When your friends say they are going to the Algarve on a golf trip, they are most likely heading to the central part of the region, a short drive from the city of Faro and its airport.
They will stay in one of the big tourist centers: Vale do Lobo, for example, or Vilamoura.
‘Stay’ is the word: those Portuguese resorts are designed so that everything – food, golf, beach, kids’ clubs, spas – is just a short buggy ride away. You will feel at home. Most of the voices you hear on the greens and at the buffet will be British.
Not so in the eastern part of the region. It is a longer journey (45 minutes) from Faro. There are far fewer mega-resorts, and the clientele is much more likely to be local.
That’s where myself and two golf friends headed to the Praia Verde hotel. It’s part of a new collection of Portuguese-owned boutique hotels launched last May.
Relax: Mark Jones went to play golf in the eastern Portugal’s Algarve region, where there aren’t many mega-resorts and the clientele is likely to be local. He plays at Quinta da Ria (above), a seaside course that is ‘sunny, windy, [and] quite gentle’
They offer the opportunity to ‘form genuine connections with the locality and surrounding communities’. Interesting: that’s definitely not the mission of the larger resorts, who are happy for you to stay within their gates and spend all your time and money there.
When we walked into Praia Verde, there was a laid-back Portuguese fado playing instead of the usual thump-thump-thump resort playlist. In the lobby, instead of a store, there were shelves of local products.
Our second floor rooms had views over the canopy of stone pines. Compared to the bustle of the main Algarve resorts, it was almost eerily quiet and peaceful.
The beach, a few hundred yards away, seemed much more Cape Cod than the Costa del Sol: fluffy pale sand, boardwalks, and a fancy glass-fronted restaurant overlooking the waves.
We strolled back to the hotel through avenues of palatial, deserted holiday homes (£2.18m to buy one). The eastern Algarve follows the same business model as the rest: acres of real estate dedicated to second homes, hotels, cafes and golf courses. There’s a slight Truman Show feel about it. He was struggling to find a genuine connection to the town.
Mark says Quinta da Ria is ideal for an invigorating potter and a chance to soak up some vitamin D before heading back into the British winter.
Still, we all feel relaxed ahead of the next two days of golf challenges. This was important: the more tense you are, the worse you do on the course.
The Algarve courses and staff have felt strained since the pandemic. The real-estate crash that followed 2008 put an end to many ostentatious plans. But in 2019, 1.3 million rounds were played here, making it Europe’s top winter golf destination.
When the Covid flight bans hit, some didn’t recover from that second shock. That is why Octant Hotels acquired the Quinta do Vale course, designed by the late great Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros.
Before our round, we examined an epic drive through a valley of olive groves and lakes. There was a big S-bunker (by Seve) on the 12th, a tough test.
“When your friends say they are going to the Algarve on a golf trip, they are most likely heading to the central part of the region,” explains Mark (file photo).
A three-night stay at Octant Praia Verde including breakfast, a round of golf at Quinta da Ria and a round of golf at Quinta do Vale starts from £270 per person, based on double occupancy in a double room. Visit praiaverde.octanthotels.com.
After the round, as we compared war stories over Super Bock beers, a real soldier came up for a chat: Denise, a diminutive retired US Army officer. Like many Americans, she had taken advantage of the pension and tax incentives of the Portuguese government to move here.
For people like Denise, the country offers a relaxed (again that word) lifestyle in the great outdoors far from the ever-present culture wars and heartbreak at home.
Our second round was at Quinta da Ria, a course by the sea: sunny, windy, quite mild. While Seve’s required a lot of concentration, this was ideal for an invigorating potter and a chance to soak up some vitamin D before heading back into the British winter.
We had our dose of local culture in Tavira, with its beautiful houses and riverside walks. We even found, like you, an octopus restaurant run by a young Nepali couple. As we ate, we realized that we had been the only three British golfers present for the entire trip.