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Cuisine on the Green: The Best European Golf Resorts to Dine and Play

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Photo Credit: Columbia Hillen

Gourmet cuisine and golf make a perfect match, as ace luxury resorts have clearly demonstrated. Here are a few properties throughout Europe to help you score a hole-in-one.

 golf properties
Photo Credit: Columbia Hillen

Italy

The first glimpse of Terme di Saturnia Spa & Golf Resort in southwest Tuscany is a large speckled building near a splashing waterfall with people sitting contentedly in the midst of the foam. Welcome to the thermal baths of the Maremma region. Since ancient times, this area among the Grosseto hills has been home to numerous underground, sulfurous hot springs, lauded for their health-giving qualities. While a highlight of this five-star hotel, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, is its much-heralded healing waters, it is also a very attractive golfing destination.

A long, winding road skirts the hotel’s eco-friendly, Bermuda grass course. Set over 173 undulating acres, this 6,907-yard championship course emanates colors, ranging from yellow to ochre, from orange to burgundy. Lakes, brooks, large bunkers carved into the fairways and the wide, expansive greens challenge intelligence and precision in choosing the right club. Deer, porcupines, hares, tortoise, pheasants, wild boars, various local species of dove and countless other Maremman birds are visible in the early hours of the morning. For integrating this landscape into the design of the golf course, Terme di Saturnia Golf Club was awarded the Green Commitment—Scenery Category Environmental Award by the Italian Golf Federation.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Hillen

Hungry after a challenging round? No better place to stop than the hotel’s Michelin-star All’Acquacotta restaurant, with food prepared under the guidance of Executive Chef Giuseppe Zibetti. Here, even the bread reflects diverse cuisine with notes of saffron, chamomile, unsalted, Tuscany-style red onion, and focaccia with tomato and oregano. Their specialty ingredient, La Maliosa, is a zesty olive oil named after the hotel owner’s daughter, from the family estate of the property’s owners, the Manuli family.

Two excellent starters are carpaccio of veal overlaid with light yogurt and tuna cream; and a trio of foie gras, one with tiramisu and another as a hazelnut and pineapple lollipop. Highlights among the second plates are rigatoni with goose ragout and black truffle sauce—a delightful example of authentic Italian meat sauce with added umami from truffles. Mains include seared deer terrine, a crumbly meat-loaf nestling on bread, with black cabbage and potatoes, cream of leek, crispy polenta and raspberry sauce, a gourmet version of traditional Tuscan dish, crostini. Inspired by merenda, a midday snack of prosciutto, pecorino cheese and pears served with a glass of wine, the chef has created a dessert called Taste of Maremma, a tube of spiced Morellino wine jelly filled with pear and sheep’s milk ice-cream. After-dinner drinks reflect characteristic flair—delectable chocolate bonbons filled with Sambuca, grappa and rum, handmade near Puglia.

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Photo Credit: Rocco Forte Verdura Golf Resort

Overlooking a sweeping stretch of the Ionian Sea, golfers are in high heaven at Rocco Forte Verdura Golf Resort & Spa. Encompassing 568 acres of gently undulating land in southwest Sicily, the golf course is one of many leisure activities guests are offered.

Costing around €140 million (approx. $167.5 million USD), the property is the brainchild of hospitality entrepreneur, Sir Rocco Forte. Diverse golf facilities cater to all skill levels and include an 80-yard-wide driving range, two 18-hole courses designed by California-based Kyle Phillips—East (7,221 yards) and West (7,474 yards)—and a 9-hole course (1,056 yards), all meandering around orange and olive groves, and a mélange of indigenous flora.

Tee times are arranged at 12-minute intervals to ensure free-flowing play and the clubhouse is built around a small piazza. The club has signed up to the Italian Golf Federation’s initiative of advanced tees even during competitions, ensuring the appropriate level for all players. The Rocco Forte Open, formerly known as the Sicilian Open, part of the PGA European Tour, was played here this year.

