The South of France is known for The Cannes Film Festival and the super-rich of St Tropez but golf holidays in Provence are growing in popularity as Matthew Moore discovered…….
- Luxurious Terre Blanche and its James Bond connection
- A provencal village of high-end villas and two championship courses
- Michelin starred culinary magic
- Lavender fields and medieval hill towns
- Mistral winds at Golf de Saumane, Fontaine de Vacleuse
If Ian Fleming – the creator of world famous British secret agent James Bond – ever had 007 pack his clubs, plus fours and Dunlop 65’s and jet off into the sunshine, he would likely have chosen a golf holiday in Provence as his destination.
He would have dreamed up thrilling courses in a secretive hilltop setting bathed in Mediterranean sunshine and surrounded by opulence, luxury and sophistication.
It would be a short drive from a millionaire’s coastal playground full of yachts, high-rolling casinos and beaches popular with powerful socialites and bronzed beauties.
Terre Blanche and its James Bond Connection
How fitting that actor Sean Connery – who played James Bond in the movies – once owned the land that has been developed into a luxury golf resort in the hills above the French Cote D’Azur.
Terre Blanche, just 35-minutes from Nice, is a five-star Provencal style luxury resort.
German software tycoon Dieter Hopp bought the land and built a truly world class golf resort, hotel, spa and real estate development.
While close to busy Nice and the gateway to Cannes and St Tropez, the resort offers true Provencal elegance and a relaxing retreat for discerning golfers and travellers.
At its centre are two magnificent Dave Thomas designed championship golf courses, Le Chateau and Le Riou.
Both courses enjoy sweeping views of medieval hillside villages, olive groves and the Southern Alps.
They both wind through spectacular pine and oak-lined hills.
The resort opened in 2004 in controversial fashion.
An enormous perimeter security fence, 11.5 kms long was erected around the five-star resort.
The locals in Pays de Fayence thought it was meant to keep them out and they complained.
Instead, the fence was meant to prevent the local population of wild boar from running loose and destroying the perfectly manicured greens.
Terre Blanche makes no secret of its desire to be the premier golf resort in France and in recent years it has been voted France’s best golf resort by publications including Golf World (UK) and by independent panels at the ‘World Golf Awards.’
EURO 35m to build
It cost 35,000,000 EURO to build the two courses.
This included laying an overland pipe to transport water from a local lake, a 3.5km re-route of the D-56 highway, and a new bridge built across the Riou Blanc river.
The golf courses are presented with meticulous attention to detail.
Terre Blanche villas are pure luxe
The same attention to detail is given by the chambermaids to the luxurious ochre villa-style suites and by the waiting staff in the truly fabulous Michelin starred “Faventia” restaurant.
Thomas’s 7235-yard Le Chateau is the stronger course, but his 6,567-yard Le Riou requires better course strategy as it is set in a smaller area with a number holes that dogleg left and right.
One of the best features of the Le Chateau course is the 18th century Chateau on the par-five 6th from which the course takes it name.
The par-five 11th is also a postcard perfect hole.
It snakes downhill along a cascading stream and sandstone rockbed.
The courses are unusual in that there is not a single weak link to Thomas’ sequence of well crafted golf holes.
Terre Blanche is relatively young as a golf destination but has quickly established itself as one of the best golf resorts in France.
The resort boasts many awards and accolades in recognition of its excellence and quality of stay, from its villas to its courses and superb restaurants.
Golf Holidays in Provence
Golf de Saumane – around a two-hour drive south and 15kms from Avignon – is a Jean Garialde designed championship course near the Venetian style towns of Isle Sur Sorgue and Fontaine de Vaucluse and the medieval hill town of Gordes.
Golf de Saumane enjoys the classic Provencal setting and looks out over the Blue Mountains at Le Luberon and the Haute des Alps Provence.
It enjoys a spectacular location but the course is a different prospect to the perfectly presented layouts at Terre Blanche. At the time of our visit, the course was fast and hard and ragged in places but still enjoyable to play.
Mistral Winds: shot-maker’s paradise
The opening holes are tight and wind through dense trees, made more difficult by the prevailing “Mistral” wind which can knock even the best-struck iron off-line.
It’s common in Continental Europe to describe a golf course as ‘technical,’ which often covers off challenging, unusual or quirky layouts.
Golf de Saumane is packed with character and it played dry and bare and more like a links than an inland parkland.
Provence can bask in sunshine through the Summer months, so playing on the shoulder seasons of Spring and Autumn might be better suited to catching this course at its best.
It has the potential to be an attractive draw for golfers in a region of South Eastern France that is best known for resorts like Terre Blanche and a small number of exclusive private courses like The Prince de Provence at Vidauban Golf Club.
Golf de Nimes Campagne, on the Route de Saint-Gilles in Nimes, is one course that needs no introduction in French golfing circles.
This private club welcomes visiting players and is considered the sixth best course in France.
The white clubhouse is a monument to a course set in 52 hectares of woodland with oak and blue cypress trees.
The course is most difficult in the windy season and the trees seem constantly in motion as you battle round doglegs and over water hazards.
To the west of Nimes, in the Dordogne region of Aquitaine, is another golf resort built by another English investor committed to ensuring golf tourism takes off in Southern France.
The Villenueve sur Lot golf course is situated in fields awash with sunflowers and surrounded by mature woodland.
It was built in 1987 but allowed to fall into decline.
Englishman Graham Goodman redeveloped the resort to include luxury apartments lining the first fairway of a picturesque 6,700-yard golf course.
With resorts like Terre Blanche and grand old courses like Golf de Nimes Campagne, golf holidays in Provence are growing in reputation alongside the region’s well established wine, gastronomy, tranquility and natural beauty.
Provence will always be known for its baking hot summers, penchant for boulle and liberal flow of wine.
Now, golfers have plenty of choice to combine their love of the sport with all the romance, mystique and elegance of one of France’s most desirable holiday regions.
WHERE TO PLAY
GOLF IN PROVENCE
Le Chateau and Le Riou at Terre Blanche
Golf Nimes de Campagne
WHERE TO STAY
MUST VISIT IN PROVENCE
Nice is the city at the heart of the French Riviera, famous for its soft warm light which brings life and colour to the architecture, trees and stunning beaches.
A good way to spend a day is wandering through the flower and fish markets in the “Cours Saleya” district and strolling the narrow streets of the historic Old City.
L’Isle sur la Sorgue is a picturesque town near Golf de Saumane. Its canals, streams, waterwheels and alleyways have earned it the name “Little Venice”.
Restaurants line the waterways.
Numerous antique shops, galleries and shops make a visit to L’Isle sur la Sorgue fun, cultural and stimulating. Market days are Thursdays and Sundays when the streets are crowded with antique stalls.
Fontaine de Vaucluse lies at the source of the river Sorgue, and its natural spring is the largest in France and the fifth largest in the world.
The magnificent hilltop villages of Mènerbes, Gordes, Lacoste are also easy to explore.
A trip to Provence would not be the same without a trip to a wine cellar or La Cave, enabling you to sample the best of the Cotes du Rhone and Chateau Neuf de Pape regions. There are many cellars open year round to visitors.
A good insider’s guide to the area is Provence Food and Wine, a blog written by travel writer, wine expert and part-time Provence resident Mary Dowey.
The historic and cultural cities of Avignon, Aix en Provence, and Saint Remy provide an exciting day out.
Average Summer temperature of 22 degrees celsius.