18 August 2017
If you’re looking to combine a relaxing golf break with a visit to Lisbon, one of Europe’s most approachable and vibrant capital cities, then the Orizonte region on the Costa Azul is the place to go, says Pat Mooney
To the south of Lisbon is the Costa Azul – the Blue Coast – set along the Setubal Peninsula. The region boasts a plethora of top-class courses and is a relatively hidden gem in Portugal’s capital.
The Orizonte-Lisbon Golf Group manages seven courses here, including the three outstanding tracks we played during our quick-fire trip last month – Quinta do Peru and the 36-hole complexes of Aroeira and Ribagolfe.
Orizonte provides a wide range of golf passports and has also teamed up with local hotels, including two new ones, Casa Palmela and Tryp Costa Caparica, to offer exciting packages to golfers looking for the ideal golf break at an attractive price.
Costa Azul has several lovely costal towns such as Sesimbra and Setubal. They don’t have the same extensive accommodation as the Algarve, or perhaps central Lisbon, but enough to stay locally in some comfort and style – such as the four-star Sana Sesimbra hotel is great value, just yards from the beach. Indeed, this unspoiled stretch of Atlantic-washed coastline is considered by many to be the ‘real Portugal’.
The typical Portuguese town of Alcochete to the east, sits on the south bank of the Tagus about 20 minutes from Lisbon, and is a perfect base to explore the two courses at Ribagolfe. Alternatively, golfers can stay in the centre of Lisbon – as we did at the excellent Bessa Hotel – and drive across two stunning bridges over the Tagus.
The 25th April bridge connects western Lisbon to the Costa Azul and is often compared to the Golden Gate in San Francisco. It is overlooked by one of Lisbon’s most famous landmarks – Cristo Rei – a 260ft statue of Christ, similar to the one found in Rio de Janeiro. Meanwhile, the Vasco da Gama bridge connects from the east of the city and is Europe’s longest bridge with a total length of 10.7 miles.
The region’s climate affords the chance to play golf all the year round with autumn and winter temperatures especially appealing to the Brits and Irish. Blue Coast green fees are generally cheaper as well, and Lisbon’s international airport is only a half hour’s drive away.
Indeed, it is this proximity to Lisbon – Europe’s westernmost capital – that adds that extra dimension to golf in this area. The vibrant capital offers a great variety of culture, history and exciting nightlife. And with Lisbon being a shorter flight (2.5 hours) from the UK than the Algarve (Faro) is, what’s not to like?
Our first port of call was Quinta do Peru Golf – a 30-minute drive from Lisbon and framed by the Arrábida Natural Park. Rocky Roquemore has caringly crafted a track that is a regular in the Top 100 courses in Continental Europe. It was opened in 1994 and meanders gently through tall pines, featuring many discreet villas set back from the fairways.
Quinta do Peru provides a demanding 6,640-yard test, with astute bunkering and quick greens. There are several stand-out holes and a stellar closing stretch. The spectacular par-3 16th requires a 190-yard carry over water to an undulating green – and a lot of courage.
The course is overlooked by a comfortable rustic clubhouse, and practice facilities include a double-ended 300-metre practice range, short game target greens and putting areas.
Next up was the Aroeira complex, which is located only 25 kilometres from Lisbon, close to the coastal town of Caparica. It is a unique estate, comprising of two courses and a host of impressive mansions.
We played Aroeira I, and it is a deserved new entry into the Top 100 list. Designed by Frank Pennink (The Old Course, Vilamoura), and opened in 1973, Aroeira I was dubbed the ‘Wentworth of Lisbon’ in the 1980s – although it has probably more of a feel of Woburn about it. Played through avenues of tall pine trees and surrounded by wildlife and nature, the par-72 track plays to 6,650 yards and requires accuracy off the tee.
The best holes can be found on the back nine, with several classic par-fours – including the 17th, a shortish, but tricky downhill hole to a green set on the left of the dog-leg.
The course staged the Portuguese Open in 1996 and 1997 and has played host to several Ladies’ European Tour events. Its sister course, Aroeira II, was opened in 2000 and is designed by Donald Steel. It is longer at over 7,000 yards from the backs, but not as tight. Water comes into play on no fewer than nine holes, and there are many pot bunkers and large, undulating greens. It has hosted the Ladies European Tour Qualifying School and several Ladies’ Portuguese Opens.
Ribagolfe, just a 40-minute drive from Lisbon, was our final stop. Set in a large cork oak forest, the Ribagolfe experience means you are in utter tranquility – there are no houses on the courses.
We played Ribagolfe II, which is a shorter test than its sibling, but still measures more than 6,800 yards. It was designed by former Ryder Cup player Michael King, in conjunction with European Tour Design. King has created a more forgiving, but equally appealing course, with wider fairways and landing areas. The large, contoured greens, however, provide a stiff test, especially if the wind blows.
Meanwhile, Ribagolfe I has been called as the ‘Valderrama of Portugal’. Peter Townsend and European Golf Design have created from this beautiful piece of cork oak forest a layout which would grace any European Tour event and boasts superb oversized greens.
Narrow landing areas also challenge long and straight hitters, and three of the four par-fives have a risk-and-reward aspect for big hitters seeking the green in two. It plays 7,370 yards from the back tees and provides a superb test of golf. It has hosted the first stage of the European Tour Qualifying School since 2009.
Lisbon’s Blue Coast ticks all the boxes – a city break, sandy beaches with first-class golf courses, and all within a 40-minute drive of each other.
FLY: Monarch operates year-round flights to Lisbon from Birmingham, London Gatwick and Manchester airports with fares, including taxes, from £42 one way (£75 return). Visit www.monarch.co.uk
Deal 1: Orizonte-LIsbon Golf offers four nights at Casa Palmela, with a round at Quinta do Peru and two rounds at Aroeira, starts from €518 (£440), while a seven-night stay, with two rounds at each course, starts from €825 (£715).
Deal 2: Orizonte-LIsbon Golf offers Four nights at the Tryp Costa Caparica, with three green fees at Quinta do Peru and Aroeira, starts at €300 (£260), while a seven-night stay, with five green fees, is €500 (£435). There is a charge for single supplement for both hotels.
Quinta do Peru; 18 holes from €58 pp; Aroeira 18 holes from €40pp; Ribagolfe 18 holes from €44pp.