Essential Guide to Portugal

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Your essential guide to golf breaks in Portugal

A land of cobblestoned streets, ancient castles, stunning cities and sandy beaches, Portugal's greatest attraction for most of us is its wealth of golf. Essentially split into three distinct regions, from the far north and Porto, south to the capital city Lisbon and on to the sun-drenched Algarve, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

By no means a huge country, Portugal's size is a strength for it's possible to drive from Porto to the Algarve in less than five hours, traffic permitting. Add in an enviable climate, surprisingly impressive value, truly exceptional service and some of the finest golf on earth and you should need little more convincing. And so, from north to south...

Porto

The most compelling reason to travel north of Lisbon and the Algarve can be found an hour or so north-west of Porto, 15 minutes from the city of Chaves. Vidago Palace is the glittering jewel in Porto's crown, designed during the reign of King Carlos I and opened in 1910. More than a century later it maintains the same splendour, service and conviviality on which it quickly forged its reputation, but it benefitted from a makeover in 2010.

estela

The result is a palace truly fit for a king, one of the Leading Hotels of the World with 70 rooms and suites, six restaurants and bars, plus the modern Thermal Spa, where the mineral water of Vidago is celebrated for its rejuvenating qualities. The quality of that water extends to the golf course, created by Mackenzie Ross as a nine-holer and sympathetically extended by Cameron Powell in 2010. Characterised by clever holes over undulating terrain, the closing trio offer breathtaking views from higher ground.

If you visit Porto, find time to play the country's oldest golf club, Oporto GC (south of the city), and the exquisite Estela (further north up the coast). You'll experience two classic links – albeit blessed with more sun than we Brits would normally experience.

You should also find time to experience the beautiful Douro Valley – a majestic wilderness region that produces many of Europe's finest wines. You are in port country, after all.

Lisbon

Blessed with more sun than any other capital city in Europe (on average 2,799 hours per year) and boasting a history that predates such historical heavyweights as London, Rome and Paris by hundreds of years, selling Lisbon as a destination to visit shouldn't take much persuasion. The city is a regular high entry on the lists of places you absolutely have to visit, and that's before you even begin to factor in the many, many golf options.

Look west of the city, to the area around the beautiful Cascais, and you're spoilt for choice. But Oitavos Dunes (pictured) is the star. Laid out in Sintra-Cascais National Park, Arthur Hills' links layout leaves you breathless as it winds you along the seashore and through sandy, pine-clad valleys. A chic on-site hotel gives every excuse to extend the experience.

oitavos dunes

Near neighbours along this stretch include the Robert Trent Jones Jnr designed Penha Longa and the RTJ Snrdesigned Quinta da Marinha, one of the finest options in Europe to stay and play. The former is home to the championship Atlantico course, a hilly and often windswept test that is spectacular, fun and punishing in equal measure. The latter is a flatter affair, run through pine-studded terrain and with six very memorable par-3 holes that should live long and very happily in the memory.

Venture an hour or so north of Lisbon and you'll arrive at the medieval municipality of Obidos and Portugal's Silver Coast. Here you'll find three options that more than justify the drive. The Seve-designed Royal Obidos opened in 2012 and exudes class, a mix of cute par 4s and stellar, exacting 5s – where risk and reward are always on your mind.

Less than 10 minutes to the south stands Donald Steel's Bom Sucesso. A decade old but with a throwback feel, it has a more eclectic design and sloping greens. The new, true superstar of the Silver Coast show, however, is the Praia D'El Rey Golf & Beach Resort. It's home to the eponymous and almost universally revered Praia D'El Rey course, which takes you on a journey through pine groves and dramatic dunes worth every penny of the green fee.

Better still, it's now also complemented by West Cliffs – an instant classic less created than uncovered by Cynthia Dye along the Silver Coast. Opened in 2017, West Cliffs went straight in at 25 in GW's most recent Continental Top 100, and justifiably so. Back towards Lisbon, just south of the capital city, Robert Trent Jones' Troia is another highlight – an exacting links reached via a lovely short ferry crossing from Setubal to the Peninsula of Troia.

Elsewhere, the Orizonte group boasts Quinta do Peru and two 18-hole courses at Ribagolfe – Santo Estevao and Aroeira, offering top quality at a bargain price.

west cliffs

The Algarve

Laid out across 100 miles of Portugal's south coast, the Algarve remains one of the world's finest stretches of golf. If anything, the familiarity has perhaps led to us taking this wonderful stretch for granted recently. Its many courses are stretched out across three regions – East, Central and West.

With Faro airport more or less at the centre of them all, the central area boasts many of the big names, including Quinta do Lago, Amendoeira, Vale do Lobo and Dom Pedro Vilamoura. In the Quinta do Lago resort, San Lorenzo shines brightly, long considered and remaining one of Europe's greatest – and most picturesque – tests.

san lorenzo

Then, of course, there is Penina, where the Algarve's golfing story began. Created by Henry Cotton in 1966, it remains one of the Algarve's finest resorts. Head west and play Palmares, whose fairways blend links and parkland feel to create a versatile challenge with some sharp elevation changes thrown in, while Boavista offers exceptional value.

And in the lower-profile and less populated east, Monte Rei is the star attraction and is now widely regarded as Portugal's No.1, ably complemented on the eastern side by Seve's Quinta do Vale and the quietly excellent Quinta da Ria resort

The Essentials

Logistics: Getting there is a breeze, with all the budget airlines flying from most British airports into Porto, Lisbon and Faro in less than three hours.

Time difference: GMT