Area guide: Central Algarve, Portugal
There are a lot of myths in golf travel, and we see it as our job to explode as many of them as we can in order that you can make informed choices about where to go for your next holiday. Here’s the first myth for 2019: golf in the Algarve equals expensive green fees.
In fact, while there are some premium fees at the very top end of the market – and even then I’d argue they offer decent value for money given the quality of the likes of Monte Rei – the Algarve can very easily fit into a budget too.
In my experience, the best value in the region is in the east and in parts of the centre. And while the central Algarve is certainly home to some of the high-end Vilamoura courses, it is also the location for some lower-profile but high-quality courses too.
In this focus we concentrate on a small area that is as convenient and ‘doable’ as it is good value.
It sees you based around the towns of Armacao de Pera, Silves and Alcantarilha, all located in the central Algarve not far from bustling Albufeira.
While one course is especially well known, and its sister course is too albeit to a lesser extent, these are not largely the high-profile names of the Algarve.
Add in the many and varied off-course attractions and there is no area in Europe that offers a more watertight guarantee of a successful golf break than the southern coast of Portugal.
Amendoeira (Faldo) and Silves
Amendoeira‘s Faldo isn’t just one of the area’s outstanding courses or indeed one of the Algarve’s; it is one of the high-calibre courses of Continental Europe.
Its reputation is of it being an exacting course, and it is. Play it from tees that are one back from where your skill level suggests you should be teeing up the ball and you will find it a slog. It is a brutal test if you are hitting driver on every hole and, even if you have struck a fine tee shot, still have long clubs in your hand for your approaches.
The six-time major champion’s creation is unforgiving on those who set that kind of day up for themselves. And yet, because it is in such majestic condition and because it feels like a special place to play, chose your tees widely and you will have a truly memorable experience here.
There are several risk-reward short par 4s and a couple of outstanding short holes mixed in with the frequent stringent questions asked by the Englishman.
So, while the 1st – played uphill to an elevated green that is well bunkered at the front – is demanding, you are reassured by holes such as the lovely par 3s at 2nd, the sporty dog-leg 3rd and especially the exquisite 11th.
For a second round on day one of your trip, you need only drive 15 minutes – to the eponymous course on the outskirts of the delightful town of Silves.
This is a perfect contrast to the demanding Faldo, a forgiving course where fairways are separated by small trees and there is very little rough. The bunkers have low lips and the greens are wide and deep.
Atlantic breezes do nicely complicate matters but this is simply a very pleasant experience, laid out on flat land as you climb away from the beach into the mountains.
Silves is also notable for having negligible housing around its perimeter, with vines and olive trees instead providing the immediate backdrop.
Amendoeira (O’Connor) and Salgados
I can well believe many golfers will come to Amendoeira and prefer the O’Connor to the Faldo – that’s how evenly matched the resort’s two courses are.
It is a more gentle test – witnessed by the wide open nature of the downhill dog-leg 1st hole – but don’t think it is there for the taking. Or ‘easy’ holiday golf.
It is a proper ‘championship’ course too, and has nothing to shelter it from any wind. But it just shows you a bit more affection than its sister.
A creek – it feels like there is more than one – that zig zags through the course rarely doesn’t feature in your thinking, with the wooden bridges that link the islands of land familiar landmarks.
It is laid out on more low-lying, flatter land than the Faldo, so you can also walk this course and another aspect to cherish is the clean sight lines, with any villas set 120 yards back.
There are plenty of risk-reward holes and some nice green complexes – notably at the 17th and 18th, the latter boasting a beautiful amphitheatre of orange rock behind beneath the steps of the clubhouse.
As with the first two courses we described, there also isn’t much driving to do to get to day two’s second option.
Salgados is 15 minutes away in the direction of Albufeira, and we really liked this cute seaside complex that is part of the Nau group.
It sits next to the coast on low-lying undulating land that is populated by palm trees and water winding between holes in a series of canals.
You won’t be surprised to learn it gets especially good as it gets out towards the coast and while the scorecard doesn’t look too scary, the breezes and plentiful water make a good score well earned.
If you are looking for a low-key, relaxing base, this is a very good option.
Vale da Pinta and Gramacho
Carvoeira G&CC is part of the Pestana Group and it comprises two excellent lower-profile courses in Vale da Pinta and Gramacho. Three more Algarve courses – Silves, Alto and Vila Sol – are also in its portfolio.
Gramacho sits on undulating land with echoes of St George’s Hill in Surrey, and is all the better for this interesting terrain.
There is barely a flat fairway all round, the journey taking you across valleys and hills to produce holes of variety and interest.
It has thus been well designed by former Open champion Nick Price in collaboration with architect Ron Fream.
The 1st illustrates this crumpled look to the fairways perfectly, with the humps and hollows interspersed by rocky outcrops in a funky start to the Gramacho experience.
Other highlights include the downhill par-3 4th and the 10th – another beautiful another short hole with palm trees dotted around and water.
Virtually across the road from Gramacho is Vale da Pinta, another excellent low-profile course if not quite the same level of quality as its neighbour.
Its proximity to Gramacho means you won’t be surprised to learn it is laid out on similar undulating ground and in fact here there is even more marked elevation change.
It is certainly in as good condition as its sister, further evidence that Algarve golf holidays retain the highest standards even if you move away from the superstar venues.
Where to stay: We love the villa accommodation at Amendoeira. These are opulent affairs with loads of space and amenities should you wish to eat and entertain there, with the kitchen stylish and well equipped as well as appealing living areas. Equally, you may do as we did and simply sleep and sunbathe by the pool there. Amendoeira also has apartments to rent. In the complex there is also a gym, kid’s club, children’s playground, and vast restaurant in the clubhouse, which is the focal point for the resort.
When to go: One of the best aspects of a golf holiday in the Algarve. The climate here is spectacularly good, being relatively mild all year round. I would say May to September inclusive guarantees sunshine hot enough to swim in a warm pool but equally Spring is also a brilliant option with cheaper prices yet still gorgeous weather. Even in winter you are likely to play in shirt sleeves – I’ve been blessed with glorious weather in January.
Eating and drinking: If you take my advice and stay at Amendoeira, you’ll enjoy eating in its clubhouse. But I’d also urge you to head out at night on occasion too, not least to the little seaside town of Armacao do Pera. It is the classic ‘unspoilt Algarve’, boasting lots of inexpensive fish restaurants and pizzerias and a very relaxed vibe. For a more lively night out, head to Albufeira, where there are lots of restaurants and bars.
The journey: As with any golf holiday to the Algarve, this is a huge bonus to this break. There are so many cheap and regular flights to Faro from so many airports in Britain. In fact it is almost easier to quote which UK airports don’t fly to Faro than those that do. Rest assured that no matter where you live in mainland Britain, there will be a flight option close to you. If you book early you can expect to get a return for under £100. To get to Amendoeira and the rest of the courses it is no more than a 40-minute drive.
Off the course
Explore: The airport town of Faro is a top spot for a night or day out, being packed with shops, bars and restaurants.
For the kids: Dolphin shows mix with water slides at Zoomarine and Aqualand.
Beach time: You can do all sorts of water sports or just work on your tan on the Algarve’s many stunning beaches and coves.
For more information, visit the Golf in the Algarve website.