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Pars in the Algarve

Pars in the Algarve

Immerse yourself in the beauty and culture of Portugal, and get a chance to tee off in some of Europe's finest golf courses while you're at it

By Andrew Marshall

Published: Fri 11 Oct 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 11 Oct 2019, 2:00 AM

Lively coastal resorts spill over ribbons of golden sand along an Atlantic coastline punctuated by sculpted sandstone coves, turquoise waters and picturesque fishing villages. This is the Algarve in southern Portugal, the country's playground province and one of the most popular year-round holiday destinations in southern Europe. The Moors, who dominated the Algarve for over 500 years from 711, called it the 'Al-Gharb' or the Sunset Land and, during the last few decades, countless visitors and especially golfers, have been waxing lyrical about this colourful, laid-back coastal region.

Ever since the mid-1960s, when quintessential Englishman and renowned golf course architect Sir Henry Cotton first designed and oversaw the construction of Penina's Championship course, the Algarve has become synonymous with the classic golf break in the sun. Dotted along a 240-kilometre stretch of Atlantic-washed coastline running from Sagres in the west to Vila Real de Santo Antonio in the east, are dozens of diverse top-drawer courses to tee it up - from big hitters like the Nicklaus-designed Monte Rei and Quinta do Lago's ultra-manicured 54 holes, to lesser-known layouts such as Salgados and Morgado Golf & Country Club. As an added bonus, the region is blessed with a mild winter climate and 300-plus days of sunshine, which means you can play all year round.

Away from the golf courses, it's not just about the unashamedly extrovert coastal resort towns like Albufiera and Lagos, with their trappings of beach culture, buzzing nightlife and water sports. For starters, how about wandering the region's capital Faro's venerable Cidade Velha (Old Town) set within a circle of medieval walls? If you're looking to explore the great outdoors, check out the nature trails at Parque Natural da Ria Formosa (an extensive lagoon, sand dune, marshland habitat that is a sanctuary for birds), or the traditional coastal villages like Ferragudo, Salema and Benagil, where you can dine on fabulous seafood, including locally-caught octopus, squid, prawn and the ubiquitous grilled sardine.

Moving further inland, there's Loulé's colourful weekly market bursting with fresh fish, cheeses, red chilli peppers, sweet figs and honey; the elegant and picturesque riverside town of Tavira (with its Roman bridge and 40 churches); the Sierra de Monchique mountain range enveloping the hillside spa town of Monchique; and Silves, once the grandiose capital of the Moorish province of Al-Gharb surrounded by lush orange groves and dominated by its huge castle.

