A tasty slice of Portugal - Golf in Obidos Portugal
The medieval castle town of Óbidos makes an excellent base to sample a quartet of varied and challenging golf courses, all within a 30-minute
drive of this bustling region, just north of Lisbon. Words: Andrew Marshall
Thanks to an enviable year-round climate, with plenty
of sunny days, Portugal has always been one of
Europe’s most popular golfing destinations and
although the southern Algarve may have the lion’s
share of the courses, for the travelling golfer looking
for something a little off-the-beaten-track, the
Oeste region north of Lisbon is an interesting option. Alongside
the golf there’s plenty of off-course attractions, from numerous
archaeological and historical sites to sparkling Atlantic
beaches, enchanting coastal villages, excellent seafood and
fine local wines.
On an isolated hill swept by cool breezes, the medieval castle
town of Óbidos makes an excellent base to sample a quartet
of varied and challenging courses, all within a 30-minute
drive. Our home away from home for four nights is the cosy
Hotel Real D’Óbidos, and we are delighted to discover that
it’s situated within a cluster of cobbled alleys only a pitching
wedge away from the castle walls.
The hotel is exquisitely decorated in a medieval style,
with suits of armour, tapestries, iron furniture, dark wood
and large heavy drapes. Even the guest rooms maintain
the theme, right down to old iron door latches and an
original medieval iron room key that’s so large it’s a
workout just carrying it down to the reception desk each
morning and hand it over to the friendly staff (all
dressed in medieval clothing). With the key safely
dropped off and the clubs packed in the hire car, its
time to head off and sample the courses…
Our first 18 holes is at Golden Eagle, originally known
as Quinta do Brincal Golf & Country Club. Laid out by
the American architect Rocky Roquermore (a prolific
and much-respected designer in southern Europe) this
is a big-scale course (measuring 6,623-metres off the
tips) and one that that meanders its way spectacularly
through a wonderful natural landscape of rolling hills and lush
Portuguese flora: pines, cork trees, eucalyptus, mimosa, hydrangea
and acacias that provide colourful bordering on each hole.
The course wears its American influences well, with a strong
emphasis on the need for accurate target-style golf, which thus
tests your ball striking from the word ‘go’. There are no fewer
than nine lakes and 90-odd sand traps incorporated within the
overall layout, some of those bunkers so vast you occasionally
feel like an extra on the set of Lawrence of Arabia. (Well, I did,
anyway). Needless to say, unless you are striping it the Golden
Eagle will test your sand skills to the max.
“A second course is currently under construction and will be
open for play in 2011 and it will be designed by a top name, but
it’s all hush-hush at the moment,” says David Ashington Head of
Golf Operations and PGA Professional. “A 5-star
hotel from a leading luxury Hotel brand is also included in these
Featuring an 18-hole layout by the noted course architect
Donald Steel, Westin’s Campo Real has rapidly become one of
Portugal’s most exciting golf and leisure developments. Etched
into the dramatic rolling hills, vineyards and steep wooded valleys
of the surrounding countryside, the course will challenge
and delight even the most experienced players, with several
uphill and downhill drives that make for an exciting round.
“The fairways are about 20 centimetres wide – about the distance
between your ears, as you really have to use your head
here, says Golf Director Manuel Gomes as we wait to tee off. “I’ve
played this course many times and I never get tired of the challenge.
It’s not a long course, but it’s technical and to add to the
drama there are a couple of drivable par fours in the mix.”
Etched into the rolling hills, vineyard and steep
wooded valleys of the surrounding countryside, CampoReal is the creation
of designer Donald Steel.
He was right. No sooner had we finished and we were eager to
play it again. Campo Real has that addictive quality you find at
certain destinations – a quality obviously enhanced by the experience
of staying at the five-star Westin with all of its creature comforts.
Discussions at the 19th turn to a ‘favourite hole’, which for
me has to be the 478-metre 17th, a cracking par-five played from
an elevated tee offering superb views – one of those tee-shots
you want to hit over and over again. Enjoyable, beautiful and
serene, the quality of the Campo Real course is matched only by
the Westin’s accommodation, clubhouse and spa facilities.
PRAIA D’EL REY
Star billing of the Oeste region’s golfing quartet must surely go to
Cabell B.Robinson’s wild and wonderful Praia D’El Rey – a marvellous
combination of a parkland front nine that cuts through deep
pine forest and a links land back nine that follows the coast with
spectacular views over the Atlantic and the Berlenga Islands
beyond. “This is the kind of landscape we architects try to create,
but at Praia d’El Rey it’s all here, naturally,” said Robinson on
first surveying the site. “Now it’s my responsibility to protect it.”