Lessons are an integral part of the club’s vitality, and one-on-one lessons or group clinics with Niall Cameron, a friendly Scotsman, and his PGA qualified staff, are available. A former European circuit player with wide-ranging international knowledge of the game, Cameron is a natural born seanchai (storyteller) who doles out golf tips with fascinating anecdotes that help one reduce that obstinate handicap.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Hillen

Resort guests have five restaurants to choose from: Zagara, with a distinctly Mediterranean menu; Amare, a beach-side seafood restaurant; Liola, offering traditional Sicilian cuisine; Buon Giorno, serving breakfast; and Granita, a casual dining and cocktail venue (the Sicilian mojito, Kalos and Coppola are well worth trying).

Buffet breakfast at Verdura’s is one of the most varied I’ve ever sampled, with 40 to 50 different menu items to select from, including a large range of local cheeses, cold cuts and smoked local fish. There was even artichoke paste, an item one doesn’t often see at a breakfast buffet. This wide variety of cuisine styles, under the guidance of Executive Chef Paolo Platini, means guests can enjoy dishes ranging from crisp cutlet Milanesa and grilled cuttlefish (sepia) at Granita, to the flavorsome traditional pasta con le sarde, sea-bass baked in salt and Sicilian cassata dessert at Liola, and the flamboyant, flower-decorated walls of Zagara. The property also offers special golf and gastronomy packages.

 

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Photo Credit: Columbia Hillen

Portugal

I hereby award The Oitavos outside Lisbon with a gold star for having the widest corridors I have ever seen, with easily enough space to drive a car through. In fact, at auto promotion events, that’s exactly what happens, with organizers making full use of the hotel’s extensive ground-floor open plan. Set on a 168-acre estate on Portugal’s Atlantic coast, within the Sintra Cascais National Park, this Y-shaped, 142-room property designed by architect and decorator, José Anahory, sits right on the scenic Estoril shoreline.

One highlight of this five-star hotel is its Arthur Hills championship golf course, Oitavos Dunes, which encompasses both umbrella pine forest and sand dunes with magnificent views of the Sintra Mountains, the ocean and the westernmost point of Continental Europe—Cabo da Roca. “The course design is much like those found in the British Isles,” said Hills, describing the par-71, classic Nine Out, Nine Back layout. “It has an open links appearance and turf characteristic. Every hole is influenced by winds from the Atlantic.”

Fancy staying in the middle of a golf course? Truly addicted golfers can literally ‘tea-off’ after breakfast from outside their own front door in the Oitavos' 1,076-square-foot villa, the Forte, complete with private swimming pool, sundeck and personal butler service.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Hillen

A not-to-be-missed experience here is dinner at the Chef’s Table inside the spacious kitchen. A starter of black eyed bean salad with dried tuna and a sprinkling of red pepper and red onion served as a prelude of greater things to come. A second starter of sweetbreads and crawfish in a tarragon and Muscatel sauce illustrated how almost anything can be combined in culinary fashion if skill is plentiful. The scallops were soft and mellow, lightly kissed on a hot pan flavored with butter, garlic, coriander, mustard and lemon confit. Then the finale—a 40-day matured Portuguese Black Angus steak accompanied by an aromatic Douro red wine from Vila Regia, which hails from the northern vineyards of the hotel owners, the Champalimaud family. Dinner ended with a dark chocolate dessert that literary opened its petals before our very eyes when the pastry chef delicately dripped sweet, creamy sauce over it.

If you don’t snag a seat at the Chef's Table, try the other dining outlets: The Ipsylon, the hotel’s signature restaurant; the Atlantic Pool Bar, offering casual seating; Les Herbes, with its aromatic herbal garden terrace and tea lounge; Verbasco Restaurant & Bar at the clubhouse; or sushi at the Japanese Bar.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Hillen

Spread over 168 acres, the Pine Cliffs Resort in the Portuguese Algarve is so vast it has developed a special botanical handbook and walking tour for its guests. Officials say the handbook describes around 36 different species of flora around the grounds of the multi-faceted, five-star property, which—aside from diverse accommodations and a top 100 golf course, offers 10 different restaurants and bars, a health club, tennis courts, a beauty salon, a children’s village, and numerous boutiques and shops. For adventure lovers, sea-sports such as windsurfing, jet-skiing and wakeboarding are also available.