One of the big advantages of an Algarve golf break is that getting there is easy and inexpensive. You can fly from most European cities with all the budget airlines into either Faro airport or alternatively Lisbon airport (then hire a car and head south). Here's a half dozen selection of places to 'play and stay' to get your Algarve golf break underway.
This par-73 layout, designed by three-time British Open champion Sir Henry Cotton in 1966, is the Algarve's home of golf and a marvellous example of golfing architecture. Cotton transformed what was once an old rice plantation into lush fairways lined by towering pines and eucalyptus trees which give the course a unique character unmatched in the region.
A few of the standout holes include the dogleg 5th, with its canal, lake and contoured putting surface and the 13th (voted one of the 500 best holes in the world), a testing par-3 with water all the way from the tee to a sloping green, guarded to the front and left by a pair of dangerous bunkers. As you head up the memorable closing hole, the classically-styled and luxurious 5-star resort acts as backdrop to a three-tiered green framed by an amphitheatre of trees. Although less demanding than the main course, there are two other tracks here - the 18-hole Resort course and a nine-hole Academy course. www.penina.com
Morgado Golf & Country Club
Situated within a 980-hectare estate a few miles inland from the pretty coastal town of Portimão (Algarve's sardine capital), this new golf resort is an excellent choice for those looking for a quiet and comfortable rural retreat with two excellent 18-hole courses and practice facilities on site. The Álamos Course is a shorter but trickier layout set within a rolling Mediterranean landscape and boasts splendid views over the surrounding Monchique mountains, lakes and farmland. Fairways are lined with olive trees, with each hole separated from the rest, providing a splendid feeling of isolation. The golf hotel itself has 98 spacious rooms with sweeping views over the Morgado Course, restaurant, spa centre, four swimming pools and an outdoor terrace. www.nauhotels.com
Monte Rei Golf & Country Club
Situated about a 40-minute drive off Faro, in the picturesque foothills of the eastern Algarve with sweeping views of the Serra do Caldeirão mountains to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south, Montei Rei is a serious contender for the Algarve number one spot. Yes, you need deep pockets to play, but with the level of presentation and attention to detail second to none, it all adds to the exclusive golfing experience. This Jack Nicklaus creation rambles over 6,567 metres of ever-changing terrain, with a wonderful variety of holes where each one is as memorable as the next. Fairways and greens are bordered by several lakes (water comes into play on eleven of the eighteen holes), and interspersed with indigenous trees, plants and native grasses. If you can steer your ball into the right positions, and stay away from the water hazards, it is the classic green complexes surrounded by distinctively shaped and sculpted bunkers, plus the slick and undulating putting surfaces that are Monte Rei's main defence. The immaculate conditioning of the course, the resort facilities and the fabulous scenery make it all the more enjoyable. www.monte-rei.com
Located between the coastal towns of Armação de Pêra and Albufeira west of Faro, the Salgados course has been laid out adjacent to a protected bird reserve in low-lying wetlands. When you first set eyes on its lush green fairways dotted with palms and water, you can be excused for thinking you have been transported to a course in Florida or the Caribbean. This dramatic layout is packed with more water hazards (the wet stuff features on 16 of the 18 holes) than any course in the Algarve - and you need to plot your way strategically around to achieve a decent score, especially with likely Atlantic breezes adding to the challenge. A drive away from the course is the five-star Salgados Palace offering guests an authentic oasis atmosphere in verdant, extensive gardens, with several swimming pools nestling amid palm and olive trees. www.nauhotels.com
Quinta do Lago
Situated just 15 minutes from Faro airport, and set in 2,000 acres of verdant countryside and pine forest bordering the Atlantic and the Ria Formosa Nature Park, Quinta do Lago (named 'Europe's Best Golf Venue' at the 2015 World Golf Awards) has been at the forefront of European golf since opening in 1972. The five-star resort features three award-winning 18-hole championship courses - the South Course, Laranjal and the widely-acclaimed North Course, co-designed by Ryder Cup-winning captain Paul McGinley. On-site facilities include Europe's only Paul McGinley Golf Academy and the only TaylorMade Performance Centre in Southern Europe.
The jewel in the complex's crown is the South Course which has hosted the Portuguese Open on several occasions. Plotted around umbrella pines, lakes and wild flowers, this superbly manicured track requires the correct positioning of shots to score well. Basically the same style as its sister course, the North is noted for its four excellent par-5 holes and numerous dog-legs that require accuracy off the tee. www.quintadolago.com
Vale do Lobo
The luxury Vale do Lobo resort is a quality complex and home to two special courses - the Ocean and the Royal. Based on Sir Henry Cotton's original design concepts and re-developed by respected American golf architect Rocky Roquemore, both courses have twice been host to the Portuguese Open. The Royal Course is famous for one of the most photographed holes in Europe - the par-3 16th. Set amid orange, fig and olive trees with rolling pine-covered terrain on one side and orange rock cliffs on the other, a well-struck tee shot is required to carry a series of precipitous cliffs before the green. Another excellent par-3 is to be found on the Ocean Course, and the scenic 15th which runs tight to the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean would receive a lot more attention if not for the fact that it is overshadowed by the signature 16th on the Royal. Both courses are equally top-notch, and if you have the time, you are advised to play both. www.valedolobo.com

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