From Porto with Golf ...
Many of us will fondly look back at the days when you visited your grand parents as a youngster. The days when they still had that innocent view of you and not the rock and roll image you had of yourself and they, giggling as they went to the drinks cabinet, offered you a glass of Port to ‘give you a taste for it’.
It were the, what have Romans ever done for us, that started growing vines in the second century BC. They remained in the region for 500 years but it was only after the establishment of the Kingdom of Portugal in 1143 that wine was considered an important export product. The treaty of Windsor in 1386 established a close alliance between England and Portugal and under the terms of the treaty, trade was a vital part and many English merchants settled in Portugal. Portuguese wine was being exported to England, often in exchange for the salted cod or Bacalhau. To protect the wine during the long sea voyage it was sometimes ‘fortified’ with the addition of a small amount of grape spirit or brandy which increased the strength and prevented it from spoiling. The process now is different as brandy is now added to the wine during fermentation. Looking out over the Port houses like Taylor’s, Offley, Graham's, Sandeman and others, situated on the South bank of the Douro river and you can just imagine the hustle and bustle that went on here during the golden trading years of Porto.
Time has passed and we’ve had our fare share of tipple over the years and have now come to realise that Port is one of the classic wines of the world and Vintage Port, it’s finest expression, is ranked on a par with the finest Burgundies and Bordeaux.
Speaking of par … did you know there’s also plenty of golf in and around Porto and it all started with the foundation of the Oporto Golf Club in 1890. Started by the English living in Porto and originally called the Oporto Nibilicks with 9 holes built entirely on sand, it is the 3rd oldest golf club on the European continent. The course was rebuilt in 1900 and extended to 18 holes and the current 18 holes are still played as laid out in 1934. In 1921, the club opened to Portuguese members and in 1934 the club admitted lady members ! It also holds the oldest cup in golf played for uninterrupted since 1891, the Skeffington Cup named after the original club president.
The course is situated just South of Porto near the seaside resort town of Espinho. It has the characteristics of a links course with sandy areas, low wind bushes, very few trees and at any time of the year, the Atlantic breeze to make it interesting. It’s not a long course but with very small greens and flat and firm under foot, an enjoyable and historic golf experience. Maintenance is in line with how it was but don’t think the course is not in good condition, to the contrary.
The cosy wooden club house serves fantastic Portuguese food and with a crisp glass of local wine, a place where the members hang out. Accommodation can be found in the nearby 5* Solverde Spa & Wellness Resort where the rooms look out over the Atlantic and with the beach on your doorstep, no better place to spend a few nights. The hotel is famous for its wellness suites and will leave you rejuvenated both pre and post your round of golf.
Most of the golf courses are dotted around the region and it will take a car to take them all in. You can also use the services of GolfConcierge, a local DMC that caters to golfers with an extensive range of services.
From Porto one can head inland and pass by Amarante, a beautiful village dissected by the Tamega River and a stronghold during the Napoleonic Wars where a local rabble of farmers, clergymen and soldiers halted the advance of the French army for weeks. The French had looted and burned most of the towns along the way but fortunately left much of the larger residences intact to serve as quarters for their forces. One the opposite side of the river, the headquarter serving the allied forces is now the Relais & Chateaux Casa de Calcada. Built in the 16th century as one of the main residences of the Earl de Redondo, the palace served as an important meeting place for intellectuals and politicians. It is attached to the Amarante Golf Club, a Par 68 on the hillside overlooking Amarante. The tricky and technical course is fun to play and will suit golfers on a gentle day out. The clubhouse terrace overlooks many of the holes and is the ideal place to sample some of the exquisite local beverage while welcoming your fellow golfers onto the green.
Head further inland to the mountainous region around Vidago. The town is famous for the quality of its water and mineral water sources are to be found in abundance. The Vidago Palace Golf Resort is the mantel piece of the region. Built in the early 1900’s for King Carlos I as a luxury spa resort to stand alongside Europe’s fines, the hotel opened on October 1, 1910 the year the first Portuguese republic was established. The hotel became home to a 9-hole golf course designed by Philip Mackenzie Ross, famous for the redesign of the Ailsa Turnberry Course and a companion to Tom Simpson.
The hotel was completely refurbished and modernised and the course upgraded to a full 18-hole challenging layout while still incorporating the original 1930’s course. This is a tranquil piece of golfing heaven and luxury bliss. You start out on the original layout with tree lined fairways dissected by small streams and once you get through that, the course opens up a bit but still requires attention of the tee and specifically onto the greens. The final couple of holes are laid out on the hillside above the hotel and meander through pine trees for some challenging tee shots. Apres-golf, retire to the spa and relax near the outdoor swimming pool before sampling the best of the local produce in the enchanting Grand Ballroom.
On your way back to Porto, stop over in Ponte de Lima, the oldest chartered town (1125) in Portugal named ofter the medieval bridge over the river Lima. It was a historically significant Roman settlement on the road from Braga to Santiago de Compostela and the bridge is the focal tourist attraction. The little bars and cafes on the North side of the bridge are the ideal place to reminisce about the round of golf you just played on the local Axis Ponte De Lima Golf Resort.
This parkland layout has two distinctive nines with the front nine running through the hills and the back nine laid out in the park fronting the old manor house slash club house. The hotel on site offers 80 rooms and is within walking distance of the golf club. The food is served in the clubhouse and is sumptuous and traditional.
Back at the Atlantic coast and North of Porto lies the fantastic links course of Estela Golf Club. The only design of Duarte Sotto-Mayor is laid out on a narrow strip of dune land and with the cooling influence of the Atlantic breeze, a truly exceptional place to play golf. This is a links course with very few fairway bunkers as the natural defence are the sandy areas bordering the shimmering and fast running fairways.
The club has two loops of 9 holes both finishing at the elevated clubhouse. There is a different light when you’re at the seaside and not many clubhouses benefit from the blue, white and green sun drenched colour combination as does Estella. As in every Portuguese club house, the food is excellent and with a rich history in wine making and with so many wines to choose from, don’t shy away from the house wine, red or white.
Porto is a must visit city and with many nice golf clubs dotted around the northern region of Portugal, it has all the attributes to become a golf destination. The local hotels, courses and governments are uniting to provide support and show case all the region has to offer. Start or finish your journey in Porto and take in the smells and sounds a river city as to offer. There are bridges over the river, one built by Eiffel, connecting the port houses on the South bank to the historic streets and buildings on the North bank with plenty of bars and restaurants to relax.
One undoutedly eats and drinks well in the region around Porto, the gastronomy is honest, local and sumptuous and served with only local wines, that alone is worth the trip. Add some great golf, historic accommodation, beautiful landscapes combined with first class infrastructure and the Porto Golf Destination can take out the ‘secret’ in the slogan ‘the best kept golfing secret in Europe’.
Porto Golf Destination : www.portogolfdestination.com
Vidago Palace Hotel & Golf : www.vidagopalace.com
Casa de Calcada : www.casadacalcada.com
Amarante Golf : www.golfedeamarante.com
Solverde Spa & Welness Resort : www.hotelsolverdespa.solverde.pt
Oporto Golf : www.oportogolfclub.com
Axis Ponte De Lima - Ponte De Lima Golf : www.axishoteis.com
Estela Golf Club : www.estelagolf.pt
Blue Sky Golf Rental : www.blueskygolf-rental.com