Essential Guide to France

Published:

Your essential guide to golf breaks in France...

As France deservedly basks in the glow of hosting Europe's Ryder Cup triumph, there's never been a better time for British golfers to hop across the channel. While Phil Mickelson et al may not be in a hurry to return, if they did they'd discover there's more to France's, and indeed Paris', golf portfolio than Le Golf National.

Our cross-channel neighbour currently boasts the No.1s in both our Top 100 Courses and Top 100 Resorts in Continental Europe, with plenty more success stories in both. We'll have a 40-page French special in our Open Issue, but here we give you a taste of the action in the five key golf regions.

Paris

Jump on the Eurostar at St Pancras or drive onto the Eurotunnel at Folkestone first thing in the morning and you can be recreating Moliwood's best moments by lunchtime. The long, water-protected American-style Albatros is undoubtedly the venue's star, but its links-style Eagle is an impressive backup. While the Ryder Cup and Open de France course is the star of Guyancourt and 34th in our European list, we actually rank four Parisian courses above it, including our No.1, Morfaintaine.

Just to the north-east of the city, Tom Simpson's 'Grand Parcours' layout is a classy heathland reminiscent of the English classics, showing the architect at his best. It's so private that even mentioning it here may seem strange, but you simply have to find a way to get on that first tee... plan well ahead and you might get lucky.

Ten miles north-west and 10 places lower in our ranking is Chantilly, Simpson's first design outside Britain. Little surprise then that it has an English feel with its elegance and neatness. Simpson is also the man behind Fontainebleau, which you'll find around an hour south-east of central Paris. This classic pine and heather layout was 6th in our most recent ranking, but could easily rise with a little restoration. It too is a private club but is increasingly welcoming visitors.

le golf national

Harry Colt's 1922 layout at Saint Germain, 18 miles west of the city centre, is one of Continental Europe's nicest surprises and enjoyed a huge leap from 38th to 19th in our last ranking. Carved from the forest with more than 100 bunkers and undulating fairways, Colt made the most of a modest site using a owing routing, clever green complexes and highly memorable par 3s.

Opal Coast

This north-eastern corner of France has just 11 18-hole courses and three nine-holers. But when three of those courses – Hardelot, Le Touquet and Wimereux – feature in both our Top 100 Courses and Resorts rankings, the phrase 'quality over quantity' is very apt.

touquet

You can tee off at the grand seaside course of Wimereux within 40 minutes of exiting the Eurotunnel. Dating back to 1901, it boasts true links pedigree, tucked away among the 80- mile stretch of dunes that separate Dunkirk and Baie de Somme. The wind always plays its part as its fast-running fairways, tangly rough and tiny greens test all players.

A 30-minute drive down the coast will bring you to the beautiful seaside town of Hardelot, home to 36 holes and heathland- woodland heaven. Les Dunes rolls dramatically with elevated drives and uphill approaches aplenty. But it's Les Pins that has long been attracting British golfers. Originally a Tom Simpson design in the early 1900s, Frank Pont and associate Patrice Boissonnas removed hundreds of trees and replaced them with classic sandy areas. It's work that has seen the layout rise an incredible 74 places to No.24 across our last two Continental Europe Top 100 rankings.

You'll find another stunning Pont- Boissonnas renovation and huge Top 100 climber some 40 minutes south at Le Touquet. La Mer was a tired Colt classic but has become a sandy, raw thrill worthy of a 35-place jump to 31st after the work. It is backed up by Horace Hutchinson's 1904 design, La Foret, which is set in a sheltered pine forest, as well as the par-35 3,000-yard Le Manor by Harold Baker. The courses combine with The Manoir Hotel to create a resort that we rank 25th.

For a good end to an exceptional (and easy) golf weekend, head down to Belle Dune's pine-lined rolling dunesland.

Brittany and Normandy

The neighbouring regions are a favourite with Brits crossing by ferry from the south coast. Brittany's uncrowded and inexpensive courses pair with a temperate climate and bustling towns to make an ideal destination.

The short, links-like Pléneuf-Val-André, set between heathland and the sea, is worth the visit for its 11th hole alone. It plays parallel to the English Channel with panoramic views from its back tee perched on a cliff edge.

pleneuf_val_andre

Nearby Dinard dates back to the 1880s and is another short course, with its par-4 6th featuring in The 500 World's Greatest Golf Holes.

Les Ormes is an ideal play-and-stay option with a hotel and apartments, while its charming parkland offers a relaxing round and iconic castle views. Saint-Malo Hôtel, Golf & Country Club is surrounded by the vast, beautiful Mirloup lake in the ancient hunting grounds of Robert Surcouf.

Normandy's 40 courses are spread from the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel to the Alabaster Coast, from Perche to the Seine Valley and from the Cherbourg peninsula to Auge.

Etretat has overlooked the sea and the eponymous bay since 1908, Tom Simpson's Golf Barrière de Deauville has charmed since 1929 while Dieppe-Pourville is a Willie Park design from 1897. Omaha Beach's 36-holes are just three miles from the American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer and enjoy splendid views. Between Paris and Deauville, Golf d'Evreux sits perfectly in rolling topography and is noted for its fast, true greens. While Golf Barrière de Saint-Julien near Pont-L'Evêque has two fine courses.

