These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making your journey. Our writers visited these hotels pre-pandemic.
When Sir Henry Cotton designed the first golf course for Portugal’s Algarve in 1966, he probably never thought it would be the beginning of a movement that would spawn 30 more layouts across the region and attract people from all over the world. He began by introducing thousands of pines and eucalyptus trees into the paddy fields at Penina, transforming the area into a lush, vegetation-rich course that set the standard for those that followed.
While the championship course at Penina is still going strong, Portugal has added Atlantic views to the setting of many other courses, allowing – as keen golfer and Lisbon native Diana Castello Branco told me – the possibility of dolphin-spotting while taking a swing on the Troia links course. Her favourite, though, is the Onyria Quinta da Marinha course, in Cascais, designed by the celebrated Robert Trent Jones Sr, where she used to caddy for her late father, many moons ago. Nothing, she says, makes her happier than hole number three, which has the shimmering blue Atlantic Ocean as its backdrop.
That’s the thing with Portugal: the abundance of choice. No one goes on golf breaks to Portugal to be irritated by a course that is too challenging, so the country specialises in having something for all levels. The other draw is that as most golf courses belong to hotels, they can offer vastly discounted rates if you stay with them, meaning that green fees here – which range from €40 (£34) to €250 – are cheaper than those in many other countries.
Then, of course, there is that cloudless blue sky and warm sun that makes golfing so popular in the autumn, even for non-golfing companions who perhaps take the American novelist Harry Leon Wilson’s view that golf is “too much walking for a good game, and just enough game to spoil a good walk”.
So, where to start? Talking to a golf tour operator is a good first step. Golf Escapes, for example, can advise which part of Portugal you should stay in to best match your requirements. But what if you want not just good golf from a visit to the country but a bit of culture, as well, or to be somewhere where you can indulge in another sport that Portugal is famous for, such as surfing? Or if your golfing break is really all about fitness and you want to stay somewhere with an excellent gym and spa to really benefit from the exercise and tone up those other body parts that need fine tuning?
Perhaps you want to indulge in wine and food and get under the gastronomic skin of the country. For the answers to all of the above, plus our pick of the best golf resorts and hotels, here’s how to really make the most of golf holidays in Portugal, on the course and beyond.
The Eastern Algarve
Monte Rei Golf & Country Club
Monte Rei’s Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course is considered the best in the country. Stay at the Monte Rei Golf & Country Club, which has rooms and villas as well as a Michelin-starred restaurant headed up by chef Rui Silvestre (do try his take on the local scarlet prawns, cooked with ginger and finger lime). The town of Tavira, which is 10 miles away, will give you an exhilarating blast of culture with its 18th-century buildings, 37 churches and 12th-century arched bridge.
Read the full review: Monte Rei Golf & Country Club
• The best hotels in Portugal
The Western Algarve
Palmares Ocean Living & Golf
Director of Golf Escapes, Palmares, with its three nine-hole linked courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, is one for experienced players. The courses sweep down to the ocean, leaving room for a tiny local train to cut across them on its way to nearby Lagos. Stay at breezy Algarve golf resort Palmares Ocean Living & Golf, located between the 27th hole and the driving range. From the Beach House hotel’s 20 rooms you can overlook what Robert Trent Jones Jr described as “a warmer Scotland”. Lagos, with its busy marina and heritage, is just minutes away by car – do visit the baroque church of Santo Antonio, a designated national monument, which has an elaborately gilded interior.
• The best hotels the Algarve
Penina Hotel & Golf Resort
For sheer pleasure, the Sir Henry Cotton Championship Course at Penina still pulls in the crowds. Its hotel is the only golf hotel in Portugal to offer three golf courses and its proximity to the beach in Alvor, with a shuttle bus running between the two, allows a bit of sandy downtime. This beach is also brilliant for kitesurfing, and on the way there, at nearby Montes de Alvor, there is a skydiving centre, giving you a full range of earth, sea and sky possibilities.
Read the full review: Penina Hotel & Golf Resort
Ribatejo, Central Portugal
Praia d’El Rey Marriott Hotel
Approximately 60 minutes north of Lisbon is medieval Obidos. Historically, the town was given as a wedding present to the queen of Portugal on her wedding day, a tradition begun by Afonso II in 1210. The whitewashed town is encircled by the walls of the 12th-century castle. The speciality here, found in many of the shops that line the cobbled streets, is cups made of chocolate filled with dark red ginja liqueur.
Just 20 minutes or so from here towards the Atlantic lies the 18-hole Praia d’El Rey golf course, with views over the Atlantic and the Berlengas Islands. Designed by American golf architect Cabell B Robinson, it’s a mix of links and parkland holes, with a par of 73. Overlooking this is the five-star Praia d’El Rey Marriott hotel, a perfect base for the golf course, sightseeing in Obidos and the excellent surfing at Peniche, Ericeira and Nazare along the coast, where world records have been set for the biggest wave ever surfed (marriott.co.uk)
Vidago Palace Hotel
The Oporto Golf Club, founded in 1890 by Englishmen who were working in the port-wine trade and living in Oporto, is one of the oldest courses in continental Europe. Originally, it was a somewhat improvised course and consisted of nine holes made entirely in sand. It was upgraded over the years and in 1934 became the first 18-hole course in Portugal.
Just half an hour away is the country’s second city of Porto, an essay in granite and hand-painted azulejos (tiles). Discover the old port lodges along the Douro river and don’t miss the neighbouring new World of Wine museums. The golf course at the Vidago Palace hotel was redesigned in 2010 by Cameron & Powell, who integrated the original 1936 nine-hole course by Mackenzie Ross in their 18-hole revamp. It is renowned for its natural beauty, and is set in a magnificent park with century-old trees, and elevated tees and greens. Stay in the hotel where you can also enjoy its acclaimed thermal spa, which draws on the local alkaline waters, known for their curative and therapeutic properties.