The 100-mile coast from marshy Spanish borderland to barren windswept Cape St Vincent in the Atlantic has always attracted passing strangers, though not always benevolent ones. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths and Moors all left their cultural and architectural footprints before the Portuguese established Christianity in the 13th century. The heyday came two centuries later when Prince Henry the Navigator used ships built in the port of Lagos to explore and annex territories in Africa and Asia during Portugal’s golden age of imperial expansion.
For once, the British left it late, arriving in the 1960s to establish golf tourism in a country that still has very little interest in playing the game — Portugal’s 80 courses, half of them in the Algarve, have a modest total of 20,000 members. For North Europeans, especially those from Scandinavia, Germany and the UK, it’s a different story. What’s not to love about world-class golf in weather that’s often perfect; cooled by the Atlantic, but with tantalising sunshine rates. Naturally there’s a game plan for all comers. To escape the bustle of the multi-course complexes, try secluded Monte Rei, with its Jack Nicklaus signature course and its gourmet cuisine, or Axis Golfe Ponte de Lima, a wild hilly ride — preferably in a buggy — through rustic woodland.
Those who tear themselves away from the golf usually head for the beach. Loungers galore are ranged up at sophisticated Quinta do Lago and family-orientated Pine Cliffs. More discreet options include Salema, approached through the cobbled streets of Rua de Pescadores, and Praia do Albandeira, white sand among rocks — no sunbeds, no pedalos — near Porches. Every fishing coast should have a fishing museum: the Algarve’s is in an old cannery in Portimao, an appropriate showcase for the sardine industry. Best combined with a meal in one of the village’s many waterfront restaurants.
Dom Pedro Old Course
In September 2016, Oceanico sold its five Vilamoura courses to English investors in partnership with Dom Pedro Hotels. Vilamoura lives and breathes golf, but the Old, unveiled in 1969, is still the undisputed best. A fantastic layout is matched by a low-key clubhouse, a friendly haven in a brash environment. The Hilton Vilamoura As Cascatas Golf Resort and Spa (ascascatasvilamoura.com), the area’s premier five-star hotel, can book tee times on all the local courses. Green fees from £107.
Vale do Lobo
Two courses, the Royal and the Ocean, provide unbeatable tourist golf, with invitingly wide fairways and accessible greens. Golf arrived in the Algarve in 1962 when Sir Henry Cotton designed the Royal. Its signature par three 15th, an imposing carry over a red cliff abyss, is among the most photographed holes in the world. Vale do Lobo also has tennis and equestrian centres. The on site Dona Filipa five-star hotel is the connoisseur’s choice.
The best known of three courses owned by Nau Hotels lies in the foothills of the Monchique Mountains three miles from the coast. A European Golf project, rooted among lakes and vineyards, it opened in 2003: its neighbouring course, Los Alamos, arrived three years later. Salgados, the third element in the Nau portfolio, is on the coast at Albufeira, a 45-minute drive away. Green fees from £35.
Another classic from the Sir Henry Cotton stable, laid out in 1966 on former rice paddies near the attractive fishing port of Portimao. The architect incorporated streams and lakes, and planted over 300,000 trees to create a lush masterpiece on a featureless landscape This is a lovely peaceful place to play and stay. Santo Antonio Villas, Golf and Spa has its own course, plus inside track tee times at Penina, Alto and Palmares in Lagos. Green fees from £66.