotel and its 100-strong contingent of England footballers and officials during the tournament. Above is the modest gym
And in the middle of the hotel, I watch men labour in the 35-degree heat to convert a large fountain into a small swimming pool so that the boys can dust off the inflatable unicorns that were such a hit at the 2018 World Cup.
What seems rough is that the FA top brass’s biggest concession is to themselves: staying a few hundred metres away at the Souq Al Wakra Hotel’s sister property, where the no-alcohol rule has been waived.
Aiman tells me that more than 150 security staff will guard the hotel and its 100-strong contingent of England footballers and officials during the tournament — though it’s not clear if the heavies are there to keep onlookers out or the players in — not least because Qatar is a country where it’s easy for foreigners to get into trouble with conservative Muslim customs and strict laws.
If any of the stars do escape, outside their peaceful fortress they’ll find the souq: an ancient market that’s a lovely, lose-yourself tangle of lanes, with the honey market beside the spice market jostling alongside the date market and the rest.
Above is the buffet area at the England team’s hotel. The FA top brass, meanwhile, is staying at the Souq Al Wakra Hotel’s sister property nearby, where the no-alcohol rule has been waived
Ed writes: ‘The FA clearly want [the England] players focused on football, but they’ll be bringing in their own table football and ping-pong tables [to the hotel].’ Above is ‘Jarnen’ restaurant, which serves Mediterranean food
The hotel’s sales director, Aiman Merenciano, tells Ed that although most big hotels in Qatar’s capital, Doha, sell alcohol, Southgate’s shortlist contained just three resorts – all of them booze-free. Above is the Souq Al Wakra Hotel Qatar’s spa
And relax: The hotel describes its spa as ‘elegant, refined and timeless’
Should England triumph, the Souq Al Wakra Hotel Qatar by Tivoli might become a tourist attraction in its own right
The hotel is located in Al Wakrah, a ‘sleepy’ suburb with a stretch of public beach (pictured)
Harry Kane (above) will have to settle for booze-free celebrations at the hotel
At one end, cafes and restaurants serve classic Arabian dishes (but no alcohol); and in front of them a public beach where the sand, as soft as the drinks, slopes down into the sighingly warm Arabian Sea.
Venturing further, Doha’s biggest tourist attractions are the National Museum (remarkable for its architecture) and exquisite Museum of Islamic Art, where the aesthetes of the team will no doubt appreciate the intricate calligraphy and ornate fly-whisk handles.
Doha’s other draw is Souq Waqif: it’s bigger and livelier than Al Wakrah’s, and notable for its falcon market. These magnificent birds are prized in Qatari culture for their hunting abilities. You may even see them in action at one of Qatar’s desert camps, where locals and tourists gather for camel rides, sand-boarding, dune-bashing in 4x4s and camera-defying sunsets.
The England WAGs have a team hotel, too. They’re staying at the £350 a night Banana Island — a glamorous resort, on its own islet off Doha’s coast, set out Maldives-style with suites on stilts over the water. It’s only reachable by boat and it, too, is dry.
Back at the players’ billet, general manager Emad Nabulsi is excited about hosting the England squad. He knows that should England triumph, his hotel might become a tourist attraction in its own right.