This impressive property is divided into six distinct owned and rental sections, including the Sheraton Algarve, Pine Cliffs Vacation Club, Pine Cliffs Village, Pine Cliffs Suites, Terrace Pine Cliffs, and finally, the Pine Cliffs Residence.

Pine Cliffs' 9-hole course lies 200 feet above the golden sands of the Atlantic Ocean. The dark red of the sandstone cliffs contrasts dramatically with the immaculate green of the course above and the sparkling ocean below. Built in a pinewood setting, tree-lined fairways run parallel along the ocean, granting guests breathtaking views along the Algarvian coastline. The jewel of this course is the par 3 sixth hole. Known as the Devil’s Parlour, it's built over a ravine that requires a 646-foot carrying shot over the cliffs to a deep but narrow green. For beginners (and those who want to perfect their swing), the academy has an indoor video swing analysis room equipped with V1 software.

 

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Photo Credit: Columbia Hillen

As physical effort should be rewarded with fine food, there is no shortage of choice at the resort. The hotel’s O’Grill is a relaxed, informal restaurant overlooking the golf course where breakfast buffets are also served. During the early summer season, Algarve Chefs’ Week is held there, as part of a collaboration between several fine dining restaurants in the area. During the period I stayed there, chefs faced the challenge of creating menus based around several key ingredients—fleur de sel, orange figs, sweet potato and carob. Pine Cliffs chefs delighted guests with a Santa Luzia octopus with sweet potato; wild grouper, razor clams and orange chowder served with crisp cockle polenta; carob and chocolate coulant with fleur de sel; and Algarvian fig delight with almond, Arabic spices dukkah and lemongrass sorbet.

The resort also features Corda Café for drinks and a light meal, with live entertainment during summer evenings. For an informal drink, there’s Portulano, a cozy lobby bar with live music on selected evenings (try amarguinha, the local concoction); and the Mirador Champagne Bar, with an impressive cliff-top location offering stunning views over the Atlantic, where, not surprisingly, sunsets are a popular time for couples.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Hillen

Ireland

Straddling a 450-acre tract of undulating wooded countryside, the 120-room, five-star Lough Erne Resort is nestled on a 600-acre peninsula. Within a two-hour drive of Dublin, Belfast, Sligo and Derry airports, the resort has five helipads, with St Angelo, a private airport, also nearby. Alternatively, those guests coming by water can arrive by seaplane on Castle Hume Lough, which the resort directly overlooks. Due to such easy access and its quiet location, the resort was chosen as the site for the G8 world summit four years ago, attended by U.S. President Barack Obama and other international leaders.

Though the resort was only built ten years ago, at a cost of around $30 million, my first impression upon entering the spacious lobby was of an old stately home with thick carpeting, burgundy leather armchairs, ornate table lamps, damask curtains and elegant, oak paneling. Traditional afternoon teas are served in a cozy library featuring a fireside fixture.

The property provides a 36-hole golf experience, with two championship courses, as well as a Golf Academy under the guidance of friendly PGA Head Professional Lynn McCool, as well as an all-weather driving range. Our first-floor room granted delightful views over the Faldo Golf Course, named after Nick Faldo, the 6-time major winner and English former world number one, who designed it. Measuring 7,167 yards par 72, it offers stunning views of Castle Hume Lough and Lough Erne, with superb, all-year playing conditions. 

Castle Hume, host to 10 Ulster PGA Championships, is a parkland course with scenic views, manicured fairways and well-contoured greens. A U.S. investment group, led by Vince Avenue, bought the property—which also has lake boating, coarse fishing, a Thai-style spa and sauna, a steam room, and an indoor pool—for an estimated $11 million.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Hillen

We dined in the resort’s Catalina restaurant, named after amphibious aircraft known as "flying boats" which Ireland, neutral during World War II, secretly allowed the Allies to fly over its territory. The menu is an ample reflection of Antrim-born Executive Chef Noel McMeel’s fondness for Irish produce. Starters featured roasted quail from Dromoland, a delicate display of leg confit and crown with celeriac puree and spring cabbage; and local, thyme-infused rabbit meat pie with Fermanagh black bacon and creamed cabbage. For mains, we chose the chef’s signature, Lough Erne Pork Dish, the plate coming generously laden with fillet, cheek, ham hock, palmier and pork belly with an apple sauce; and the local lamb, aromatically flavored with rosemary juice, parsnip puree and grilled shallots.

The resort includes two other dining options: the Loughside Bar & Grill for all-day casual dining with grills of Fermanagh Kettyle beef, and the Halfway House, a log-cabin style café behind the ninth green of the Faldo Course, offering light bites.

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Photo Credit: Dromoland Castle

Vacations in Ireland are not complete without a stay in one of its many medieval castles, and 15th century Dromoland Castle Hotel and Country Estate in Clare, a short drive from Shannon International Airport, offers a classic opportunity. Existing for over 50 years as a hotel and golf center, elegance is the hallmark of this west-of-Ireland property, with a molded, high-ceilinged, chandeliered lounge area clothed in a plum-red and gold color scheme of matching curtains, tassels, walls and carpet. A large hallway is lined with sumptuous armchairs and sofas, and table lamps with bronze, porcelain and bamboo stems and bases. Classic, gilt-framed oil portraits of the ancestral Inchiquin clann, a family who have owned the property for over 1,000 years, line the walls. The bar area is a former castle turret, octagonal-shaped with built-in bookshelves now housing an extensive wine and liquor collection.

The hotel offers a wide range of activities including clay-pigeon shooting, outdoor tennis and archery, but its golf facilities are the top attraction. Near a boating lake, the course is reached along a winding, tree-lined road just as the grey-stoned, Gothic-style castle comes into view over the tops of the hills. Designed by Ron Kirby and J.B. Carr, the course measures 6,824 yards for men and 5,242 for ladies, sweeping through 450 acres of shady woodland, open rolling pasture, and feral lakes and streams. Illustrating its challenging nature, the first hole is a 378-yard, par 4 uphill with a slight left-to-right dogleg. A series of interesting holes characterize the course. The 7th provides a spectacular view of the castle and the lake, while the par 5 18th features a 200-year-old evergreen tree guarding the entrance to the green. The club hosted the PGA Irish Club Professionals Championship this May.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Hillen

The hotel’s award-winning Earl of Thomond restaurant is elaborately decorated with oak wainscoting and offers an elegant dining experience. With the owners celebrating its half-century anniversary as a hotel, we enjoyed a special Nostalgic Tasting Menu. Paired with French and Australian wines, the eight-course dinner was a culinary odyssey through some classic dishes such as prawn cocktail served with foie gras pâté and smoked salmon Mimosa; Tournedos Rossini with truffle sauce in place of the traditional Madeira sauce; and fillet of sole Princess with poached sole rather than the pan-fried version. In addition to tasting menus, there is also a diverse à la carte offer.

Alternatively, there is The Fig Tree Restaurant in the golf club which features beamed ceiling and subtle lighting, with a rich claret wallpaper etched with finely drawn images of architects’ compasses and rulers in soft charcoal. The menu changes daily, but a sample includes duo of salmon and hake with wilted greens, mashed potatoes and chive cream; and chicken breast stuffed with leek and potato, wrapped in bacon, with tarragon sauce. Alternative dining at Dromoland Castle includes pub grub at Shannigans Gastro Bar or picnics on the estate.

 

Sean Hillen

Sean Hillen has been an international journalist and editor for almost 40 years and is also a published author. His latest book is a high-end contemporary fiction novel, Pretty Ugly - a thrilling, intriguing ride through the murky undercurrent of corporate and political machinations bridging the complex worlds of medicine, media and modeling. http://www.seanhillenauthor.com/ His experience spa...(Read More)

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