Resort spotlight: Quinta do Lago, Portugal

Courses and Travel

In the dunes and sheltered pines of the Rio Formosa nature reserve sit three world-class courses within one of the finest resorts in Europe

It takes a creative mind to imagine the earth floor and crumbling walls of the 300-year-old farmhouse that eventually became the exquisite Casa Velha restaurant that today sits on the south-western edge of the Quinta do Lago estate.

Yet it was the humble dwelling that was home to Jose and Maria that inspired one of the world’s great golf resorts.

“It was a day I will never forget,” said André Jordan, the property developer whose vision led to the creation of Quinta do Lago. “I sat on that hill, looked across the marshlands and I had a vision more or less of the master plan.”

The kind of transformation that turned a dilapidated farmhouse into a refined restaurant is witnessed across the whole resort, with the mass of pines, deserted marshlands and rolling dunes of the Ria Formosa nature reserve near the town of Almancil transformed into a high-end golf, leisure and residential complex.

“Sometimes when you look at a property you have an instant view of what you are going to do,” added Jordan. “There was no road access to Quinta do Lago, so I had to drive along trails and through pine woods until I came to a high point overlooking it, with the ocean on the horizon. Within 10 minutes I had the concept for the whole project in my mind.”

It began in the early 1970s with the restaurant and 20 timeshare apartments plus the Pony Club disco, a tennis club, a horse riding centre, a bridge across to the beach the creation of the lake and the opening of 27 golf holes.

While the military coup of 1974 and the resulting revolution saw development stand still, the golf side of Quinta do Lago – William Mitchell’s initial 27-hole layout of today’s South course and nine holes of the North – was however immediately popular.

Quinta do Lago is not a golf resort like Verdura or The Grove, Finca Cortesin or Turnberry, with a hotel, possibly a few villas and golf facilities. It is more akin to a town.

The fledgling course held the Portuguese Open in 1976 with Spain’s Salvador Balbuena beating Scotland’s Sam Torrance by four shots. It was the first of eight Portuguese Opens there up to 2001.

After being controlled by the state following the revolution, Jordan took over again in 1982…but with debts of €8million. His dynamic changes, including the building of the San Lorenzo course, turned huge debt into €30million of assets within three years, when he sold it to a consortium of British shareholders headed by Roger Abraham and David Thompson. In 1998 it was bought by Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien.

 

Its colourful past is hard to imagine as you drive through the tranquil resort now, but if the chaos is hard to appreciate, the progress that marked the Jordan eras remains true today. A third course, Laranjal, opened in 2009 and the resort as whole is now recognised as a world-class provider of luxury residential and golf tourism.

For anyone who hasn’t already been, appreciating what Quinta do Lago is actually like is not easy. It is not a golf resort like Verdura or The Grove, Finca Cortesin or Turnberry, with a hotel, possibly a few villas and golf facilities. It is more akin to a town like Harrogate or Livingston or Llanelli.

It spreads out over 550 hectares, with the golf courses just one aspect. There are numerous hotels, there are hundreds of residences, there are lots of restaurants, there is a shopping centre, there is now a Sports Campus and there is a glorious beach.

These various aspects are owned by a myriad parties, but the resorts itself possesses the jewels; the land, naturally, plus the three courses, many of the restaurants and now, finally, a hotel of its own too.

quinta do lago south

World-class golf

Not many clubs or resorts boast three courses where few golfers agree on the 1-2-3 order of them, so closely matched in character and quality are they. But Quinta do Lago is one.

Similar to the likes of Woburn, Wentworth and Gleneagles, all three are different but all three are first class so it is thus difficult to identify which is definitively the best.

It might have been the third to open at Quinta do Lago but the Laranjal track is far from the weak younger sibling.

Originally an orange grove, it is now a beautiful experience of narrow fairways lined by umbrella pines, cork oaks and orange trees lead to undulating greens.

It is situated 2km east of the resort, in the Ludo Valley, and is renowned for its five scenic but penal lakes.

