When your friends say they are going to the Algarve on a golf trip, they are most probably headed to the central part of the region — just a short drive from the city of Faro and its airport.
They will stay in one of the big resorts — Vale do Lobo, say, or Vilamoura.
‘Stay’ is the word: those Portuguese resorts are designed so that everything — food, golf, beach, kids’ clubs, spas — is a short buggy ride away. You’ll feel perfectly at home. Most voices you hear on the greens and at the buffet will be 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 likely to be local.
That’s where I, and two golfing buddies headed, to the Praia Verde hotel. It’s part of a new collection of Portuguese-owned boutique hotels launched last May.
Tranquil: Mark Jones went golfing in the east of Portugal’s Algarve region, where there aren’t many mega resorts and the clientele is likely to be local. He plays at Quinta da Ria (above), an oceanside course that’s ‘sunny, windy, [and] quite gentle’
They offer the chance to ‘form genuine connections to the locality and surrounding communities’. Interesting: that’s definitely not the mission of the bigger resorts, which are happy for you to stay within their gates and spend all your time and money there.
As we entered the Praia Verde, there was chilled Portuguese fado playing rather than the usual thump-thump-thump resort playlist. In the lobby, instead of a shop, there were racks of local produce.
Our second-floor rooms had views over the canopy of umbrella pines. Compared with the bustle of the main Algarve resorts, it was almost eerily quiet and tranquil.
The beach, a few hundred yards away, felt much more Cape Cod than Costa del Sol: pale, fluffy sand, boardwalks and a chic glass-fronted restaurant overlooking the waves.
We strolled back to the hotel through avenues of palatial, deserted holiday homes (£2.18 million to buy one). The eastern Algarve follows the same business model as the rest: acres of real estate devoted to second homes, hotels, cafes and golf courses. There is a faintly Truman Show feel about it. I was struggling to find a genuine connection to the locality.
Mark says that Quinta da Ria is ideal for a bracing potter and a chance to soak up some vitamin D before returning to the British winter
Still, we all felt relaxed ahead of the next two days of golfing challenges. This was important: the more tense you are, the worse you do on the course.
The Algarve’s courses and staff have been feeling tense since the pandemic. The property crash that followed 2008 put paid to many glitzy plans. But by 2019, 1.3 million rounds were played here, making it Europe’s top winter golf destination.
As the Covid flight bans hit, some didn’t recover from that second shock. That’s why Octant Hotels acquired the Quinta do Vale course — designed by the late, great Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros.
Before our round, we surveyed an epic course taking in a valley of olive groves and lakes. There was a big S (for Seve)-shaped bunker on the 12th, a stiff test.
‘When your friends say they are going to the Algarve on a golf trip, they are most probably headed to the central part of the region,’ Mark explains (stock photo)
A three-night stay at Octant Praia Verde including breakfast, one round of golf at Quinta da Ria, and one round of golf at Quinta do Vale starts from £270 pp, based on double occupancy in a twin room. Visit praiaverde.octanthotels.com.
After the round, as we compared war stories over Super Bock beers, a genuine soldier came to chat — Denise, a diminutive, retired U.S. 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 relaxed (that word again) open-air lifestyle far away from the ever-present culture wars and angst back home.
Our second round was at Quinta da Ria, an oceanside course: sunny, windy, quite gentle. While Seve’s required much concentration, this was ideal for a bracing potter and a chance to soak up some vitamin D before returning to the British winter.
We had our dose of local culture in Tavira, with its fine houses and riverside walkways. We even found, as you do, an octopus restaurant run by a young Nepalese couple. While we ate, we realised we had been the only three British golfers evident all trip.