Connoisseur Clive: SPANISH SURPRISEAugust, 2012
Our intrepid new travel expert Connoisseur Clive visits this exciting resort near Barcelona
I am lazing on a rather comfortable chair with a cappuccino in hand. The sun is on my back, and a gentle cooling breeze carries the aroma of fresh coffee and newly baked bread.
My waiter is explaining that the grand square I am sitting in was the scene of Roman chariot races over 2,000 years ago and indeed, on closer inspection, I can see remnants of old spectator stands in the walls of the cafe.
Strange to say, I am not in Italy but Spain. To be precise, I’m in the glorious, historic city of Tarragona, just over an hour down the coast from Barcelona.
This sort of thing isn’t necessarily what I think of when someone mentions a golf holiday in Spain, but then, between you and me, this is the first time I’ve played in the Barcelona area.
I’m here to visit a resort about 10 minutes from Tarragona in the popular tourist town of Salou.
It’s called Lumine and all you need to know is that there’s a course for everyone here. The Lakes is a real examination – too long and tough for me – while the 9-hole Ruins is excellent fun and thankfully doesn’t live up to its name. The Hills falls in between the two and is easily the most picturesque.
What is most impressive about Lumine, though, is the sheer amount of things you can do.
There isn’t any accommodation attached to the course (they’re working on it) so you choose from a selection of recommended nearby hotels.
I stayed at the Gran Palas in the heart of Salou – but if you’re not as sprightly as you once were then perhaps nearby Cambrils is a safer bet. This small harbour town is much quieter yet still within striking distance of the courses.
Once on site, I can highly recommend eating at Lumine’s Beach Club. This sea-front spot boasts countless infinity pools (there are six), soft sand and hosts several parties a week.
To start you are given the choice of half-a-dozen flavoured oils (try the garlic) and several types of bread.
I inevitably sampled too many but when the lobster starter arrived my hunger returned. This was followed by a monkfish main and, expertly leaving just enough room, a hazelnut chocolate cake.
The next day I was up bright and early with 27 holes planned in an attempt to break up my eating.
That’s nine too many for my liking and probably yours as well but then we’re on holiday. The courses are all enjoyable, but I must admit I found 18 on the Lakes off even the middle tees a bit of a slog.
It’s a lovely course, designed by Greg Norman, but too testing for what I want from my holiday golf.
Let’s just say I was more than ready for my obligatory club sandwich.
The clubhouse is modern and the bar pleasingly well stocked. Fancying a refreshing cider, I was upset to see no apple-based beverages but the collection of exotic spirits certainly perked me up.
A chat with the barkeep – whose English was most impressive – revealed that the bulk of visitors are Spanish, which surprised me. Lumine don’t see that as a positive, but I definitely do.
The light bite I’d anticipated was in fact a mountain of bacon, chicken, bread, chips and a huge fried egg – probably won’t mention that to Dr Smith next time I see him – and, much like the Lakes, took some defeating.
I like a course that is playable and the Ruins is certainly that. We had a blast, even toasting one birdie with a round of local shots from the cart girl… That afternoon was the most enjoyable on-course experience of the trip. I tagged along with a threeball and and we played a Texas Scramble which was ideal for two reasons: 1) it’s one of my favourite formats and 2) the combination of egg yolk and alcohol in my stomach meant I doubted I could handle intense competition.
I would dearly love to bore you with the four successive birdies we made (another good thing about this format) but instead I’ll tell you that we all found the Ruins course exceedingly enjoyable.
I like a course that is playable and the Ruins is certainly that. We had a blast, even toasting one birdie with a round of local shots from the cart girl, while the ongoing progress of the club sandwich was largely drowned out by the screams from excited rollercoaster riders at the nearby Port Aventura theme park.
It was time for a change of scenery and so I was delighted to find myself at La Boelle.
This little complex, 15 minutes away, has its own olive garden as well as a swanky hotel and restaurant.
They make their own oil and store barrels of home-made fortified wine. I watched on as a young, strapping Spaniard delved into his antique barrel and brought out glasses of the fieriest sherry you’ll ever taste.
I paced myself accordingly, only managing three glasses before hobbling into a dark room whereupon I was presented with three more glasses, this time containing oil.
La Boelle use three different olive varieties and claim each resulting oil has different flavour profiles and characteristics.
After a quick lesson in how to taste them properly – very similar to appreciating a glass of claret – I could just about tell the difference between an Arbequina and a Cornicabra which is not something I have said before.
We ate under the stars at La Boelle’s restaurant, where all the food is cooked in their oil. I must admit, I found it hard to tell if my pork had suggestions of Arbequina or something else, but it was excellent.
Back at the hotel, hordes of vivacious young Russians and Swedes were just starting their nights out. According to Veronica, the rather striking Italian bartender, some of the country’s best nightclubs are just a stone’s throw away.
There are plenty of sights in Salou, but they are not suitable for a highly respectable man of my age – especially one flying home the next morning – so I retired to my room where, again, the Wi-Fi was playing up.
Waiting for my transfer at the Beach Club, I paddled in one of the pools while sipping sangria with the enticing smell of lobster paella wafting past.
Dozing on the plane, I realised I’d not seen or spoken to another Brit throughout the entire trip.
There’s more to golf in Spain than you might imagine.
PLAY AND STAY PACKAGES
Lumine have launched a new two-day play-and-stay package deal that runs from September 15 to December 31.
The Troon-managed resort is offering one night’s accommodation (Cambrils), unlimited golf, and an evening meal for just €125 per person.
Stay for an extra night with another meal for just €170.
TAKE THE TARRAGONA NIGHT TRAIN
There are obviously many amazing sights to see and places to visit in Tarragona, but one insider tip, if you have enough time, that is, is to buy a ticket for one of the Trenhotel or Estrella night trains.
The Trenhotel train runs to glorious Granada, while the Estrella service stops off in Madrid.
With the busy train network in Tarragona, you can also go as far north as Montpellier in France.
If exploring is more your thing and you decide to do this, be sure to book your tickets at least a few days in advance to avoid being stung by exorbitant fees.
I was told by a local barman to stay off the streets at night. Apparently there have been more than a few robberies and muggings on foreign individuals. The solution? Stick together or stay off the streets at night.
SALOU’S FAMOUS NIGHTLIFE
As I said in the main article (that bit on the other page), I may be a bit past my best and therefore not best suited to partying in Salou.
If you’re in a similar position, these local watering holes are much more suitable.
THE ROSE AND CROWN
Ideal if you want a quiet but fun night – they run loads of quizzes and bingo nights in summer.
CHRISTY’S IRISH BAR
Live music every night and all the Guinness you could possibly drink. A brilliant atmosphere, too.
Bordering on a proper nightclub but the fact that it plays more retro dance music makes it seem a bit more acceptable.
A great little disco bar that runs lots of live entertainment. Well worth a visit.
WHO IS CONNOISSEUR CLIVE?
Our new undercover roving reporter tells it like it is. NCG’s bon viveur plays off 13, always finds the best places to go and is an expert in enjoying himself, both on and off the course. To find out more about Clive, click here.