North West Portugal is a destination more renowned for the unique wines of the Douro and Vinho Verde Valleys, excellent port, beautiful rivers and mountains. Mention that you’re heading to Portugal to play golf and one automatically thinks Algarve, well not this time. I was flying north to Porto in the north west of the country
to play some Links courses on the Wild Atlantic’s Costa Verde, parkland in beautiful wooded valleys, to courses that have been built on mountainous terrain.
Getting around the regions was relatively painless due to the superb highways with their spectacular suspension bridges that link cities, towns and resorts. However before you think of booking and hiring a car I would recommend looking at the Porto tourist board website or Golf Concierge who will happily arrange golf transfers and book tee times. There is also a golf pass that offers good rates. It was lovely to sit back and enjoy the amazing scenery, to arrive at the course relaxed and be able to enjoy a few glasses of wine or beer in the clubhouse afterwards.
The first stop in our journey was to the beautiful and historic town of Amarante just 40 minutes from Porto airport and to the luxurious 5 star Casa da Calcada, Relais & Chateaux where we would be staying for the night.
The River Tãmega which is the longest tributary of the river Douro runs through the centre of the town. An ancient historic narrow bridge links both sides. There are lovely old houses, shops, galleries and gourmet restaurants all along both sides of the river. On one side is the magnificent thirteenth century church of São Gonçalo,
on the other directly opposite is Casa Calcada.
This magnificent mansion was completely refurbished in 2001 keeping to the original style of the Baroque and neoclassical period. Past mingles with present through the halls, luxurious bedrooms and lounges.
For that complete gastronomical experience and If your budget allows then go for the tasting menu at prestigious Largo do Paco restaurant, complemented by fabulous wines from the hotel’s own vineyards, the ambiance and decor make a truly memorable evening.
Original fireplace in Casa do Calcada
Golf course architect Jorge Santana da Silva built a course combining the region’s natural and idyllic surroundings making a unique and challenging golf course.
Despite being built on a hillside Amarante is not difficult to get around, this is due to genius da Silva, who made the climbs seem easy, yes you do need a buggy.
Course management is important as the natural hilly landscape will test the skill of any golfer! You are playing many of the holes blind and the undulating greens are protected by bunkers and lakes.
The modern clubhouse has an excellent restaurant and a fabulous terrace were you can sit after a round of golf, sip G&Ts and enjoy the spectacular scenery. What better way to spend a day!
Amarante has hosted many professional golf championships including the Portuguese Golf Federation tournaments. This is a course you will want to almost certainly play again.
Created for a King!
Close to Chaves and just 15 minutes from the Spanish border, an hours drive from Porto is the exclusive Vidago Palace Hotel, Golf Course & Spa.
Driving through the grounds to the stunning hotel entrance was completely overwhelming. I had read a little about the golf course and hotel and was really looking forward to this experience.
The original par 32 golf course was laid out within the hotel’s estate by MacKenzie Ross in 1936. It was later redesigned by course architects Cameron Powell.
Now an 18 hole Championship course that is a test to any golfer. The greens were upgraded and the original pathways and granite walls were used in most parts of the course. The layout was designed to retain the original centenary trees.
A stream runs through several of the fairways adding another interesting and delightful challenge. The elevated tee boxes and greens are one of the main features, large rocks that were removed from the land when the course was be being re developed have been used to build the walls at every tee box.
The front nine is relatively flat as it is cuts through the beautiful Vidago Valley.The final four holes all have breathtaking views, especially from the elevated 17th tee box down along the tree lined fairway to the mountains beyond.
There is a modern clubhouse with restaurant, golf academy, driving range, chipping and putting greens.
Vidago Palace Resort was commissioned by King Carlos 1st who wanted to build a luxury Spa resort that would be up there with Europe’s finest. The location was chosen because the town Vidago was well known for it’s therapeutic springs.
The hotel opened for the first time in 1910. Then it was rated as one of the leading hotels in the world. One hundred years later, after extensive restoration Vidago Palace
in all its new splendour reopened.
Once the Palace Ballroom now a fabulous gourmet restaurant. Damask silk curtains, cover the huge windows. On one side of the room golden wall paper depicting tropical birds and flora in water colour cover the walls. An internal veranda encircles
the room and centred amid the carved gilded beams are the original chandeliers.
Vidago Palace now one of Portugal’s finest Golf & Spa Resorts, is part of the leading hotels of the world group.
Oporto Golf club, the third oldest golf club in Europe was founded in 1890 by a group of the old British resident families trading in port wine, obviously in need of a healthy diversion so took up golf by the sea.
The walls of the clubhouse are covered with interesting old photographs
of past Captains, Presidents and Professionals. Pride of place is a portrait of the club’s first President Mr. Charles Skeffington after whom the Skeffington Cup, the oldest club competition is named.
Although Oporto is a links course some holes are more like parkland with lots of trees and water hazards. Fairways are quite narrow and players may find them to be relatively short in length in comparison with other courses in the region. Greens are flat and small but testing none the less.
Porto may seem a little easier than others but with the sea breezes, bunkers and water hazards be aware they are just as challenging. The two most testing holes are the 4th and the 11th. The 11th is a long par-5 494 metres long.
Just 10 minutes from the Oporto golf club and 15 minutes from the city of Porto, is the 5 star Solverde Spa and Wellness Hotel. This resort is perfect place for a family vacation, golfing groups or a golf and Spa break. One thing for sure you won’t be bored. The hotel has everything from tennis courts, to salt water swimming pools, mini golf, gym and neatly kept gardens. The rooms are modern and comfortable and most have balconies with sea views.
Estela Golf Club is situated on three kilometres of the breathtakingly beautiful Atlantic coast, on the Costa Verde thirty kilometres north of Porto.
Portugal’s own Wild Atlantic Way, one could be playing on any west of Ireland links as the coast line here is very similar and just as dramatic. The difference being the weather is sunny most of the time!
Estela a true links course has not surprisingly hosted many Championships including the Portuguese Open and international Amateur championships.
Portuguese architect Duarte Sottomayor in his brilliance utilised all the natural features of this magnificent landscape.
The first few opening holes are inviting, rugged coastline, undulating narrow fairways, large sand dune bunkers. Inaccurate shots are punished by landing in some of those natural hazards introduced to the course by Sottomayer and mother nature.
The first nine runs along the sea which means you can be exposed to strong winds,
Only in Portugal you are guaranteed more sunny and calm days.
There are many other challenging features such as two beautiful lakes which can ruin any card if the wind is blowing!
The slightly elevated clubhouse is superbly situated over looking the ocean and the 18th green. Relaxing on the terrace with a beer or G&T after playing 18 holes are days golfers dream about!
Set in Vinho Verde is Axis Ponte de Lima Golf Resort.
As well as having an 18 hole golf course there are a variety of facilities at the hotel including a gym, a Turkish steam bath and a spa and wellness centre.
The spacious and comfortable rooms are air conditioned and equipped with cable/satellite channels and free wi fi.The resort features both an excellent restaurant and a very relaxing bar.
For those preferring to dine out, there are bars and restaurants in the area serving a range of local dishes as well as Mediterranean food.
Axis Ponte de Lima Golf Resort Ponte do lima is a convenient base for
exploring the beautiful Vinho Verde region. Perfect for families and golfing groups.
Overall Northern Portugal is a fabulously unspoilt golf destination, the climate is perfect for golf all year round, courses are not crowded as in some parts of the Algarve. There are plenty of excellent hotels, towns steeped in history and lots of villages to be explored.
Visit the wine regions of the breathtakingly beautiful Douro Valley and Vinho Verde Valley. A visit to the fabulous city of Porto Portugal’s second largest city is a must.
The city was registered as an UNESCO site in 1996 and has been recently added to Europe’s best top destinations.
For further info contact the Golf Concierge website www.golfconcierge.pt
or email: golfconcierge.pt
Dublin airport parking contact: www.quickpark.ie
Photography; Geraldine Bradley