Golf, Beaches and Bacalhau
By Mike Stock
Walking through narrow cobbled streets lined with beautiful white washed buildings where traditional craftsmen ply their trade and where bustling open markets still form the centerpiece of daily life - it's like stepping back in time.
Success and disaster.
In the 15th century, Prince Henry the Navigator based himself near Lagos and through his many seafaring expeditions Portugal was established as a colonial power. The voyages of discovery brought Lagos fame and fortune, trade flourished and Lagos became the capital of the historical province of Algarve in 1577. But in 1755 a huge earthquake rocked Lisbon and also damaged many areas in the Algarve. The ensuing tsunami devastated coastal areas and towns and villages were heavily damaged, except Faro, which was protected by the sandy banks of Ria Formosa lagoon. In Lagos, the waves reached the top of the city walls. And so it was that with time Faro became the region's new capital. Today Algarve is the third richest region in Portugal, not least because of its flourishing tourist industry. At the peak of the holiday season the population triples thanks to the seven million foreign tourists that visit each year. A large number of these visitors come to play golf, and with 35 spectacular golf courses you are really spoilt for choice.
Algarve has long been a favorite golfing destination, especially for people from the northern European countries, since the main golf season here runs from late autumn to late spring - when most of their home courses are unplayable. However, although the winter season is mild, and Algarve is famous for its many days of sunshine it does rain from time to time, and nearly all of it falls during the main golfing season!
Oceanico Faldo Course.
As one of Portugal's top golf courses, the Oceanico Faldo Course at Amendoeria Golf Resort is truly stunning. Designed by Nick Faldo and opened in 2008, this 6598m par 72 championship course is demanding and careful positioning and planning are necessary to score well here. The course sits beautifully in the hilly landscape with its rocky outcrops, plenty of water and a stream that runs along many of the fairways. Ancient oaks and olive trees frame the fairways and here and there cacti add to the feeling of being at more of a desert course than a parkland course. The Bermuda grass fairways with the carpet-like playing surface delivers ideal playing conditions. Yes, this is truly a course to reckon with. Already when standing at the first hole with its elevated tees, the course reveals itself. This 415 m par-4 hole offers plenty of challenges with olive trees, a huge sprawling bunker in the front and two more guarding the green.
Hole 2, a short par-3 is a bit of a headache. Here you play downhill to a shallow green, where you need a precise shot to miss the large desert bunker with its clusters of flowering cacti, and at the same time avoiding ending up in the rocky outcrop to the right. The next few holes offers one challenge after another through doglegs, across water, narrow fairways guarded by intertwined oak trees, and always with the ever present bunkers lurking in wait for errant shots. Hole 13 is a 613m par-5 killer where you tee off from the highest point on the golf course. The views are beautiful, but it is a nerve wrecking moment when you look down to the fairway which sweeps down and down with cliffs to the left and a rock wall to the right. The pros advice is not to be too ambitious and go for one of the easier routes, though easy it isn't. When you finally get to the last hole you had better put in your best performance because here you are in full view from the Club House terrace, and you might find yourself with an audience - no pressure there then! Faldo himself once said: "When you stand on the tee, the golf hole tells you what to do. And if you do what it tells you there is reward, but if you don't you're penalized". And it certainly speaks volumes for this course.
Monte Rei North, the first of two Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses, is considered by many to be one of the best in Portugal. Set in the picturesque foothills of the Eastern Algarve, this 6567m Championship golf course opened for play in 2007. The layout of the course is both challenging and distinctive where it nestles into the folds of the landscape with fairways framed by indigenous scrubs and grasses. Water is a major hazard on this course and comes into play on eleven of the eighteen holes. After an enjoyable round, the clubhouse offers the perfect place to unwind and perhaps have a bite to eat. Set in beautiful landscaped gardens and courtyards, the clubhouse is the epitome of a Mediterranean hacienda but with a modern twist. Its cool interior offers a welcoming haven where award-winning Chef Jaime Perez rustles up some of the best Iberian cuisine and local fare.
The San Lorenzo Golf Course lies in the southeast corner of Quinta do Lago, bordering the Ria Formosa Estuary and salt water lagoons. Opened in 1988, the 18 hole par 72 golf course was designed by the American golf architect Joseph Lee. The course which winds its way through a sandy undulating terrain with Bermuda grass fairways bordered by umbrella pines and the marshland bird sanctuary of Ria Formosa, is laid out in a figure of eight with the clubhouse at the heart. With stunning views of the beach and the sea beyond and some spectacularly challenging holes, this course offers plenty of thrills, not least the finishing hole. This is a beast of a par-4 with water left and right and a semi-island green, so you need a precision shot. In other words - don't take your eye off the ball!
Beach With its beautiful beaches it's hardly surprising that the Algarve is such a popular destination for sun starved tourists. Miles upon miles of golden sand, rocky beaches, cliffs and coves, there's something here to suit everyone. And with the sparkling Atlantic gently lapping at the shore, it's enough to tempt even the keenest golfer away from the golf course. Apart from golf, sea and sand, there is plenty to explore in the Algarve. If you want to experience the unspoiled Portugal, you will have to head inland where traditions and culture has not been stifled by mass tourism. Surrounded by cork and oak forests, a haven for nature lovers, the small villages of the inner Algarve are full of "old world" charm.
Loule is the largest of these towns, with its many criss-crossing cobbled side streets where the Moorish heritage is still retained, it's a nice place to spend the day. Here are to be found lots of little workshops making traditional crafts as well as boutiques, and on Saturdays there is the famous artisan market. North of Villamoura, which is one of the main holiday destinations in the Algarve, you'll find the charming whitewashed village of Alte. Set in the rolling hills of the Serra Do Galdeirao region, this quintessential Portuguese village is considered to be one of the prettiest in the Algarve. Dating back to Roman times, the rural way of life remains unspoiled. And if you're in the mood to explore, there are a number of these charming villages where you can wander through cobbled streets and get the taste for the real Algarve.
The sea has played a big part in the history of this region and it's no surprise that seafood features heavily on the local menus. With wonderful dishes like Caldeirada de Peixe, a traditional fish stew made with a variety of fish and shellfish, Arroz de mariscos, a succulent dish of rice, tomatoes and shellfish, and Cataplana, an aromatic dish of clams that takes its name from the Moorish-style copper pot it's cooked in. The Portuguese nations' most beloved dish, is strangely enough made from a fish that is foreign to its waters. The Bacalhau, where salted dried cod is the main ingredients, is now imported in huge quantities from Norway. Seafood is so popular in the Algarve it even has its own annual festival, Festival do Marisco, which takes place every August in the town of Olhao outside Faro. In these economically troubled times, which also has had a big impact on the travel industry, the Algarve with its beautiful beaches and several golf courses rated among the best in the world, will certainly continue to attract both golfers and tourists alike. Having been there once we can say for sure - it leaves you with a taste for more.
This article is from Great Golf Magazine, the only Golf Travel & Lifstyle Publication.
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