A holiday destination that combines a city with a choice of golf courses, fine food, beaches and shopping is too good to miss. Alison Root reports.
Initially upstaged by the Algarve, Lisbon is fast establishing itself as an equal partner in Portugal’s campaign to expand its share of the UK golf tourism market. Green fees here tend to be lower and the courses less busy during the high season months of September and October, while access to one of Europe’s leading capital cities adds a cultural dimension the Algarve simply cannot match.
From the bustling metropolis of Lisbon we headed south to the Costa Azul (Blue Coast), a region which is accessed from Lisbon by two stunning road bridgesacross the River Tagus - the Vasco daGama bridge to the east of the city, Europe’s longest bridge at 10.7 miles, and from the west, the 25th April bridge which is often compared to the Golden Gate in San Francisco.
It’s here that ORIZONTE, a Lisbon golf brand, has brought together six well-established courses to offer golfers outstanding packages. All six layouts including Quinta do Peru Golf & Country, Aroeira I and II, Ribagolfe I and II and Santo Estevao are approximately a 30-40 minute drive from the city centre, traffic pending of course, and just 15 minutes away is one further 9-hole course in Oeiras.
First stop was Quinta do Peru Golf & Country Club that is located close to the picturesque village of Azeitao and framed by the Arrabida National Park. This is an extremely pretty parkland course and although it only opened in 1994, it displays maturity beyond its years. Meandering through verdant pines, it’s not too punishing at 5,143 yards from the forward tees, but the quick greens with plenty of borrows will test any putting stroke and that included mine!
Two of the par-3s inflict momentary self-doubt when it comes to club selection as the 143-yard 8th and 162-yard 16th require a tee shot across a lake to a well-guarded green. The 18th hole is memorable for two reasons. It’s one of the longest par 4s on the course and the aroma of a roasting suckling pig wafting across the fairway as we approached the elevated green, had us all salivating.
Following an antipasti selection, the taste of the pork was as good as the smell, and with wine and beer flowing; it was definitely a lunch to be enjoyed. As members of the press we were not receiving special treatment; Europeans just know how to do lunch!
With the sun shining, an afternoon relaxing on the terrace in tranquil surroundings was very appealing, but we had another 18 holes to squeeze in, this time at Aroeira, the largest golf resort in the greater Lisbon area that’s situated on the Setubal Peninsula within a delightful preservation area.
Both golf courses - Aroeira I and II, have hosted high-profile events, but in terms of accolades, Aroeira I reigns above its younger sibling, having previously been christened the ‘Wentworth of Lisbon’ by the UK press, but would it live up to our expectations?
There are definite similarities as the course winds through avenues of pine forest, and trees beautifully frame the majority of holes that require plenty of thought and accuracy in order to achieve a decent score. But unlike Wentworth in Surrey, there are a series of lakes and interestingly, no fairway bunkers. However, the greenside bunkers are strategically placed and were noticeably much deeper than those at Quinta do Peru.
Having left a spell of wet and miserable weather behind, it was a pleasure to play Aroeira I whilst basking in glorious sunshine, but after playing 36 holes, the clubhouse was a welcome sight. With an extensive front lawn, the single storey building reminded me of a typically English cricket or tennis pavilion, but it was most welcoming, as was the cold beer that never touched the sides!
Restaurants are well priced and foodies won’t be disappointed by the abundance of fresh seafood and prime meat cuts. However, on that particular Saturday
evening it was difficult to concentrate on my Portuguese-style steak and egg with a buttery sauce as Cristiano Ronaldo, known as God in Portugal, missed a penalty.
Nonetheless, that didn’t dampen the locals’ spirits, and the bars lining Lisbon’s cobbled streets were alive with an eclectic atmosphere. Rua Nova do Carvalho (known as Pink Street), is a former red light district, but when the call girls were sent packing the street was painted bright pink and has now upstaged Bairro Alto as Lisbon’s most happening nightlife district. It’s a fantastic place to people watch and there’s plenty to satisfy demanding night owls, but we didn’t want to push our luck and spoil what was going to be a challenging test of golf the following day at Ribagolfe I.
Our early afternoon tee time was preceded by another sumptuous lunch that consisted of no ordinary sardines - they were fresh, large and ultra-flavourful - at this point I really felt that I had arrived in Portugal!
It’s a short drive from the clubhouse to the golf course that is laid out within a huge cork oak forest. The area is so peaceful, there’s not a house in sight and each hole is sheltered from the view of the others allowing for complete escapism.
From one extreme to the other, this layout has more than its fair share of fairway bunkers, or at least enough for me to notice how many are in range from the forward tees! The fast greens, many of which are elevated and at times difficult to hold, are in general well guarded either by bunkers or water, butthese design features simply add to what is truly a superb test of golf.
This was a fleeting visit to this area of Portugal, but it won’t be my last. I still have three more golf courses to play, I want to experience the beaches, visit the many places of interest, plus I’ve got shopping to do!
Beth Allen Seals LET Order of Merit. Read More