The perfect golfing break for me has to offer the mix of a great course, wonderful scenery, fantastic food and wine and places to visit to relax and unwind after a morning on the course. San Tropez in the South of France ticks all these boxes and so much more.
I chose to fly CityJet as you can join their City Golf Club which allows you take your golf clubs and a suitcase for free and the service from London to Toulon was first-class.
A hassle-free check-in, speedy security and a comfortable seat on the plane and less than three hours later I was driving through the beautiful vineyards that characterise this pretty stretch of coastline. My base for the weekend was the Gassin Golf & Country Club, a world-class course that can be discovered just outside the famous seaside town of San Tropez and hidden amongst the vineyards in a setting of sheer tranquillity. To say that this golf course is very private is an understatement. The beauty of a golfing break here is that the course is never stacked with fourballs like so many resorts, yes it does carry an exclusive price tag of 150 euros a round but it is worth every penny, it's all about quality not quantity of players.
Gary Player has designed an absolute masterpiece here. The setting is simply sensational. The course literally looks like it has been blasted out of the dense forests that surround it with dynamite. The result is a course with panoramic views to die for. The compromise is that you have to ride on a golf cart to play unless you are ridiculously fit and want a walk that feels like you're mountaineering. A quick warm-up on the seriously steep uphill driving range is the perfect way to get a feel for how the ball is going to fly when you are driving some of the similarly steep uphill holes. If you were to start at the par 4 10th which runs parallel to the driving range for instance you would face just that.
Instead though, the opening holes are the perfect way to ease into your game as the par 4 first is a gentle downhill hole that is almost reachable with a good drive, at least if you can avoid the rather large and imposing tall tree to the right of the tee, which you'll have to pay close attention to if you hit a draw. The second hole is equally straight-forward but it's from the third onwards that the challenge really starts to unfold. This long, narrow uphill par 5 is the first of series of very strategic holes where accuracy is imperative. The fairways rise and fall like a fairground ride, flanked with well-placed bunkers and many dog-leg sharply forcing you to shape shots with skill. The greens also feature clever slopes that take some reading and bunkers are generously filled with sand to ensure that you have a straight-forward splash shot out.
There are so many breath-taking views on this golf course that you'll want to stop and take pictures at every opportunity, like the vista from the top tee at the par 3 4 th hole where you face a shot down to a distant green. By the 13 th fairway you will have reached the highest part of the course and if you look to the left you'll see the coastline, glistening clear blue sea and the perfectly polished white yachts in the San Tropez bay.
The finish at Gassin is really strong and brilliant fun to play. It starts with the par 4 16th played to a raised green - beware going long as your ball will drop off the planet! The par 3 17th is played from an elevated tee down about a 100 foot drop to a green surrounded by bunkers with water ready to catch players who come up short and left. Then there's the piece de resistance - the par 4 18th a spectacular downhill left-to-right doglegging par 4. Standing on the 18th tee for the first time you'll be totally confused as to where to hit your drive. There is a green in the distance in sight but it's actually the 9th green and it's a good 90 degrees further around to the right before you get to the 18th green. The best players will take on the tiger line over the top of the trees leaving just a short iron or wedge into the green.
A drink on the clubhouse terrace accompanied by some delicious canapés is well-deserved and what a wonderful place to relax. It will also give you an opportunity to taste some of the fine local wines; many corked less than a par 5 away at the nearest vineyard Domaine de Bertaud Belieu. Make sure you set aside an afternoon to a drive through the local vineyards and stop off at all the cellars for a taste of the wines - the only hard part will be picking the designated driver! Gassin's multi-lingual manageress Irene Hin will ensure that you are treated like a VIP with service with a smile.
For total post-round relaxation you could head down to the resort's swimming pool, or if you are still energetic there's a large gym with fantastic open air frontage giving you that indoors-outdoors feeling and tennis courts. You can also improve your game at the club's Academy, which features two indoor teaching rooms.
Most of my afternoons were spent exploring the medieval hilltop towns of Gassin, Ramatuelle and the gorgeous Grimaud, which all enjoy elevated locations high up in the mountains. Gassin with its pretty cobbled streets was my favourite. Here you can wander around and admire the ancient architecture or have lunch outdoors at one of the many restaurants that have amazing views. I'd highly recommend La Pescadou, owned by a friendly English couple who have relocated to the South of France, and who can blame them. The food is first-class and the service always with a smile. There's a great value fixed price menu, just ask to speak to Caroline when you make your booking.
Of course no trip to the area would be complete without experiencing the elegance of Saint Tropez itself and it's only a five minute drive away by car. This seaside town is the place to be seen and regularly welcomes the rich and famous who moor their giant yachts in the marina and come on shore to walk around the pretty cobbled streets, splash their cash in the designer boutiques or sit and enjoy a meal in one of the harbour front restaurants. The nearby beaches are equally popular places for them to drop anchor and sit and sip champagne on over-priced sun-loungers next to the sea. On my visit I spotted the pop duo 'Jedward' enjoying the party atmosphere in the celebrity hang-out called Nikki Beach. Personally I prefer the peace and quiet of the nearby and very pretty Plage des Jumeaux.
As you can see a golfing trip to the South of France is so much more than a few games of golf, in fact it's a perfect choice for golfers accompanied by non-golfing partners. Don't come here expecting to play round after round on different courses every day, but if you are a golfing connoisseur you can't fail to be impressed with Gassin Golf & Country Club and with so many other places to explore right on your doorstep it's the perfect weekend break.
HOW TO GET THERE
I flew from London City to Toulon with CityJet who offer daily flights to the South of France. The speedy check-in and generous baggage allowance beats the other airlines hands down, as to the seats on the plane, which are far more comfortable and spacious than the budget airlines. You can also join Cityjet Golf, which will allow your golf clubs to travel for free. Visit www.cityjet.co.uk for bookings.
WHERE TO STAY
I stayed in a privately owned luxury self-catering apartment on the golf course at Gassin. The three-bed apartment is owned by an English couple who will make sure your stay is perfect in every way. It truly is a home-from-home with a spectacular master bedroom which boasts a sun terrace which overlooks the Academy Course, a wonderful private garden and outside dining area and it even has Sky TV and free Wi-Fi! The apartment can be booked direct with owner Victoria Franklin and for more information email: email@example.com
To book a round on Gassin Golf & Country Club contact the professional's shop on: (0033) 04 94 17 42 42 or by visiting www.gassingolfcc.com