The NCG Guide to Portugal and Spain: Dona Filipa
Setting the alarm for 5am is normally a painful business, but not on the morning of a highly anticipated trip to the Algarve.
Better still, with most UK airports serving Faro multiple times a day, and night times inside three hours, the grey and wet UK is soon a distant memory and you can be embracing the beaming sunshine of the Algarve.
Faro airport is undergoing extensive renovations. From once having the feeling of a regional airport, it now feels truly international. Airport formalities are friendly and quick, car hire is convenient being located by the terminal, and choice is plentiful. Golf clubs are also available for hire and can be collected from the airport if you required.
Within an hour of touching down, I am checking in at JJW Hotels & Resorts’ luxury five- star golf and family hotel, Dona Filipa.
This hotel is ideally located being only 20 minutes’ drive from Faro and a short walk from the large stretch of sandy shoreline. I can attest that the Atlantic is still rather cold on the digits though in the early spring.
There is a real buzz in the surrounding area, with various bars and restaurants between the hotel and beach. Monty’s Bar requires a special mention – it is well known for its showing of live sporting events and an atmosphere that never fails to disappoint along with a smattering of sports stars.
Hotel Dona Filipa has been undergoing extensive renovations in recent years. Many of the rooms have been updated along with communal areas, boasting modern décor and soft furnishing but still retaining an extremely light and airy feel mixed with the preservation of original and traditional Portuguese ceramics such as their terracotta flooring.
Finally the hotel has just completed the refurbishment of its pool and dining areas, which further improves the facilities on offer, which include tennis courts, cementing Dona Filipa as one of the top hotels in the Algarve.
The group also boasts Pinheiros Altos as one of its facilities. Pinheiros Altos now includes the recently refurbished Titleist Performance Centre, where you can receive teaching from the highly regarded Kenny Fairburn and team, as well as experience the ultimate fitting for Titleist equipment.
This outstanding facility boasts a huge array of gadgets and swing aids and each bay is equipped with Flightscope launch-monitor technology.
Pinheiros has always been known for its outstanding practice facilities, including a driving range, a short-game area and super quick and true greens. The course itself has three loops of nine.
The Corks and the Pines are made up from the original holes constructed in 1995. They are tight and strategic, with the additional nine holes built in 2007 being longer and generally playing faster, but more forgiving.
There is a good mix of holes across the 27-hole resort, with my favourite being the 8th on the most demanding of the three nines, The Olives, which is a 145-yard replica of the 17th at Sawgrass. It’s a real knee- trembler and card-wrecker – there isn’t even a bail out from the drop zone.
Pinheiros also has a strong membership, unlike most of the other courses in this stretch of the Algarve, which creates less of a resort-type feel. The clubhouse has a great 19th – the perfect place to retire looking out over the 9th green of The Olives from the terrace.
My post-game lunch took an interesting turn with a present from a bird from above. I was assured that it was a sign of good luck, and that tomorrow it would result in great golf.
As I had the luxury of a hire car, the evening was ripe for exploring. The Algarve has great restaurants away from the more touristy hubs such as Vilamoura and Quinta Do Lago. Almancil is host to some great eateries, and for dinner I came across a real hidden gem, Marufo’s.
Don’t be put off by the no-frills exterior – the chicken piri-piri was some of the best I’ve tasted and with the bottom of the wine list setting you back no more than 11 Euros, how can you go wrong?
The morning brought another early start, to play a round at storied San Lorenzo.
It’s so much easier to prize oneself out of bed when the bright sunshine is streaming in through the windows and you awake to a view of the Atlantic.
San Lorenzo has two loops of nine, both starting with a par 5. The 10th is that bit more challenging than the sharp dogleg left 1st which is reachable in two after the right tee shot. The course winds its way through the pines before you get to the 6th, the first of two stunningly scenic holes along the coastline.
Both play from elevated tees with water waiting down the right. The wind really starts to pick up around these holes, so don’t be scared to club up.
There is more water on the 8th, then the course again winds its way through a good mix of holes until the notable par-4 12th. At over 445 yards from the tips, this is no time for anything other than the perfectly hit tee shot.
San Lorenzo has a great finish with a generous par 5 followed by a long and tough par 3 before two exciting holes with watery graves all down the left.
The 18th, potentially drivable, is a great matchplay finishing hole and a disaster waiting to happen with its semi-island green. It requires a strategic lay-up followed by a precision mid-iron shot to a green protected by bunkers front and back and watery surrounds.
San Lorenzo is most definitely excellent, even if my golf wasn’t. It’s a fun but challenging course, in great condition, and playable all year round with the ideal climate the Algarve offers.
The clubhouse serves up a tasty combination of traditional Portuguese fare and the usual classics. I was gently persuaded to try the local ‘green’ wine which I must recommend.
A 10-minute drive or courtesy shuttle and you are back at Dona Filipa. I am not usually big on hotel eating experiences
but I must say dinner at Dom Duarte, the hotel’s fine-dining experience, was excellent.
Their newly installed and award-winning executive chef produced a superb tasting menu, and the wine pairings were exquisite. I was also rather jealous of a nearby table where generous cuts of superbly cooked fillet were melting into mouths.
With my dubious golfer’s tan after a few days of glorious weather, excellent hospitality and superb golf, it was sadly time to head back to the Blighty spring.