Seventh heaven - whether you like golf or not
Golfers know that their love of the game can become an obsession, filling their leisure time 52 weeks of the year – and if that can mean a golfing holiday too, so much the better.
For them, relaxation means getting up early on holiday, fitting in a round in the morning, partaking of a leisurely lunch, and following it up with a spot of sunbathing or sightseeing in the afternoon or perhaps another round of golf even.
All this is great if your partner shares your passion, but it can be a bit of a problem for those whose spouses see golf as being as exciting as watching paint dry.
Some couples get around the problem by arranging weekend breaks with their golf buddies and leaving their husband or wife at home... but there is another way of course. That is to find a destination with enough to interest the golfer and his or her non-golfing partner.
And one which springs to mind as the ideal destination for all the family with its amazing historical sites, fantastic rivers, wooded hills and valleys as well as perhaps the best food and drink in the world, is the Dordogne.
With its 1,000-plus castles as well as hilltop medieval villages such as Domme, Beynac and La Roque-Gageac which have been named as some of the most beautiful in France, it really does fit the bill.
Worth a special mention is Sarlat which is a must-see, teeming as it is with medieval houses and streets, and Renaissance mansions. It is a real gem for all those who love historic monuments and architecture.
I was lucky enough to be invited by the Dordogne tourist board to sample some of the region's golfing and cultural delights.
The trip started with a Friday afternoon flight Stansted to Bergerac where we were greeted by our guide Micheline Morissonneau who explained, as she drove us north, that seven golf courses in the Dordogne-Perigord region had teamed up to offer golfers special deals, a new interactive website www.golf-dordogne-perigord.com, and a GolfPass Dordogne.
After you play your first round at one of the courses you will receive a discount of between 20-30 per cent at others. The pass is valid for two months, and for a maximum of two rounds on the same course.
It gives golfers the chance to play nine and 18-hole courses, each with their own distinctive scenery and character, plus the opportunity to take in some of the stunning towns and villages across the region.
Our first stop, as we set off to explore this golfing seventh heaven, was to visit the Golf Domaine d’Essendieras in the north-east or ‘green’ (as it is called) area of the Dordogne-Perigord region. Green of course because of its verdant landscape.
The domaine is somewhere with a real wow factor - which is perhaps why it has become popular with couples getting married.
If you are into dream weddings, this is the estate you should come to, as it has not just one, but two castles, which look as if they have leapt straight from the pages of a fairytale.
The estate dates back to the 10th century, and was at one time the home of French writer and politician Andre Maurois.
Then in 1999, it was bought by Dutch businessman Jeroen Bakker and his wife Ellen, not only to turn one of the chateaux into a home for them and their eight children, but also to renovate the various buildings on the 400-hectare estate with its lakes and woodlands as holiday homes to rent or buy.
The two castles, one from the 16th century and the other from the 19th,, have now both been beautifully renovated – as have the apartments, chalets and barns on the estate which offers accommodation for up to 250.
Bakker's aim was to offer something for everyone - from those wanting to pitch a tent for 29 euros a night, to those wanting to book a beautifully decorated and restored bridal suite in a chateau.
Even the camping here offers a touch of luxury, as each pitch has its own WC and shower located in an attractive wooden building..
At the heart of the estate is a nine-hole golf course designed by former European tour player Wilhem Swart. There is also a riding school and fishing lakes, and each chalet has its own swimming pool.
It is the ideal place for a family gathering as you can rent two or three self-catering houses grouped together, relax on the terrace for lunch or dinner or, when you want a break from cooking, visit the domaine’s first-class restaurant.
Our whistle-stop tour of the golf courses took in two other chateaux with golf courses. We were treated to lunch at Chateau Les Merles – a hotel, restaurant and golf club in the heart of the Liorac Forest on the hills of the Dordogne valley. The chateau, again, has been beautifully renovated by its Dutch owner, who has taken care to restore it in keeping with tradition.
It is famed for its gastronomic food, and is aiming to gain a Michelin star. Again it is somewhere which is attracting couples who want to stage their wedding in a fantastic setting with equally good food and drink. It is also, of course, ideal for couples looking for a luxury weekend break.
The 45-acre estate includes a 3,000-metre, nine-hole par 35 golf course which is perfect for those who want to enjoy the sport in a peaceful, woodland setting.
The afternoon we played there, we had the course entirely to ourselves – a real millionaires' golfing paradise!
I didn’t think the accommodation could get any better until we spent our last night at the Chateau des Vigiers.
Its XVI century chateau, ‘dependences’ and luxury four star hotel Relais des Vigiers offer 87 rooms and suites for guests.
Visitors can decide whether they want to enjoy a taste of history and book one of the gorgeous rooms at the chateau, or stay in one of the newly built bedrooms in the relais which have been built to the highest eco-style standards with terraces overlooking the course.
These Swedish-style luxury suites come complete with all the latest elegant touches including walk-in shower rooms and underfloor heating.
For the golfer, there are three, nine-hole courses which add up to a 27-hole course. They were designed by golf architect Donald Steel and offer golfers great variety as you can pick and choose which combination you play from La Vallee, Le Lac and Les Vignes.
The story behind this successful business is of a couple – Elisabeth and Lars Urban Petersson from Sweden – who fell in love with the region while on holiday and who teamed up with a few friends from Harvard Business School to create an upmarket retreat with a hotel, golf course and vineyard.
They realised it was in the ideal position to explore the numerous chateaux, medieval villages, beautiful countryside and stunning cuisine that the Dordogne has to offer.
Perfect then, for those who want to enjoy the best golf and know their non-golfing partner will find plenty to do!
Websites www.enjoydordogne.co.uk www.golf-dordogne-perigord.com www.dordogne-perigord-tourisme.fr Golf in the Dordogne Golf Perigueux This relatively flat 18-hole course offers good value for money. The par 72 course has several water features and wooded areas.
Domaine de Saltgourde – 24430 Marsac/Lisle www.golfdeperigueux.com Golf de la Marterie This 18-hole course was designed by Michel Gayon covering 173 acres of wooded rolling hills and ponds. It is regarded as one of the best 18-hole courses in the area and will appeal to beginners as well as seasoned players.
www.marterie.fr Golf Chateau Les Merles A challenging and compact nine-hole par 35 golf course within the 45-acre estate.
www.lesmerles.com Golf Chateau Des Vigiers Donald Steel designed this 27-hole course among plum trees, oak woods, lakes and vineyards. Golfers can play three different combinations of 18 holes.
www.vigiers.com Golf Domaine d’Essendieras The nine-hole golf course designed by Wilhem Swart, opened in 2009. If offers the player challenging holes in a beautiful setting with magnificent views.
www.essendieras.fr Golf de la Forge Golf de La Forge is a well laid out nine-hole course. This is an excellent place to discover golf or improve your game. The par 30 course can be played fairly quickly and the tariffs, between 15 and 17 euros, are very reasonable.
www.golfdelaforge.com Lolivarie Golf Club Originally built as a nine-hole course in 1984, it has been upgraded to an 18. The 6,000-metre wooded course follows the valley of the Dordogne with water hazards, streams and ponds.