The South East

With more than 150 courses, resorts perfect for a family holiday, stunning cuisine and the best climate, the south-east will keep you coming back. To make it easier to manage, we like to break it down into three regions – Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur; Rhône Alpes; and Midi Pyrénées Languedoc-Roussillon. The first of those is home to our No.1 resort, Terre Blanche. A 40-minute drive from Nice airport, it boasts two outstanding Dave Thomas courses, Chateau and Le Riou.

The former is a beautiful, modern and highly strategic design good enough to sit 15th in our Top 100, with the latter a shorter, tree- lined and more hilly a air in our Next 100. Its five-star hotel, Michelin-star dining, spa, kids' club and pool area ensure even the trickiest customer will find happiness.

terre blanche

Another fabulous option is Saint Endreol, between Cannes and St Tropez. Its Michel Gayon-designed course winds and rolls its way around the River Endre. The par-3 13th, played sharply downhill to a peninsula green, is the standout on a tough course from our Next 100. Its 50-room hotel, dotted through the forest, is renowned for its food and wine.

And then there's Pont Royal, 45 minutes from Marseille and Seve's only French design. Packed with do-or-die moments, it enjoys stunning valley and mountain views. Set within a Provencal-style village, the beautiful Moulin de Vernegues hotel is one of many accommodation options, while Châteauneuf-du-Pape is within easy reach.

In the Rhones-Alpes area further to the north, fabled Evian is a beguiling resort on the edge of Lake Geneva at the foot of the Alps. Home to the final major of the ladies' season, the course is characterised by sloping fairways, dramatic elevation changes and multi-tiered greens. Accommodation includes the ve-star Royal Hotel, four-star Ermitage and lavish B&B, Le Manoir du Golf.

The remainder of the Rhone-Alpes collection is headlined by the Lyon area, home to a trio of outstanding courses in Lyon GC, Gouverneur and Salvagny. Further afield Tignes, Avoriaz, Meribel, Courchevel, Les Gets, Three Valleys and Chamonix double up as ski resorts in the winter and golf resorts in the summer.

The Midi Pyrénées Languedoc-Roussillon is home to almost 40 courses, the most northerly of which is Souillac. Carved out of an oak forest, its tight fairways and elevated greens demand pinpoint accuracy from tee to green. To the south, the city and mountain views make Golf Club de Toulouse a real attraction. In the south of the Massif Central, Domaine de Mezeyrac plays through a 100-year-old oak forest and offers an on-site hotel and cottages.

On the Mediterranean coast, Robert Trent Jones Snr's La Grande Motte is a short walk from the seaside resort of the same name, while Ron Freame's Cap d'Agde has its very own Amen Corner. On the Catalan coast near Perpignan, Saint Cyprien resort boasts two courses, while in the Pyrenees, Domaine de Falgos has an idyllic south-facing setting near the Spanish border. Nîmes Campagne, Nîmes Vacquerolles and Golf de Carcassonne complete the classy selection.

Aquitane

Any region that can combine Bill Coore and Tom Doak designs with almost 400-square- miles of vineyards and cellars packed with Bordeaux's nest export is a must-visit.

golf_du_medoc

It's now 30 years since Coore's work at Golf du Medoc, on the northern outskirts of Bordeaux. Chateaux is his only European design and as close to a links as you'll find in the south of France. The course's holes are named after Medoc vintages, and take you across at, open countryside, protected by heather, gorse and westerly winds. With its echoes of Walton Heath, Chateaux has seen a big Top 100 rise in the last few years, now 14th with potential to go higher.

Click here to find out more about Golf Du Medoc

Its sister course, Vignes, the work of Rod Whitman, opened a couple of years after Chateaux. A parkland-style start that leads into heathland, Vignes spent years living in its older sister's shadow but is now a must-play and our No.52 in Continental Europe. The terrific four-star hotel makes an ideal base, and, in French resort terms, is only bettered by Terre Blanche.

Doak's offering is also his first in Continental Europe, although rather newer than Coore's, his Saint-Emilionnais layout to the east of Bordeaux opening in 2015. It debuted at 77th in our last courses ranking after we found Doak, rather predictably, had made the most of some modest land to create a delightful gently rolling routing that flows well out and back in a valley lined by centenary oak trees and surrounded by vineyards.

A little further east is Chateau des Vigiers, 60th in our resorts ranking and offering three loops of nine. La Valee and Les Vignes form the main 18, with Le Lac well-worthy of a knock, while the Chateau itself is full of character and the Annexe is ideal for groups.

South is Moliets, a typical Trent Jones Snr parkland-links hybrid, and our No.87 in Europe. The closing holes are on the coast with its uphill 146-yard par-3 16th another in The 500 World's Greatest Golf Holes.

Within a 20-mile radius, you'll find Seignosse, a tough test among pine trees and around water hazards, which teeters on the edge of our Top 50, and the leafy parkland of Hossegor.

Head closer to the Spanish border for our No.73 Chiberta, with its woodland-seaside mix and chic, four-star hotel, before heading for Biarritz Le Phare, originally created by British expats before the likes of Tom and Willie Dunn and Harry Colt made their mark.

THE ESSENTIALS

Logistics: If you're heading north, pop your car on the EuroTunnel or a ferry, or hop on the Eurostar and hire a vehicle when you arrive. If you're heading south then flying is the quickest and easiest option, with almost daily options with multiple carriers from all UK airports.

Time difference: GMT +1