My surprisingly romantic golf holiday in the Algarve

What’s your handicap?” It’s not a question one’s usually asked when checking into a hotel, but golf — and how good you are at it — is high priority in this part of the Algarve. Romance and 18 holes are unlikely bedfellows but here I am, on Portugal’s sunny south coast, with my partner, Jonny, who’s mad about the sport, and a golf glove packed between my bikini and my SPF.

The hotel that’s asking after my prowess? The 65-room Octant Praia Verde, in the pretty village of Castro Marim, which is just 50 minutes from Faro airport in a quiet pocket of Portugal’s southeast, nudging the border with Spain. The Algarve’s wide appeal for golfers, due to the beautiful greens and blue skies above, means that our outbound flight feels like being part of a big group trip. But we soon shake them off and stick with our original plan: to enjoy a few rounds, some sunshine and some much-needed time together.

I’m not a complete novice. I’m no stranger to a driving range and, coming from a sporty family, I’ve been dragged to courses by my dad and brother on family holidays. Before this trip I even sneaked in a few lessons to hone my technique. I’m still a long way from being able to keep up with Jonny, but the idea of joining him for a round appeals — being left behind at the pool all day can get boring.

Sidonie Wilson with her partner, Jonny

Praia Verde means “green beach” and the hotel is incongruous amid its verdant scenery — a sleek steel exterior poking out of an expanse of pine forest, just ten minutes from the rugged coast. From our room on the top floor the views are amazing. We’re high above the treeline, with our balcony facing the Atlantic and our bathroom — which has floor-to-ceiling windows — looking out over the forest.

Over a long weekend we visit three courses — Quinta de Cima, which is ideal for beginners, Quinta do Vale, one of the top courses in the region, and Ombria, which is brand new and also has glorious scenery. The hotel arranges transport and booking but doesn’t market itself as a golf resort; it just feels like a relaxing, chic place to hang out.

On our first morning we switch activities when I leave Jonny relaxing at the hotel and go for a solo round at the academy course at Quinta de Cima, a ten-minute drive away. It’s only nine holes, mostly par threes and more of a beers-in-buckets-on-the-buggies sort of course — meaning I feel less worried about the divots I’m about to make. At the clubhouse later Jonny joins me for a light lunch of fresh seared tuna salad and a couple of courage beers before we head out to play a few practice holes in preparation for tomorrow — our first full day on the greens together.

Ombria golf course

Back at Praia Verde we slink downstairs in our robes for a couples massage and my sore shoulders are grateful for it. The hotel doesn’t have a spa as such, but can arrange treatments, as well as activities including yoga on the outdoor deck and horse riding on the beach.

We dine at the hotel’s restaurant, A Terra, where the seafood offering is extensive and delicious. The head chef David Domingues’s thing is fire — food is cooked in either a wood-fired oven, clay or iron pot, or in the Josper oven. The veg comes from the kitchen’s garden and the fish from the local market. We feast on croquettes, clams, grilled octopus and monkfish with prawn massada — a Portuguese stew. The sommelier keeps us well looked after and I worry about how that will affect my club-to-ball co-ordination come the morning.

The next day we head north and hit Quinta do Vale, which has a 72-par 18-hole course, designed by the golf icon Seve Ballesteros. Despite slightly shaky hands — blame the sommelier — we get off to a good start. And after a relaxing espresso and pastel de nata pitstop on the terrace overlooking the back nine holes, we pick up our hire clubs, balls and buggy and zoom off up the hill holding hands. It is weirdly romantic — matching navy and white golf outfits, beautiful scenery and quality time spent together. We add a little healthy competition as I outdrive Jonny on the first hole, a dogleg left. He gets his own back when I repeatedly land in the bunkers.

Wilson on the putting green

When he offers to help me with my putting, he sidles up behind me on the green, arms wrapped around me, his hands on mine, and mine on the club. He shows me how to swing like a pendulum, back and forth, whispering sweet nothings about direction and power into my ear. When I keep getting it wrong, I’m close to thwacking him round the head with the club.

I realise as we approach the fourth hole that the key to golf is patience. And for beginner’s golf with your partner you need as much patience as you can get. So it’ll be a victory if we’re still holding hands by the end of this. There are brief moments of relief, though, where we end up in fits of laughter over missed shots.

We truly relax during our post-golf lunch date at Guarita Terrace, a gorgeous spot five minutes from our hotel. The indoor/outdoor terrace has panoramic views down to the beach and infinite stretches of shimmering turquoise sea. We drink Super Bock lager and wolf down goat’s cheese salad and chips, before being ferried back to the hotel on a tuk-tuk.

Since it’s all been golf or hotel so far, we take an evening to explore one of the Algarve’s prettiest towns, Tavira, a 30-minute drive from where we’re staying. It’s full of quaint shops, cobbled streets, 16th-century Arabic-inspired rooftops and a whopping 37 churches. Tavira’s history is entwined with salt exportation; you can see the impressive salt basins from the sky before you land at Faro.

A bedroom at the Octant Praia Verde

Off the back of a few locals’ recommendations we have a romantic meal at D’Gusta on the river’s edge. It also seems to be one of the only places open on a Sunday night in this sleepy town. We’re welcomed by the waiter into a room buzzing with Portuguese chatter. The waiter tells us the kitchen is open until 1am, so there’s no need to rush our tapas-style sharing plates. It’s a simple affair with mismatching furniture and character, but the tuna tartare and hake ceviche are top-notch.

With a late final-day tee time and glorious blue skies, we head out on a morning run to explore the pine forest that leads down to the white sandy beach near the hotel. We brave a quick dip — it’s the Atlantic, but isn’t as toe-numbingly cold as we’d anticipated. The weather is pretty much perfect as we head for our round in Faro.

Ombria is inland and mountainous, and feels more similar to the region’s famous Monte Rei course than the coastal courses we’ve played on so far. It opened in May but it looks as if the greens have just been rolled out for us. Perhaps the masses haven’t clocked on yet, as the clubhouse’s restaurant still isn’t open, and a small village of houses, apartments and a hotel will be ready in 2024.

The bar at Octant Praia Verde

We hire shiny new TaylorMade clubs, a snazzy new buggy and, since it’s late in the day, we have the front nine holes all to ourselves. The course has sustainable credentials, the fairways and greens weave around ancient trees and rivers. It’s spectacular, even for a non-golf nerd.

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The course is “buggy only” and I quickly see why, as we whizz up and down steep and rolling hills. Some of the tee boxes are like elevated platforms, a quirky design feature meaning that shots are played from a height before you swoop down through the valley towards the fairway. As the sun slowly dips behind the hills, orange hues are cast across the luscious greens. It’s the ultimate golf experience — the romantic setting I’d been waiting for. Perhaps we’ve relaxed in such tranquil surroundings, but I think we might actually be enjoying playing golf together.

I’ll admit, I thought this might be our first and last couples golf trip but somehow it worked. I don’t even mind that my golf glove got more wear than my bikini.

Sidonie Wilson was a guest of Octant Praia Verde, which has B&B doubles from £140 ( Fly to Faro

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Source: The Times