‘Cuisine on the Green’ in Europe

by Sean Hillen

Gourmet cuisine and golf make a perfect match, as ace luxury resorts have clearly demonstrated. Here are a few high-end properties throughout Europe to help you score that all elusive hole-in-one.

Italy

First sighting of Terme di Saturnia Spa & Golf Resort in southwest Tuscany is a large speckled building near a splashing waterfall with people sitting contentedly in the midst of the foam. Welcome to the thermal baths of the Maremma region where since ancient times this region among the Grosseto hills has been home to numerous underground sulfurous hot springs lauded for their health-giving qualities. While a highlight of this five-star hotel, a member of ‘The Leading Hotels of the World,’ is its much-heralded healing waters, it is also a very attractive golfing destination.

thermal bath Tuscany, Terme di Saturnia Spa & Golf Resort

People bathe contentedly near a splashing waterfall in southwest Tuscany.

A long winding road that begins at a sturdy electronic gate skirts the hotel’s eco-friendly, Bermuda grass course. Set over 70 undulating hectares, this 6,316 meter championship course emanates colors, ranging from yellow to ochre, from orange to burgundy. Lakes, brooks, large bunkers carved into the fairways and the wide, undulating greens challenge intelligence and precision in choosing the right club. Deer, porcupines, hares, tortoise, pheasants, wild boars, various local species of dove and countless other Maremman birds are visible in the early hours of the morning. Terme di Saturnia Golf Club was awarded the ‘Green Commitment – Scenery Category’ Environmental Award by the Italian Golf Federation, for integrating landscape into the design of the golf course.

Hungry after a challenging round? No better place than the hotel’s Michelin-star All’Acquacotta restaurant, with food prepared under the guidance of executive Chef Giuseppe Zibetti, where even the bread reflects diverse cuisine – saffron, chamomile, unsalted Tuscany-style, red onion and focaccia with tomato and oregano, especially with La Maliosa, a zesty olive oil named the hotel owner’s daughter, from the family estate of the property’s owners, the Manuli family.

Gourmet food in Italy, Michelin star restaurant Tuscany

Executive Chef Giuseppe Zibetti serves up delicious, no-fuss Tuscany-style dishes at Terme di Saturnia Spa & Golf Resort.

Two excellent starters are carpaccio of veal overlaid with light yoghurt and tuna cream and a trio of fois gras, one with tiramisu and another as a hazelnut and pineapple lollipop. Highlights among the second plates are rigatoni with goose ragout and black truffle sauce, a delightful example of authentic Italian meat sauce with added umami from truffles. Mains include seared deer terrine, a crumbly meat-loaf nestling on bread, with black cabbage and potatoes, cream of leek, crispy polenta and raspberry sauce, a gourmet version of traditional Tuscan dish, crostino. Inspired by ‘merenda,’ a midday snack of prosciutto, pecorino cheese and pears served with a glass of wine, the chef has created a dessert called ‘Taste of Maremma,’ a tube of spiced Morellino wine jelly filled with pear and sheep’s milk ice-cream. After-dinner ‘drinks’ reflect characteristic flair– delectable chocolate bonbons filled with Sambuca and grappa and rum, handmade near Puglia.

Gourmet golf holiday, Rocco Forte Verdura

A little bit of Heaven – with a view – at Rocco Forte Verdura Golf Resort & Spa.

Overlooking a sweeping stretch of the Ionian Sea, golfers are in high heaven at Rocco Forte Verdura Golf Resort & Spa. Encompassing 230 hectares of gently undulating land in south-west Sicily, the golf course is one among many leisure activities such as sea sports, swimming pools and clay tennis courts guests are offered. Costing around 140 million euro, the property is the brainchild of hospitality entrepreneur, Sir Rocco Forte. Diverse golf facilities cater to all skill-levels – an 80-yard wide driving range; two 18-hole courses designed by California-based Kyle Phillips – East (7,221 yards) and West (7,474 yards) – and a 9-hole course (1,056 yards) – all meandering around orange and olive groves and a mélange of indigenous flora.