Praie D’El Rey has a collection of great seaside links holes,
windswept dunes and coastal views
And protect it he has. After the tighter pine-lined fairways of the
opening nine, the course opens up and heads towards the pummeling
Atlantic offering all the elements of a Scottish or Irish links, but with warmer weather. Bold deep bunkers, undulating greens
and natural sand border areas contrast sharply with the lush green
fairways. The signature stretch of holes runs from the 12th to 15th,
along the coast, and a mention must also go to the 17th, a gigantic
uphill par-five measuring in at a hefty 570 metres. If you play just
one course in this region this has to be it: a total golfing package
that offers you variety, a non-stop challenge and magnificent views.
A worthy winner of the 2007 “Golf Resort Europe” and a course
rated highly in Europe’s ‘Top 100 Golf Courses’ listings.
Recent fanfares that greeted the opening of Bom Sucesso noted
that this would be Donald Steel’s final course design. If that is
indeed the case he can be very proud at what he has achieved.
Steel’s fifth design in Portugal is the latest addition to the golfing
scene in this up-and-coming Oeste region and the centrepiece of a
five-star resort complex that will eventually feature apartments,
villas and a 120-room hotel with full leisure facilities.
Bom Sucesso is a
landmark creation for
Donald Steel, his fifth
creation in Portugal
being his final legacy
to the game
The two nines are very different in character, the more gentle
and opening nine leading to what is the more spectacular back nine
on rolling terrain. “At Bom Sucesso, we have created 18 very strong
holes – all good even when taken on an individual basis, I don’t feel
any of them are weak. They all contribute to the overall appeal of
the golf course. It is up to the individual player to be the final
judge,” says Steel.
Like all good courses the finish at Bom Sucesso is particularly
strong, the par-four 16th played uphill to a green set into a hillside,
then it’s a spectacular drive at the dogleg par-five 17th with
gorgeous views of Óbidos Lake and the distant mountains, and
the final hole is a downhill par-four 18th with a stream cutting
across the fairway and water guarding the green.
AWAY FROM THE COURSES
The four courses within 30 minutes or so of the fortified town of
Óbidos make for a truly varied golfing experience, but this region
offers much more than that. There is genuine history and tradition
here. Cobblestone streets are lined with colourful houses, there are
Gothic doorways and windows, whitewashed churches, flowerpots
and dazzling tiles – all encircled by the walls of the 12th century
castle. Óbidos has been painstakingly preserved and its inhabitants
take pride in maintaining the architectural image of days gone by.
As we wander along the alleyways, through ancient plazas, and
along the walls, we can’t help thinking we are part of a medieval
film set. And it’s not just our imagination. Every July a Medieval
Fair recreates the Middle Ages with medieval music, knights,
witches, and theatre, and during the International Chocolate
Festival in November, Óbidos becomes the world’s chocolate capital
with exquisite chocolate sculptures on display.
There are four restaurants within the town walls, three on the
outside. At each you find cuisine based on typical Portuguese gastronomy. Start your evening with an aperitif of local cherry
liqueur – known as ‘Ginja d’ Óbidos’ – inside Bar lbn Errick Rex
that oozes with character, and then head off to the Pousada do
Castelo for some gourmet dining.
Sampling the local wine and cuisine is an important aspect
of any travel experience and the gastronomy of the Oeste
region is rich and varied: there are several delicious pork dishes,
oven-baked kid, stewed rabbit with rice, celebrated fish
stews, baked or boiled sea bream, rock bass from Peniche, eel
and cockles from the Óbidos Lake and shellfish from the beds
at Porto de Barcas (lagosta suada – ‘sweating lobster’– a delicacy
which can only be found in the Western region).
The Oeste is also well known as a wine making district and
it’s peppered with vineyards laid out along the ‘Oeste Trail’, a
tourist path taking in the most famous wineries. The northern
part produces delicious white wine with different grape varieties
such as Arinto, Fernão Pires and Vital. More to the south
the red wine is produced from Periquita, Tinto Miúdo and
Camarate grapes. The region is also known for ‘light wine’
(with lower alcohol levels) and the Lourinhã brandy, the only
one in Portugal with origin control.
To the west of Óbidos is the charming seaside town of
Peniche, renowned for its excellent fish restaurants, such as
the award-winning Estelas, which attracts discerning diners
from far and wide. Black-and-white photos of fisherman adorn
the walls and there’s a freezer crammed full of fish (such as
red snapper, sea bass, mackerel and sole) so fresh they still
twitch in their bed of ice.
“The secret of our cooking begins with visiting the local fish
market at first light and choosing the freshest and best quality
fish available. And then there’s the sauces, but I can’t reveal
the actual recipes,” says owner Diamantino Neto with a smile.
We are served several small dishes of mussels, octopus, egg
fish, whelk, sardines and clams with garlic, olive oil and fresh
crusty bread washed down with some fine local wines – its the
perfect finish to our Oeste region golf trip.
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine