Golf en Provence is actually a very good idea, but it’s a bit like golf en honeymoon. There’s so much to do, and the region’s delights so brilliantly couples-oriented, the golf can seem a bit superfluous, n’est-ce pas?
That said, my wife and I didn’t honeymoon anywhere in the vicinity of the Four Seasons Resort Provence at Terre Blanche, just west of Aix in the Var region. With its 45 villas, this address combines Four Seasons luxury with 36 superb holes from English architect Dave Thomas, designer of The Belfry (don’t hold that against him; the courses here are excellent). Both tracks, Le Chateau and Le Riou, were cut from a mountainous pine forest — like something you’d find near Aspen.
For those who prefer their golf a la carte, the options are legion and easily parsed thanks to the Golf en Terre Mediterranee (http://www.golf-terre-mediterranee.fr), a Myrtle Beach-type program whereby travelers choose a package of courses for one reduced price. If your trip is based near Avignon — an ancient walled city on the Rhone, former home to the schism-era Popes — Pont Royal is a must play, followed closely by Grand Avignon and Golf de Servanes near St. Remy (where Van Gogh painted his Irises).
Should you concentrate on the Var, don’t miss Golf de Barbaroux (www.barbaroux.com), a compelling Pete & P.B. Dye creation carved from wild terrain. Neither should you miss a round at Dolce Frégate Golf Club, a sumptuous Golfplan-designed 18 in Saint-Cyr sur Mer. If your French is good enough, you’ll correctly infer that, in addition to 18 terrific holes, Frégate features extraordinary views of the Mediterranean. (If your French isn’t so good, don’t fret. These days, trips to France don’t require a deep familiarity with the language. Most folks — especially those in the golf, hotel and tourist trades — happily converse in English. Your 11th grade French teacher will be disappointed to hear this, but she doesn’t need to know.)
The south of France is, of course, one of the world’s great resort Meccas. Thus it’s hard to imagine where one can combine such good golf with such extraordinary intangibles: endless beaches (with water you can actually swim in; try that in Dornoch), Roman ruins, peerless cuisine (Marseille is the home of bouillabaise), gracious accommodations large and small, and clubhouse chefs going out of their way ensure you’re drinking the best wine possible.
What’s that? You don’t want to rely on gregarious third parties to recommend such things? Fair enough. It’s just about impossible to travel between points of interest in Provence without passing an award-winning vineyard. Stop in and sample their wares for yourself; tasting sessions (dégustations) are great fun, quite enlightening and most are offered free of charge… Excuse me? You haven’t picked up something for the wife? Oh, she’s accompanied you… How ‘bout your mother? Well, personally vetted wine selections are always nice. Or perhaps a bottle of the world’s finest virgin olive oil, or maybe an olive tapenade — two more world-class gourmet products for which the vineyards of Provence are justifiably famous.
Try snagging stylish gifts like these on the road to Cruden Bay.