Football, Super Bock and seaside golf in Porto, the best of the Middle East in Ajman and planning a trip to Ireland's No. 1. Just a standard month for Chris Bertram.
Portugal, the United Arab Emirates and Adare Manor featured on my itinerary this month – and just for a change there was actually some unexpected travel developments that weren’t a total pain in the neck…
The best decisions are made in bars
Writing this column has made me realise the role alcohol plays in instigating some of my trips.
In previous blog’s I’ve explained how I ended up in Georgia and Egypt after conversations in bars, and now there is a third: Porto.
To be fair, all three had a lot of merit to them, and in more than one way, but still…
Anyway this one was first mooted in June 2017 when myself and a friend were at Las Colinas, where we got on well with its then director of golf Sean Corte-Real, who now runs La Cala in Spain.
Sean, a former European Tour pro, is Portuguese and loves course rankings. So while we were discussing those we mooted a trip to Porto, given I’ve played everywhere in the Algarve and Lisbon.
We finally arranged it for this year, and very deliberately chose the weekend Sean’s football team Sporting Lisbon were playing Porto away.
So we went to that – in a flashy box no less as his extended family have one – and then out in Porto before golf started the next day at Estela.
His friend and former Portugal amateur team-mate Mario Nuno made up the four as he is a member there.
It was a great match that went down 18 before Sean won it with a stellar birdie, which was brilliant to watch. (I’m obviously lying because I was in for a 4-nett-3 that was set to leave us all-square before he poured in his three.)
I’d looked forward to the seaside course of Estela for such a long time so it was a treat to finally see it for myself in such great company.
From there we went inland to Vidago Palace, a sort of mini Gleneagles.
Dinner and drinks with the general manager in this opulent spot was a perfect end to the day, with just enough time to watch the end of the US PGA in the bar.
We played Vidago the next morning, which is a mix of quirky original holes and solid new ones, before yet more world-class food for lunch and a drive into Porto.
None of Sean’s mates in Porto wanted to meet up with him at night (this is payback for the birdie on 18) so he was stuck with us again and we battled on and bravely made the best of it…
The last day was at Oporto, where we were joined this time by Manuel, who basically owns half of Portugal – including Super Bock. You would never know it though, given he was so friendly and lacking pretension.
He’s also President of Oporto GC, which was founded in 1890 by British port workers and reminded me a lot of Royal North Devon in terms of its pedigree, preservation of history in the clubhouse, design themes and topography.
We did some sightseeing, including the amazing bookshop which apparently inspired JK Rowling, before heading to the airport where obviously I used the spare 40 minutes we had to go for a run.
Don’t worry though, it’s not like I got a bit carried away in the quaint streets that surround the hire car depot where I’d left my bags and ended up mildly lost and within 10 minutes of missing my flight.
That would never happen.
Etihad come up trumps
The four of you who have read all of these travel blogs so far probably all hate the fact my life involves fun countries, nice hotels, and interesting courses.
I’d definitely hate myself if I was reading it.
But in case there are any stragglers hovering in only ‘dislike’, this should nudge you over the line into pure hatred.
On the overnight flight back from Abu Dhabi this month this happened…
Yes those are my feet and yes I am fully stretched out in front of a 20″ screen and yes that does mean I was randomly upgraded to business.
Just imagine the delight when I printed off my boarding pass at the airport and it had BUSINESS emblazoned across the front!
I’d had a very good and large meal just before going to the airport but obviously ordered as much food as I could (which is a lot) on the plane – just because I could.
The breakfast was perfectly good on arrival into Paris CD (this is the funny thing – this was supposed to be the most tedious of roundabout routes to get to Manchester because it was so much cheaper than direct) but the steak sandwich soon after take off was genuinely a sensation.
And when I wasn’t eating I was sleeping. A seven-hour flight has never gone so quickly.
The only problem was the next time I made that trip back in the ‘comfort’ of economy class, it seemed the epitome of ardour. Where was my succulent beef? Where were my Aqua di Parma toiletries (in cool ‘man bag’)? Where was my own butler? Where was my bed?!
You never miss what you never had, do you? Well, now I’ve had it.
Al Zorah the best of the UAE
Ajman is a low-profile emirate north of noisy neighbour Dubai, and two hours’ drive from the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi – both of which are significantly better known as golf destinations.
But Ajman has the best resort among the Emirates and indeed in the whole of the Middle East.
Al Zorah is a new development outside the centre of Ajman, comprising residences, hotels, a shopping mall (in the future) and a golf course.
We ranked the course at No. 5 in our inaugural Middle East list earlier this year and after a closer look at it last month we are even more confident that punchy position was absolutely correct.
If you don’t rate Al Zorah in those terms, it probably means you haven’t been.
Scotsman Phil Henderson runs Al Zorah Golf and told me of the Oberoi hotel that sits right next to the course so it was only sensible to check it out while I was there, obviously.
What a place! The Oberoi has a beach, a pool a mile long (well 200 yards anyway), elegant bedrooms and suites, a spa that is luxurious but not daunting, incredible food (especially the Indian dishes as Oberoi is India based), and the best staff in the region.
Together the course and hotel combined to be the best golf resort in the Middle East and that got me thinking…would a World Top 100 Resorts ranking be interesting.
Well I’m doing it anyway. And if you think it is an excuse to go to a few more ludicrously nice golf destinations in unlikely locations, you’d be absolutely correct.
Adare looms on the horizon
Talking of ludicrously nice golf destinations… just thought I’d let you know I am in the process of arranging a visit to Adare Manor.
This is what it’s like…
We have an Ireland Top 100 coming up and the position of its comprehensively renovated course will be a key feature of the top end of the list.
I could fly in and out in a day, but as hard* as I tried I just couldn’t find flights that worked so I’ll just have to stay over.
Expect a report soon.
*You still search for flights in the Yellow Pages and Teletext page 198, don’t you?