Golf awards within the golf tourism industry last year targeted Portugal in their top six established golf destinations in the world, with both the Algarve and Lisbon counted among the first half dozen. It is expected that northern Portugal will soon be included. Cooler and quieter than the Algarve and southern Spain, the courses in central and northern Portugal were a pleasure to explore during a recent summertime golfing jaunt.
My trip was just as much about getting the feel of this country as it was about playing golf in it. Let me dispel a belief that may be held by the uninitiated: Portugal is not Spain. "I've been to Spain, so why should I make the effort?" is as reasonable an argument as omitting Africa. Next door to each other they are; the same, they are not.
An appreciative thank you to David Lumby, the Director of www.manorhouses.com whose site makes Portugal accessible. It provides information on car hire, harbours, and national parks, as well as extensive guides to accommodation and golf destinations. Through David, my trip was arranged: visits to six golf clubs and overnight stays at nearby manor houses. Manor houses usually have a maximum of seven rooms; many have a guest cottage or two. This style suits people who enjoy getting acquainted with a few people along the way.
Penha Longa Golf Resort, first golf call, is some 600 kilometres from home base. As I preferred to face this impeccable course as homo erectus rather than crawling around it on all fours, I opted for an overnight stop at a manor house close to a city worth seeing. Évora, on UNESCO's World Heritage List, is a walled city whose up and down fortunes through the centuries are well documented by the ruins therein. It is an attractive, relaxed city and the Alentejo's (Portugal's plain area) main attraction.
Nearby, Monte de Chora Cascas is a series of havens from the humdrum with no obligation to do anything but enjoy your surroundings. From the quiet alto saxophone filling a room with soulful sounds to the rooms division into peaceful corners, Monte de Chora Cascas is a statement of tranquillity. With a wonderful swimming pool from which to watch the sunrise and the cheerful hospitality of an intelligent hostess, the pre-Penha Longa rest stop could not have been better.
Penha Longa Golf Club is a delight to the eye: undulating, as richly green as emeralds and surrounded by cool, cool water. The course is justifiably considered an oasis - a river on one side and the Atlantic on the other. Additional inherent attributes include Penha Longa's location within the confines of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
Robert Trent Jones Jr. has designed only two courses in Portugal: they are the Atlantic and Monastery courses at Penha Longa. The 18-hole Atlantic has hosted numerous tournaments, among which the Portuguese Open figures twice. It is rated No. 32 in continental Europe by Golf World. The nine-hole Monastery course complements it perfectly.
Head Receptionist Helder Ferreira calls Penha Longa, "A just course. You can make safe choices or take risks, but nothing is hidden here." Overly ambitious players may get into trouble, but as a poet said, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp."
The course begins with four Par 4 holes, allowing you to ease into your game. Pine trees and eucalyptus trees on a half dozen holes (1,2,3 and 16,17,18) make accuracy a must. Number 6, Penha Longa's signature hole, is a beautiful hole with a Roman aqueduct as part of its attractions. It is listed among the best 500 in the world. Not to forget your game while admiring the layout: spacious bunkers are in abundance and a large lake waits serenely to the left of the green.
Hole 16 is the most demanding of skills and is recognised as a great hole by even those it has thwarted: the tee is elevated, the fairway slopes uphill towards the green; and hazards lay to both left and right.
Facilities include two putting greens, driving range and a neat pitch set up. All of these are well out of the public eye and ideal for some concentrated warm up. Caesar Park Hotel forms part of Penha Longa Resort. It is listed as one of Leading Hotels of the World.
Contact details & Green Fees
Penha Longa Golf Club - 18 holes & 9 holes
Estrada da Lagoa Azul
Tel: 219 249 011, Fax: 219 249 024
Quinta Do Conde is set spectacularly on top of the highest hill in Colares, and only 10 minutes away from the magnificent city of Sintra. That is but one of its distinguishing features. Another is that the garden plays host to the only pecan tree in Portugal - an immense and noble tree, to say the least. This manor house is also unique in that its is owners are English.
The Quinta do Conde house is 350 years old and was originally owned by a Duke whose coat of arms has not yet been identified. When the 0'Neills bought the home, it was in need of extensive renovation. Fifty local men worked on it and within six months, the doors were opened to guests.
Eight double rooms are available; there is room for an additional six when owners expand. Four-poster beds grace four of the rooms, which are one of several English touches that make this house special. English teas in the afternoons are another. What a lovely thing to do after golf and sundowners. Watching the sun go down at Quinta do Conde is, by the way, in a class of its own. The swimming pool at the far end of a lush garden, overlooks the plains below; an exceptionally good breakfast is served there or in a comfortably ornate room indoors. Other amenities include an attractive library and satellite TV.
In Colares, the Velha restaurant fairly clamours for kudos - and gets them. Voted the best restaurant in the Sintra area last year, it serves superb fare, such as 'Fisherman's Pot', a cornucopia casserole stuffed with shellfish and white fish and topped with flaky pastry.
Leaving the Lisbon-Sintra area, I headed north in the direction of Amarante Golf and the Casa de Juste. The drive of 400 kilometres was rendered painless by excellent roads and balmy weather.
Information about manor houses and booking can be found at http://www.manorhouses.com
Opening hours for shops and services are usually from 9.30 - 12.30 (14.00 - 16.30) or 17.30.
Banks: 8.30 - 15.00 Monday through Friday, pharmacies 9.00 - 13.00 and 15.00 - 19.00.
After you've visited all of the above, stop and sip a 'fino' or half a pint of Portguese beer; if thirst in unquenchable, try a pint or 'caneca'.
Events from late summer 2001: In Estorial: Golfers note: International Golfing Week from 4-11 November.
Portuguese Gran Prix in Estorial 7-9 September and 27 September.
Estorial is running an International Handicraft Fair from 5 July - 2 September.
Music, folk dances, arts and crafts and gastronomic specialities of the area are featured.
Carla Harvey freelances for various magazines in Spain and abroad. Among them are Mediterranean Life, Essential, The Reporter and Lookout Magazine. She was the editor of Marbella Times for five years and WHERE Costa del Sol for two years.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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