The North was totally redesigned to the tune of €9m in 2014, by renowned architect Beau Welling in conjunction with former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley.

The bunkering is distinctive for its white sand and the pine straw surrounds add to the Augusta look.

All the greens, tees, bunkers, irrigation and drainage systems and cart paths were re-built and four sets of tees introduced on each hole to accommodate players of all levels. It is highly playable, where the challenge grows the closer you are to the green. There, undulating surfaces, steep run-offs and well-positioned sand and water awaits.

A low-cut Bermuda grass approach has been introduced around greens to create recovery shot options and playability.

The first five and the last four holes on the North were originally devised by American Mitchell in 1974 on sandy ground littered with umbrella pines trees. In the spring, the rough is covered with a blanket of wild flowers, heather and gorse.

The bunkering is distinctive for its white sand and the pine straw surrounds add to the Augusta look.

The South is traditionally regarded as the crown jewel. Also designed in 1974 by Mitchell, this 7,100-yard course winds among umbrella pines, lakes and wild flowers, overlooking the Ria Formosa.

It has hosted the Portuguese Open eight times, but remains playable for the amateur. Doglegs and strategically located hazards increases the course’s difficulty. The front nine winds through parkland while the back nine scenically loops around a lake.

quinta do lago laranjal

The new hotel

The latest addition to the resort’s portfolio is Hotel Magnolia, located close to the shops, bars and restaurant hub but in a quiet spot on the outskirts of the resort.

This boutique hotel – which sits just back from the road out of Quinta do Lago heading for Vale do Lobo – boasts a retro 1950s motel-style decor but with modern luxury.

Whatever you fancy to eat, Quinto do Lago will be able to cater for your fancy that day.

All rooms have premium speed Wi-Fi and BBC and ITV on the TV. There is a heated outdoor pool, a tennis court, and a world-class gym… or you can just unwind with a hand-crafted cocktail by the pool and chill out to the sounds of the resident DJ.

A range of holistic treatments are also available in the tranquil surroundings of the treatment rooms. There are also cool retro bikes for hire and a simple-but-excellent breakfast.

A range of restaurants

Whatever you fancy to eat, Quinto do Lago will be able to cater for your fancy that day.

Bovino is the steak restaurant and if you’ve eaten in many better places, you dine very well indeed.

Its breathtaking interior was created by one of Europe’s most acclaimed interior designers, and the meat is genuinely melt in your mouth stuff. The desserts are similarly incredible.

The Shack is perfect for lunchtime tapas snacks and evening cocktails in a stunning lakeside location while Koko offers mouth-watering breakfasts, wood-fired pizza and daily bistro specials.

Casa do Lago is located on the edge of the lake, and serves fresh seafood that is enhanced by the setting, complete with an outdoor terrace, pool and fire pit.

The aforementioned Casa Velha is a French fine dining restaurant with a Mediterranean influence, while Pure is famed for its homemade desserts, healthy salads and delicious breakfasts.

Quinta do lago sports

The Shack is perfect for lunchtime tapas snacks and evening cocktails in a stunning lakeside location while Koko offers mouth-watering breakfasts, wood-fired pizza and daily bistro specials.

Situated on Quinta do Lago’s three-kilometre stretch of golden sand, Koko Beach is a summer-time favourite while the clubhouse has a menu for all tastes. Finally, Gigi’s – sitting on dunes across the wooden bridge that overlooks the tidal lagoon – enjoys idyllic views of Ria Formosa National Park.

Heaven for sports lovers

The Campus is the latest development at Quinta do Lago, offering professional-level training and coaching to residents and guests – former England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand was one of the first to lend his expertise to a group of open-mouthed kids earlier this year.

The first phase is complete and includes the Pavilion, Tennis Courts, Padel Courts (a fun and easier version of tennis) and the Bike Shed.

It is a seriously impressive complex and as it develops will become one of the keystones of a family holiday at Quinta do Lago.

More travel from NCG

Previous article
Next article
Top