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Quintessentially Quinta

The Monte da Quinta resort is at the heart of one of the original and indeed very best golfing destinations in southern Europe. Peter Swain checks out the hotel, courses and cocktails

The concept of the Portuguese or Spanish golf development, with a couple of great courses, a large hotel, and some rather fabulous housing round the fairways, is one we all now take for granted. But it wasn’t always thus.

Legendary Algarve developer Andre Jordan first clapped eyes on Quinta do Lago in 1970. Over the next 20 years, he turned the 550-hectare estate into the perfect model of a high-class golf resort. It’s now owned by Irishman Denis O’Brien, and the likes of Michael Owen, Alan Shearer, Rubens Barrichello and Chris Evans like it so much that they have luxury pads hereabouts.

Only 20 minutes from Faro airport, the Monte da Quinta set-up, essentially a hotel surrounded by a small village of townhouses and villas, sits in between the Atlantic and Ria Formosa National Park. Sometimes called ‘the Beverly Hills of the Algarve’, the wider Quinta do Lago district is the most aristocratic of the ‘golden triangle’ of luxury golf developments, the others being Vale do Lobo and Vilamoura. Planning is tightly controlled – the whole place is spotless.

For golfers, the heart of the enterprise is four great courses. From the mid 1970s onwards, the South Course hosted eight Portuguese Open Championships, the most recent in 2001. With pleasing elevation changes, plenty of water and fast greens, the 7,108-yard set-up meanders through umbrella pines and requires both accuracy and length for low scoring.

The North Course, also 36 years old, is every bit as good. It has more undulating greens and aggressive fairway bunkering but is kept in equally perfect condition. Interestingly, both set-ups favour players who draw the ball. As well as these two, Monte da Quinta’s guests can also take advantage of preferential rates at the aristocratic Pinheiros Altos and the brand-new Laranjal course.

My first impression when I played the Lananjal this summer, just after it opened, was that the track is flatter and friendlier than its championship neighbours. But with a couple of great par-5s, huge bunkers and even bigger greens, in time, it could become a classic. On a golfing break, I’d still play it first before taking on the sterner challenges across the road.

Put the four together with all the academies and palatial clubhouses and you arguably have Portugal’s premier golf resort.With another dozen good courses within a 20-minute drive, it’s easy to see why the central Algarve has become such a successful golfing destination.

The Monte da Quinta Resort itself is split into two parts: the Suites, which is effectively a hotel, and the Club surrounding it, which has 178 townhouses and villas for rent. The exterior of the hotel doesn’t really do justice to the luxury of the 132 suites inside. Once past the slightly surreal metal sea-life sculptures hanging above you in reception, a proper five-star establishment reveals itself. The décor is distinctly avant-garde, the gourmet restaurants many and varied, and, most importantly, the barman makes a mean cocktail – I’d recommend the mojitos.

The one-, two- and three-bedroom luxury suites have kitchenettes, separate sitting rooms, wireless internet connections and fancy new bathrooms. Unlike many similar establishments, it’s a place in which you can really relax in style after a tough day on the course.

It’s also well set up for golf widows. My wife makes it a matter of principal to spend as much in the spa as I do on a round. With a giddy array of treatments and therapies to choose from, that’s all too easy here. It’s also comforting to know that a qualified physio can iron out any kinks caused by 18 holes of sweaty combat.

Sporty types will enjoy the tennis courts, horse riding and water sports along the two-mile beach. The gym is well set up, and four pools – two inside and two outside – cater for all family combinations in all weathers.

Speaking of families, the Kids World Club is exceptional. Some of these places can lead to a degree of guilt as little Johnny/Mary is left wailing while mum and dad go off to have fun. This one is so well equipped, you may have to lever the children out at the end of the day.

The other part of the resort is the 178 townhouses and villas that make up the Monte da Quinta Club.With access to the same facilities as the hotel, these have more space for families or golf groups. They’re a tad beige but very comfortable, all with AC, private gardens and pools. If you really like them, there are even a few for sale, although you may have to raid the piggy bank to find the €1million or so a reasonably-sized house costs to buy.

For those who like retail therapy, Quinta Shopping has the usual collection of ritzy boutiques, plus a few good bars that stay open late. On the waterfront, the Casa do Lago is one of several restaurants serving excellent sea food.

A few miles west, the Marina at Vilamoura is another favourite locale for celebrating famous golfing victories, or drowning strokeplay sorrows. The recession- busting yachts on display are good to gawp at before taking in the serious business of bacalhou (salt cod), caldeirada (fish stew) or carne de porco a Alentejana (pork with clam and tomato sauce), all washed down by a nicely chilled vinho verde, at one of the excellent harbour-side hostelries.

If the current recession has an upside, it’s maybe that destinations like Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo and the seven Oceanico courses in the Algarve are more affordable than they were a few years ago. Deals are being done…

Over the summer months, the Monte da Quinta is full of families, but from October to April, this is principally a golfing destination with accessibility a big plus. Using one of the cut-price airlines that fly to Faro, like the excellent Monarch, you can leave home at breakfast time, be teeing off by 3pm, and be glugging your first Caipirinha at the Lobby Bar by eight o’clock. It makes a long weekend of winter golf really quite do-able.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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