I’m staying putt in Provence
They have a saying in France: “When God created the sun, the earth, the mountains and the water, and put them in place, he took a bit of everything to make a paradise – and that’s how Provence was born.”
It’s easy to see how this saying came about when you visit this area in the south of France. Endless sunshine, deep blue skies, wild vistas of mountains and hills, fragrant gardens, colourful markets, famous cuisine and plenty of good wine – paradise indeed.
My three-day visit had one primary aim – to play three golf courses in this land of vines, lavender and sunflowers.
The Sainte Victoire Golf Club, less than an hour from the historic city of Aix, was our first port of call. It is set against the magical backdrop of Sainte Victoire mountain – you can lap up the views from every hole – and the beautiful Château l’Arc, around which the course is built.
The layout is carved into stunning, hilly scenery and winds between pines and dry garrigue. The main difficulties are the numerous lakes – very impressive at the 8th and 18th holes – and three-tier greens.
Combining an unforgettable decor with a challenging round of golf, this course is a must for confirmed players.
The par 71, 6,095m course, which opened in 1985, was designed by renowned American Robert Trent Jones II and reworked by Michel Gayon and Alain Prat. Other amenities include a driving range with 50 bays, a putting green, a pro shop, a bar and restaurants.
There is a fair amount of walking from green to tee here so we would advise the use of buggies to get around. The views of the Sainte Victoire mountain are quite spectacular and even if the ball didn’t always go where we wanted it to, the day was most enjoyable and a couple of beers before lunch on the veranda were most welcome. Green fees are €65. Further information is available at www.sainte-victoiregolfclub.com.
We were lucky enough to dine and stay at La Bonne Etape, Relais and Châteaux hotel in northern Provence, about an hour’s drive from the course, where the proprietor and Michelin star owner and chef Jany Gleize kindly showed us around his huge herb garden. No surprise, the food and wine were superb. Details on www.bonneetape.com.
The following day we travelled to Golf des Lavandes near Digne les Bains, a short distance from the restaurant.
Boasting over 300 days of sunshine per year, the beautiful setting of a natural lake reputed throughout Europe for its pure air, and an altitude of 600 metres (a refreshing break from the scorching summer heat), the Golf des Lavandes de Digne-les-Bains is a wonderful place to get away from it all and get your fill of healthy golfing.
Lined with pine trees and oaks, some of which are three centuries old, the 200-acre layout combines Mediterranean and mountain vegetation. Forming a succession of loops returning several times to the clubhouse, it is varied, reasonably easy and cleverly incorporated into the site’s natural environment amid lavender fields.
The clubhouse features a delightful, family-style restaurant, sunny terrace, pool and 13 fully-renovated little rooms welcoming golf programme participants and visiting golfers.
The par 72 course, which is quite hilly, measures 5,556m. It was designed by Robert Berthet and opened in 1990. Other amenities include: Golf cart hire, pool, seminars, bar, restaurant, wireless internet, car park and there are accommodation and golfing plus fitness packages.
The round was followed by a very enjoyable lunch in the club restaurant where a cooling ale, followed swiftly by another, lowered the temperature quite nicely. Green fees are €60. Further information is available on www.gardengolf-digne.com.
That evening we stayed and dined at the Hôtel le Couvent Royal, a former monastery dating back to the 13th century, where the cuisine and accommodation was top class.
We were taken on a short walking tour of the town and its famous basilica of St Maxime. This towering 13th century structure was founded to shelter the St Mary Magdalene relics and is considered the most beautiful Gothic building in that part of France.
Our third golf course to play was De la Sainte-Baume, near the lovely town of Sainte- Maxime, about a 90-minute drive from Golf des Lavandes.
Golfers will revel in this superb, international course, perfect for all levels, niched in the majestic Sainte-Baume hills. The layout blends beautifully into the typically-Provencal environment, filled with the heady scents of pine and garrigue.
And no round would be complete without a call at the clubhouse restaurant, serving delicious Provencal cuisine and offering service with a smile. The bar and restaurant open onto an agreeable terrace with views over the final green.
The par 72, 6,062m course has some amazing dips and peaks in the fairways. The course designer was Robert Berthet and it opened in 1988.
Other amenities include golf cart hire, a restaurant, a driving range, a putting green and a pro shop. Green fees are €70.
For further information visit www.golfsaintebaume.com.
We flew with Aer Lingus to Marseille airport which is between that city and Aix. You will need transport to get around this area if you wish to play golf or generally explore its many attractions.
While this most enjoyable golf trip only touches on the beauty of the area, you can get details of all the attractions on aixenprovencetourism.com and www.visitvar.fr.