Spain & Portugal — Golf and the good-life
The following article was originally written for PGATour.com by David Brice, President of Golf International. The articles represent trips available to Golf International customers.
No matter how addicted any golfer might be to The Royal & Ancient Game, it’s a sure bet that golf is only one of many interests they have. Golfers simply seem to have a greater appreciation for life’s many other pleasures than most others. They are often better traveled and have perhaps had more opportunities to savor other cultures and discovered that beyond America’s shores there are other life-styles that are not only very desirable, but in some cases, to be envied. After all, neither man nor woman can live on golf alone.
Find anyplace where quality golf combines with fine food and wines, culture, art and history and our connoisseurs of life will be drawn like bees to a pot of honey. Spain and Portugal are the perfect examples of the affects the magical elixir resulting from the combination of golf and the good life can have on golfers and accompanying friends and family, whether they all share the same enthusiasm for the game or not.
Two of Europe’s oldest and most fascinating nations, these neighboring countries have shared The Iberian Peninsula since time immemorial. Their histories reach back to the beginnings of time and each boasts its own rich cultural past that has been formed over more than 3,000 years by the influences of occupying Phoenicians, Romans and Moors among others.
Over the past decade, Spanish cuisine has firmly established itself as the new leader of European gastronomy, surpassing even those countries that have long considered such dominance to be their exclusive domain. Portugal has not lingered far behind and has built its own reputation as an important player in dining pleasures, with an emphasis on the country’s delectable, regional cuisines.
Good food demands equally good wines, an area where both Spain and Portugal have also earned distinction, making giant strides forward in recent years. The very best wines never leave their native shores, so any trip to either country presents the opportunity to sample the cream of the crop — grasp the chance and you will be converted.
Despite its small size, Portugal ranks 6th in the world as a wine producing country and it was the very first to establish strict wine production standards, which it did when the Douro wine region was officially demarcated in 1756. Boasting more than 200 indigenous grape varieties, more than any other country and with more micro-climates and soil types than most, Portuguese wines are often quite unique and especially intriguing for any true wine lover.
Once only associated with mass wine production and pleasant, everyday table wines, the best of Portuguese red wines, especially from the well-known Douro and Dao regions, hold their heads high on the most respected wine lists. Don’t overlook Portugal’s lesser known regions, their wines may once have been referred to as rustic, but things have changed – today they have reached a level of finesse which is worrisome to both France and Italy.
The Alentejo region is a leader among these up and coming newer regions and its full bodied reds are receiving international acclaim. Terras do Sado, located alongside Alentejo, south of Lisbon, is another region well along the road to wine glory. And in the north of the country, the Minho region has already established renown for it’s Vinho Verde, uniquely Portuguese, crisp white wines that are to be consumed young.
Spain similarly has made tremendous advances with its wines through inspired young wine-makers who have carried Spanish wine to the upper-most reaches of esteem among connoisseurs the world over. The rich, red wines of Rioja may be the first that come to mind and for good reason, they compete with the very best produced in Burgundy and Bordeaux and come in as many different styles, but Rioja is only the beginning of Spain’s wine story.
Velvety reds from Rueda and Ribera del Duero are remarkably complex and sophisticated, ranking among Spain’s very best. The region of Galicia, especially Rias Baixas in the northwest, produces some of the world’s most delectable white wines from the Albarino grape. Catalonia is another region, with an amazingly diverse range of wines where the Penedes and Prioratos may be the most revered and don’t ignore the Cavas, Spain’s answer to champagne. But there remain many other wine producing regions of Spain to be discovered, including La Mancha, where the lighter reds and whites from Valdepenas have earned global popularity. No mention of Spanish wine would be complete without including Andalucia, the region that gave the world sherry and the fascinating town of Jerez de la Frontera, that is the world’s sherry capital.
The Iberian Peninsula is quite literally, an epicurean’s delight, with an endless range of taste sensations to be savored, enjoyed and appreciated to the fullest, a delightful task that to be accomplished properly, takes time. Meals are never rushed in either Spain or Portugal, whether lunch or dinner. This is an almost sacred period when everything focuses on two of life’s greatest pleasures of all — eating and drinking well.
For many, world-class golf with wonderful food and wine is more than enough to create the perfect vacation environment, but this is Spain and Portugal where good things abound. From the friendliness of the local Portuguese and Spanish, to the relaxed, laid back lifestyles both countries enjoy. There’s the perfect, year round climate that encourages every imaginable outdoor activity, as much as it does simple relaxation – soaking up the warm sunshine. There is so much that should be done, yet no real reason to do anything at all.
There are exciting, ancient cities, steeped in centuries of history to be explored, whether the charming Portuguese capital of Lisbon, with all of the country’s history contained in a wealth of inspiring museums and monuments, or her second city and the home of Port wine, Porto, or The Algarvean capital of Faro, each has a captivating story to tell. Discover entire Portuguese towns that have been made national and international monuments through the sheer volume of perfectly preserved antiquities they contain.
Sintra is a fairytale town of palaces and mansions and impressive Evora is filled with ancient buildings and monuments, some dating from Roman times, lining every step of its cobblestone streets. And be sure to include Obidos, one of Portugal’s most enchanting medieval towns where time has literally been standing still for hundreds of years — they all demand attention – and golf will never be far away.
When it comes to ancient cities, few countries can match Spain’s intoxicating collection of names, perhaps more familiar, many of the most intriguing with an abundance of excellent golf nearby. Barcelona is renowned for its architecture, cuisine and pure vivaciousness. Nearby Girona is an historic gem. Its ancient Jewish Quarter the center of attention for many. Seville, is everyone’s favorite with her magnificent cathedral and the narrow winding streets of one of Spain’s most famous Old Towns. Granada has The Alhambra and Cordoba, its Great Mosque and enthralling Jewish Quarter — they all read like a history book. But don’t miss Malaga, birthplace of Picasso and Figueres, where Salvador Dali was born, lived and died. Both have absorbing museums to their favorite sons. This is also an opportunity to discover a few of Andalucia’s magical, Pueblos Blancos, the centuries old mountain-side, fortressed villages that contain so much of Spain’s history — Ronda and Arcos de la Frontera are two of the most fascinating.
Anyone with an urge to shop, will have so many opportunities, whether it’s to be shopping smart boutiques, checking on the latest creations of Portuguese and Spanish designers, or searching for folk-art, ceramics, lace, leather goods and other treasures of The Iberian Peninsula, the choices are endless.
No visit to Spain would be complete without including a flamenco show and if Seville is on the itinerary, you will be in the city that gave birth to this vibrant mix of stomping feet, guitars and singing. Portugal has its own folk music, called fado, the soulful singing that was born in Lisbon and some of the smaller fado clubs in the Alfama district of the capital is where you will find the most authentic fado of all.
It may be the world-class golf that first attracts you to The Iberian Peninsula, but whether Spain or Portugal (or why not a combination of the two?) this will be far from an ordinary golf trip. As excellent as the courses undoubtedly are, they are only the beginning of a perfect vacation escape where living the good-life – Iberian style, is no less important — it’s a part of an experience that will stay with everyone, golfers or not, for years to come.
For more ideas and suggestions on where to find the very best courses and many of those other Iberian temptations that make life so much better write to us or call us at (212) 986 9176.
©2015 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.