Tee times are arranged at 12-minute intervals to ensure free-flowing play and the clubhouse is built around a small piazza. The club has signed up to the Italian Golf Federation’s initiative of advanced tees even during competitions, ensuring the appropriate level for all players. The Rocco Forte Open, formerly known as the Sicilian Open, part of the PGA European Tour, was played here this year. Lessons are a vital part of the club’s vitality with Niall Cameron, a friendly Scotsman, directing operations, one-to-one lessons or group clinics with his PGA qualified staff. A former European circuit player with wide-ranging international knowledge of the game, Niall – an Ambassador of Celtic genes – is a natural born ‘seanchai’ (storyteller) who doles out golf tips with fascinating anecdotes that help one reduce that obstinate handicap.

golf and fine dining, best golf courses in Europe

Sea and sand provide a challenging backdrop to golfers at Rocco Forte Verdura Resort (Photo courtesy of Rocco Forte Verdura)

Resort guests have five restaurants to choose from – Zagara, with a distinctly Mediterranean menu; Amare, a beach-side seafood restaurant; Liola, offering traditional Sicilian cuisine; Buon Giorno, serving breakfast; and Granita, a casual dining and cocktail venue (the Sicilian mojito, Kalos and Coppola are well worth trying). Buffet breakfast at Verdura’s is one of the most varied I’ve ever sampled, with forty to fifty different menu items to select from, including a large range of local cheeses, cold cuts and smoked local fish. There was even artichoke paste, an item one doesn’t often see at a breakfast buffet. This wide variety of cuisine styles under the guidance of executive chef Paolo Platini, means guests can enjoy dishes ranging from crisp cutlet Milanese and grilled cuttlefish (sepia) at Granita to the flavorsome traditional pasta con le sarde, sea-bass baked in salt and Sicilian cassata dessert at Liola and the flamboyant, flower-decorated walls of Zagara. The property also offers special golf and gastronomy packages.

Portugal

I hereby award The Oitavos outside Lisbon with a gold star for having the widest corridors I have ever seen, with easily enough space to drive a car through. In fact, at auto promotion events, that’s exactly what happens, with organizers making full use of the hotel’s extensive ground-floor open plan. Set on a 168-acre estate on Portugal’s west Atlantic coast, within the Sintra Cascais National Park, this Y-shaped, 142-room property designed by architect and decorator, José Anahory, sits right on the scenic Estoril coast.

golf resort Cascais, where to stay in Cascais

Clumps and stand-alone trees provide interesting features at Oitavos Dunes on the scenic Estoril coast.

One highlight of this five-star hotel is its Arthur Hills championship golf course, Oitavos Dunes, encompassing both umbrella pine forest and sand dunes with magnificent views of the Sintra Mountains, the ocean and the westernmost point of Continental Europe – Cabo da Roca. “The course design is much like those found in the British Isles,” said Hills, describing the par 71 classic Nine Out-Nine Back layout. “It has an open, links appearance and turf characteristic. Every hole is influenced by winds from the Atlantic.” Fancy staying in the middle of a golf course? Truly addicted golfers can literally ‘tea-off’ after breakfast from outside their own front door for the Oitavos rents a one hundred square meter villa, the Forte, complete with private swimming pool, sundeck and personal butler service.

fine dining in Portugal, gourmet Portuguese food

Quite brilliant food presentation is a hallmark of elegant dining at The Oitavos outside Lisbon.

A not-to-be-missed experience here is dinner at the ‘Chef’s Table’ inside the spacious kitchen. I compare it to that of a classical concert – sizzling pans, knives on cutting boards and bubbling pots producing a culinary music. An overture of black eyed bean salad with dried tuna and a sprinkling of red pepper and red onion swerved as a prelude to greater things to come, the salty tuna complementing the earthy, full-bodied beans. A second starter of sweetbreads and crawfish in a tarragon and Muscatel sauce illustrated how almost anything can be combined in culinary fashion if skill is plentiful. The soft, mellow tones of scallop, lightly kissed on a hot pan flavored with butter, garlic, coriander, mustard and lemon confit constituted a well-performed adagio. Then the climactic finale – 40-day matured Portuguese Black Angus steak accompanied by an aromatic Douro red wine from Vila Regia, which hails from the northern vineyards of the hotel owners, the Champalimaud family. Encore was a dark chocolate dessert that literary opened its petals before our very eyes when the pastry chef delicately dripped sweet, creamy sauce over it.

If you don’t snag a box seat at the ‘concert,’ try the other dining outlets: The Ipsylon, the hotel’s signature restaurant; the Atlantic Pool Bar offering casual seating; Les Herbes, with its aromatic herbal garden terrace and tea lounge; Verbasco Restaurant & Bar at the clubhouse; or sushi at the Japanese Bar.

Pine Cliffs resort and golf

Fiery-red sandstone cliffs contrast dramatically with immaculate course green above a sparkling ocean at Pine Cliffs Resort, especially over Devil’s Parlour.

