Golf holidays in Portugal: head to the east coast of the Algarve to experience empty fairways
When your friends say they are going on a golf break in the Algarve, they are most likely going to the central part of the region – just a short drive from the city of Faro and its airport.
You will stay in one of the big resorts – Vale do Lobo for example or Vilamoura.
“Stay” is the word: these Portuguese resorts are designed so that everything – food, golf, beach, kids’ clubs, spas – is just a short buggy ride away. You will feel at home. Most of the voices you hear on the greens and at the buffet are British.
Not so in the east of the region. It’s a longer (45 minute) drive from Faro. There are far fewer mega-resorts and the clientele is much more local.
That’s where I went for me and two golf friends to the Hotel Praia Verde. It’s part of a new collection of Portuguese-owned boutique hotels that launched last May.
Quiet: Mark Jones went golfing in the east of Portugal’s Algarve region, which doesn’t have many mega-resorts and where clientele is likely to be local. He plays at Quinta da Ria (above), a seaside golf course that is “sunny, windy, [and] very soft’
They offer the chance to “build real connections with the place and the surrounding communities”. Interesting: This is definitely not the mission of the larger resorts, who will be happy if you stay outside their gates and spend all your time and money there.
As we entered Praia Verde, more laid-back Portuguese fado was playing than the resort’s usual thump-thump-thump playlist. In the lobby, instead of a shop, there were shelves with regional products.
Our second floor rooms had a view over the umbrella pine canopy. Compared to the hustle and bustle of the Algarve’s main towns, it was almost eerily quiet and peaceful.
The beach a few hundred yards away felt a lot more Cape Cod than Costa del Sol: light-colored, fluffy sand, boardwalks, and a chic glass-fronted restaurant overlooking the waves.
We strolled back to the hotel through avenues of palatial abandoned holiday homes (£2.18m to buy one). The Eastern Algarve follows the same business model as the rest: hectares of properties for second homes, hotels, cafes and golf courses. It has a faint Truman Show feel to it. I struggled to find a real connection to the place.
Mark says Quinta da Ria is ideal for a restorative potter and an opportunity to soak up some vitamin D before heading back into the UK winter
Despite this, we all felt relaxed ahead of the next two days of golf challenges. That was important: the more tense you are, the worse you do on the course.
Algarve courses and staff have been strained since the pandemic. The real estate crash that followed in 2008 shattered many glamorous plans. But as of 2019, 1.3 million rounds had been played here, making it Europe’s top winter golf destination.
When the Covid flight bans hit, some didn’t recover from that second shock. For this reason, Octant Hotels acquired the Quinta do Vale golf course, designed by the late, great Spanish golfer, Seve Ballesteros.
Before our round we toured an epic course that took in a valley of olive groves and lakes. On the 12th there was a large S-shaped bunker (for Seve), a tough test.
“When your friends say they’re going on a golf trip to the Algarve, they’re most likely going to the central part of the region,” explains Mark (stock photo)
A three night stay at Octant Praia Verde including breakfast, a round of golf at Quinta da Ria and a round of golf at Quinta do Vale starts from £270 per person based on double occupancy in a twin room. Visit praiaverde.octanthotels.com.
After the round, as we swapped war stories over Super Bock beer, a real soldier came in to chat – Denise, a diminutive retired US Army officer. Like many Americans, she had taken advantage of the Portuguese government’s tax and pension incentives to move here.
For people like Denise, the country offers a laid-back (again, that word) open-air lifestyle, far removed from the ever-present culture wars and fears of home.
Our second loop was at Quinta da Ria, a seaside course: sunny, windy, fairly gentle. While Seves required plenty of focus, this was ideal for a restorative potter and an opportunity to soak up some Vitamin D before heading back to the British winter.
We had our dose of local culture in Tavira with its beautiful houses and riverside walkways. Like you, we even found an octopus restaurant run by a young Nepalese couple. As we ate we realized we had been the only three British golfers evident on the whole trip.
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