Alison Root explores Quinta do Lago, the established luxury resort in the Algarve, that continues to add to its list of great golf courses, restaurants and other facilities.
A golfers’ convention could easily be held in the baggage reclaim hall at Faro Airport as you only have to look around at the number of groups of men and women with golf bags in tow to affirm Portugal’s continued popularity as a golf destination. It’s no small wonder that this airport, the gateway to the Algarve, is nearing completion of an expansion project to cater for the 4,000 passengers per hour, many of whom head to the region’s 38 golf courses.
Our group journeyed straight to Laranjal, the nearest course to the airport, just a 15-minute drive away. It is one of three courses, and the newest, belonging to Quinta do Lago, the established luxury resort, founded in 1971 and owned since 1998 by Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien. Opened in 2009, Laranjal is situated on the edge of the resort in the Ludo valley, and even with my limited Portuguese knowledge, I took an educated guess at the meaning of Laranjal (Orangery) as the abundance of orange trees in this former grove, particularly those that line both sides of the buggy path on the 4th hole, are a prominent feature.
Along with the cork and olive trees, they provide a peaceful sanctuary in this undeveloped area. With wide fairways, the course is largely forgiving, although some of the holes are encroached by its five lakes, but believe me; your putting and patience are put to the test here, as the large, undulating greens, many of which are two-tiered, are also very quick.
At the heart of Quinta do Lago, and sitting amongst 2,000 acres of the Ria Formosa Natural Park, are the North and South courses. The centrally located clubhouse serves both courses and as a consequence of all the comings and goings of residents and holidaymakers, it’s a hive of activity that promotes a joyous atmosphere.
Unlike Laranjal, the courses are overlooked in many areas by the enviable villas, although they’re not intrusive, they simply add to the classiness of one of Europe’s most desirable addresses. In 2014, with an investment of €9.6m, the North course was almost completely rebuilt under the direction of former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley.
The result is a beautifully manicured and picturesque course that’s golf-friendly, particularly from the forward tees, with most of the par 4s ranging from just 250-300m. But this a female point of view, and with an emphasis on accuracy and course management to avoid numerous hazards, (women generally hit the ball straighter and that’s not because we don’t hit it far enough!) the course had the last laugh as far as some of the gents were concerned.
Paul McGinley has made an equally good job of the golf academy and TaylorMade fitting centre. One by one, our swings were analysed using the latest technology by the excellent instructor Scott Taylor. Then the dreaded moment arrived when you think you do, but you don’t, want to look at the results on the screen!
The camera never lies and despite us all thinking that perhaps we should give up there and then, the feedback was really helpful and gave us something to ponder over lunch at Koko Lane, the restaurant that overlooks the driving range - and that’s where we should have been! Koko Lane is the most popular spot for golfers to relax and refresh after a round of golf, but this is just one of ten bars and restaurants to choose from. Bovino is a fabulous steakhouse in a 200-year-old farmhouse that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, combining a traditional rustic charm with a contemporary urban design. But don’t sit down to enjoy a luscious steak before sampling a cocktail, and if, like me, a G&T is your pre-dinner tipple, then you won’t be disappointed with a Mary Pear (gin, elderflower, pear and lime juices).
All tastes are catered for, and on our second evening we tucked into an assortment of fresh fish at the lakeside location of Casa do Lago. It’s a romantic setting, although during daylight hours, golfers can have some fun by whacking balls to a floating target in the middle of the lake.
On a press trip I always question whether ‘service with a smile’ is genuine or if it’s to satisfy the media. However, from personal experience, and by observing from afar, the attentiveness and friendliness of staff on the golf course and throughout the resort is first class. After playing the South Course, ‘saving the best until last’ was never a truer statement.
Like the North Course, precision and strategy is key, but from the forward tees the South Course is longer with greater undulation and elevation. If you’re notching up a good score, the par-3 15th over water will test the steeliest of golfers.
One of the best views is from the brow of the hill on the 16th hole across the lake and beyond, and if you make a real hash or your round, at least you can drown your sorrows as soon as you leave the 18th green by preordering food and drink from the white telephone box on the 18th tee.
Indeed, golf is a key element at Quinta do Lago, but there is so much for the whole family to enjoy including an array of watersports, the popular picnics and ‘movies in the park’ held on the driving range throughout July and August, tennis courts and, of course, the stunning beach that’s accessed by crossing the long wooden bridge across the estuary. Investment continues apace and a new sports campus is due to open shortly featuring full size pitches to attract elite players from the world of football, rugby, and hockey, along with a new tennis centre. It’s possible to book ‘stay and play’ golf packages and reside in one of Quinta do Lago’s villas or townhouses, although there are plenty of other options available within the vicinity.
Martinhal is a 4-star gated village in Quinta do Lago with properties ranging from 2 and 3-bedroom townhouses to 3 and 4-bedroom villas and each has a private pool. In a four double bedroom villa, three of us were rattling around, but regardless, even at full capacity, it’s considerably spacious and well equipped, complete with toiletries, beach towels, flip-flops, and even earplugs. Fortunately I didn’t need to use them!
Golf is my passion, but even I could enjoy a holiday at Quinta do Lago without lifting a club … especially now that I have seen my swing!
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