Spread over 72 hectares, Pine Cliffs Resort in the Portuguese Algarve is so vast it has developed a special botanical handbook and walking tour for its guests. Officials say the handbook describes around 36 different species of flora around the grounds of the multi-faceted 5-star property, which – aside from diverse accommodation options and a top 100 golf course, offers 10 different restaurants and bars; a health club, tennis courts, beauty salon, a children’s village, seas-ports such as windsurfing, jet-skiing and wakeboarding and numerous boutiques and shops. This impressive property is divided into six distinct owned and rental sections, including the Sheraton Algarve; Pine Cliffs Vacation Club; Pine Cliffs Village; Pine Cliffs Suites; Terrace Pine Cliffs; and finally, the Pine Cliffs Residence.

Pine Cliffs Golf 9-hole course lies 200 feet above golden sands and the Atlantic Ocean. The dark red of the sandstone cliffs contrasts dramatically with the immaculate green of the course above and the sparkling ocean below. Built in a pinewood setting, tree-lined fairways run parallel along the ocean, granting guests breathtaking views along the Algarvian coastline. The jewel of this course is the Par 3 sixth hole. Known as the Devil’s Parlour, is built over a ravine that requires a 197-meter carrying shot over the cliffs to a deep but narrow green. The academy has an indoor video swing analysis room equipped with V1 software.

fine dinning in Albufeira, gourmet restaurants Algarve Portugal

Dessert really is a treat to behold at ‘O’Grill’ restaurant overlooking the golf course at Pine Cliffs Resort.

As physical effort should be rewarded with fine food, there is no shortage of choice at the resort. The hotel’s ‘O’Grill’ is a relaxed, informal restaurant overlooking the golf course where breakfast buffets are also served. During the early summer season, ‘Algarve Chefs’ Week’ is held there, as part of a collaboration between several fine dining restaurants in the area. During the period I stayed there, chefs faced the challenge of creating menus based around several key ingredients – fleur de sel, orange figs, sweet potato and carob.  Pine Cliffs chefs delighted guests with a Santa Luzia octopus with sweet potato; wild grouper, razor clams and orange chowder served with crisp cockle polenta; carob and chocolate coulant with fleur de sel; and Algarvian fig delight, almond and Arabic spices dukka and lemongrass sorbet.

The resort also features Corda Café for drinks and a light meal, with live entertainment during summer evenings. For an informal drink, there’s Portulano, a cozy lobby bar with live music on selected evenings (try amarguinha, the local concoction); and the Mirador Champagne Bar, with an impressive cliff-top location offering stunning views over the Atlantic, where – not surprisingly – sunsets are popular time for couples.

Ireland

Straddling a 450-acre tract of undulating wooded countryside as one friend romantically put it “between Ireland of the North and Ireland of the South,” the 120-room, 5-star Lough Erne Resort is nestled on a 600-acre peninsula. Within a two-hour drive of Dublin, Belfast, Sligo and Derry airports, the resort has five helipads, with St Angelo, a private airport, also nearby. Alternatively, those guests coming by water can arrive by seaplane on Castle Hume Lough, which the resort directly overlooks. Due to such easy access and its quiet location, the resort was chosen as the site for the G8 world summit four years ago attended by US President Barack Obama and other international leaders.

Lynn McCool, director of golf Academy

Friendly PGA Head Professional Lynn McCool demonstrates prowess at the Golf Academy in northern Ireland’s 5-star Lough Erne Resort.

Though the resort was only built about ten years ago, at a cost of around 30 million dollars, my first impression upon entering the spacious lobby was of an old stately home with thick carpeting, burgundy leather armchairs, ornate table lamps, damask curtains and elegant oak paneling. Traditional afternoon teas are served in a cozy library featuring a fireside fixture. The property provides a 36-hole golf experience, with two championship courses, as well as a Golf Academy under the guidance of friendly PGA Head Professional Lynn McCool, as well as an all-weather driving range.

Our first-floor room granted delightful views over the Faldo Golf Course, named after, Nick Faldo, 6-time major winner and English former world number one, who designed it. Measuring 7,167 yards Par 72, it offers stunning views of Castle Hume Lough and Lough Erne, with superb all-year playing conditions. Castle Hume, host to 10 Ulster PGA Championships, is a parkland course with scenic views, manicured fairways and well contoured greens. US investment group led by Vince Avenue, bought the property, which also has lake boating, coarse fishing and a Thai-style spa sauna, steam room and indoor pool, for an estimated 11 million dollars.

gourmet Irish food, chef Noel McMeel

Local Irish delicacies feature highly on the menu at Lough Erne Resort’s ‘Catalina’ restaurant, named after amphibious aircraft known as ‘flying boats.’

