Destination: Golf in the Algarve
Europe is littered with a diverse collection of courses and renowned golfing regions that are all worthy of international acclaim. It says so much about the all-round quality of Portugal’s Algarve that its position atop that list is rarely disputed. Indeed, the region possesses every ingredient needed to make an outstanding golfing destination, ranging from superb weather and accessibility to championship-quality golf, excellent off-course attractions and an accommodation offering that’s unrivalled throughout Europe.
Weather, accessibility and standing
Aside from the aforementioned, one of the main draws is undoubtedly the weather. The Algarve’s population triples in the peak holiday season, and its year-round climate is one of the reasons why nearly 10 million tourists visit the region each year. Golf can be played at any time of year in the Algarve, with winter temperatures often reaching the high teens and never really dropping below 10. Temperatures above 30 degrees are commonplace in the summer, and the spring and autumn climates are simply idyllic, especially with cooling zephyrs sweeping in from the Atlantic Ocean.
The weather is just one component, though, and ease of access also helps facilitate such high numbers of golf tourists. The flight to Faro airport only takes around two and a half hours, and all the main airlines offer numerous daily flights from airports across the length and breadth of the UK. Once there, you’ll find an extremely UK-friendly destination, the product of a relationship that has been built over the past decades between the UK and Portugal and the latter’s recognition that UK golfing tourists are an integral part of the regional economy. What’s more, the Algarve – which has hosted the Portugal Masters for the past six years – offers exceptional value for money, especially given its strong connections with the world of professional golf. The likes of Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley have golf academies in the Algarve, many professionals chose to practice here and the plethora of courses on offer has provided the European Tour with numerous host venues for prestigious tournaments.
The Algarve is home to numerous golfing regions, and the area of Vilamoura is arguably the most impressive. Vilamoura – the bustling heart of golf in the Algarve – is located within easy reach of numerous bars, hotels and restaurants, and is home to six wonderful golf courses that have helped earn it a reputation as one of the world’s best golfing locations.
The Oceânico Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura is considered by many to be the best golf course in the Algarve, and will host this year’s Portugal Masters. It was constructed with preservation of the local landscape in mind, with wetlands and local vegetation used alongside numerous man-made water hazards and tricky greens to create a brilliant test of golf. Victoria is one part of the Oceanico group of courses, which also includes the impressive Laguna, Faldo, Old, Pinhal and Millennium courses, which are scattered throughout the region.
Some 20 minutes east of Vilamoura lies Quinta do Lago, one of the most revered golfing destinations in Europe. It is home to three championship-quality courses: the South, the North and the Laranjal. Whilst all three are good for groups and maintained in exceptional condition all year round, the South is arguably the highlight. Designed by William Mitchell in 1974, the eight-time Portuguese Open host is a pine- and lake-strewn masterpiece that sits in the shadows of the arresting Ria Formosa.
Just adjacent to Quinta do Lago is the Vale de Lobo Resort, a world-renowned destination that boasts two of the Algarve’s finest golf courses: the Royal and the Ocean. The former, which possesses some of the most spectacular cliff-top holes you’ll ever encounter, ranks comfortably within Europe’s top 100. Also situated in the resort of Vale do Lobo is the Dona Filipa Hotel – a five-star resort boasting impeccable service and lavish furnishings. The quality of the hotel is matched by its exclusive San Lorenzo Golf Resort, which offers superb greens, great variation and arresting views out to sea.
Many use the impressive Pestana Golf Resort as a base for exploration of the region’s many courses. The two on-site layouts – the Pinta and Gramacho – are kept in exceptional condition and perfectly manicured, and the latter hosted the Portuguese Ladies Open in 2005. Those seeking a stern challenge should look no further than the Penina Championship Course just a few miles away. The Henry Cotton-designed track is a true test of golfing aptitude, with water features, ditches, beautiful wooded areas, undulations and an array of long, challenging holes all combining to provide a severe yet stunning round of golf.
Two other regions that see slightly fewer tourists – something that shouldn’t detract from their golf, hotel and off-course offerings – are Lagos and Tavira. The former – one of the Algarve’s most historic and culturally significant towns – provides a brilliant mix of cultural institutions and championship-standard golf, and is perfectly suited to those looking for a more relaxing and less night life-centric break. There is a lower population of courses in Lagos, but Palmares, rated 26th in Europe by www.top100golfcourses.com, proves that quality more than compensates for quantity. It’s a wonderfully varied course with five holes winding their way through dunes on the Atlantic coast. A more tranquil break can also be found amid the beautifully scenic Tavira, to the east of Faro where you can find a good choice of courses on offer, as well as comfortable accommodation by the old town.
The hotel offering in the Algarve is so varied and comprehensive that signalling out just a few resorts is nigh on impossible. That said the Vila Gale Ampalius in Vilamoura, the Tivoli Marina and the Pestana Hotels littered throughout the region have every base covered when it comes to luxury accommodation, provision of facilities, activities and gastronomy.
With such a magnificent collection of golf courses in such a small area, you’ll be hard pushed to find time to fully explore a region of Portugal that’s a true and all-encompassing tourist haven. The coastline is well known for its idyllic sandy beaches, water sports and diving/snorkelling opportunities, but the picturesque limestone caves and grottoes are well worth exploring – especially as many are only accessible by power boat. The Algarve is also famed for its pottery and ceramics industry, and the many outlets – most notably in Almancil, Porches and Loulé – bear testament to that.
The Algarve also comes alive in the evenings, thanks principally to numerous bars and nightspots and hundreds of restaurants serving up the freshest local produce. Groups of golfers looking to marry golf with entertainment will find everything they could possibly need in the Algarve, whilst couples and those looking for a more relaxing experience will also be catered for.
One of the most attractive features of an Algarve golf break is the price point. Given the phenomenal golf and hotel offering and diversity of off-course activities and amenities, it’s one of the best value-for-money regions in the world. Here are some of the special deals with www.golfbreaks.com:
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