We dined in the resort’s ‘Catalina’ restaurant, named after amphibious aircraft known as ‘flying boats’ which Ireland, neutral during World War Two, secretly allowed the Allies to fly over its territory. The menu is an ample reflection of Antrim-born executive chef Noel McMeel’s fondness for Irish produce. Starters featured roasted quail from Dromoland, County Clare, a delicate display of leg confit and crown with celeriac puree and spring cabbage; and local, thyme- infused rabbit meat pie with Fermanagh black bacon and creamed cabbage. For mains, we chose the chef’s signature, ‘Lough Erne Pork Dish,’ the plate coming generously laden with fillet, cheek, ham hock, palmier and pork belly with an apple sauce; and the local lamb aromatically flavored with rosemary juice, parsnip puree and grilled shallots.

The resort includes two other dining options – the Loughside Bar & Grill for all-day casual dining with grills of Fermanagh Kettyle beef and the ‘Halfway House,’ a log-cabin style café behind the ninth green of the Faldo Course, offering light bites.

Dromoland Castle Ireland, golf and fine dining in Ireland

What golfer can ask for more: an elegant course beside medieval Dromoland Castle Hotel and Country Estate in Clare, a short drive from Shannon International Airport. (photo courtesy of Dromoland Castle)

Vacations in Ireland are not complete without a stay in one of its many medieval castles and 15th century Dromoland Castle Hotel and Country Estate in Clare, a short drive from Shannon International Airport, offers a classic opportunity.

Existing for over 50 years as a hotel and golf center, elegance is the hallmark of this west-of-Ireland property with a molded, high-ceilinged, chandeliered lounge area clothed in a plum-red and gold color scheme of matching curtains, tassels, walls and carpet. A large hallway is lined with sumptuous armchairs and sofas, table lamps with bronze, porcelain and bamboo stems and bases. Classic, gilt-framed oil portraits of the ancestral Inchiquin clann, a family who have owned the property for over 1,000 years, line the walls. The bar area is former castle turret, octagonal-shaped with built-in bookshelves now housing an extensive wine and liquor collection. The hotel offers a wide range of activities including clay-pigeon shooting, outdoor tennis and archery, but it’s golf facilities are its top attraction. Near a boating lake, the course is reached along a winding, tree-lined road just as the grey-stoned, Gothic-style castle comes into view over the tops of undulating hills.

Dromoland castle golf course, fine dining in Ireland

Seafood is a staple on the menu of award-winning Earl of Thomond restaurant at Ireland’s Dromoland Castle Hotel and Country Estate.

Designed by Ron Kirby and JB Carr, the course measures 6,824 yards for men and 5,242 for ladies, sweeping through 450 acres of shady woodland, open rolling pasture and feral lakes and streams. Illustrating its challenging nature, the first hole is a 378-yard Par 4 uphill with a slight left to right dogleg. A series of interesting holes characterize the course. The 7th provides a spectacular view of the castle and the lake while the par 5 18th features a 200-year-old evergreen tree guarding the entrance to the green. The club hosted the PGA Irish Club Professionals Championship this May.

The hotel’s award-winning Earl of Thomond restaurant is elaborately decorated with oak wainscoting and offers an elegant dining experience. With owners celebrating its half-century as a hotel, we enjoyed a special ‘Nostalgic Tasting Menu.’ Paired with French and Australian wines, the 8-course dinner was a culinary odyssey through some classic dishes revisited by the chef such as prawn cocktail served with foie gras pate and smoked salmon Mimosa; Tournedos Rossini with truffle sauce in place of the traditional Madeira sauce; and fillet of sole Princess with poached sole rather than the pan-fried version. In addition to tasting menus, there is also a diverse a la carte offer.

Alternatively, there is The Fig Tree Restaurant in the golf club which features beamed ceiling and subtle lighting, with a rich claret wallpaper etched with finely drawn images of architects’ compasses and rulers in soft charcoal. The menu changes daily but a sample includes duo of salmon and hake with wilted greens, mashed potatoes and chive cream and chicken breast stuffed with leek and potato, wrapped in bacon, with tarragon sauce. Alternative dining at Dromoland Castle includes pub grub at Shannigans Gastro Bar or picnics on the estate.

Swing into action, dear golfers, and enjoy ‘gourmet cuisine on the green.’

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