SOUTH OF FRANCE

The South of France is known for many things, and golf should rightly be on the list

BY Ju Kuang Tan  

Terre Blanche

Great food, great wine, and beautiful courses that are pleasurable to play make the region perfect for the travelling golfer. Tise writer charts a five-day itinerary that combines everything that’s great about a golf trip to the South of France. 

I’ve been here before. A dozen years ago when I was younger, fitter, stronger, with a single handicap to defend each time I play. But that was then, this is now.
 
These days, the pleasure of golf is more embedded in my communion with nature, and my love for greenery that provides a home for myriad living things. It is for this very reason why Mediterranean France continues to lure me back.

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Cannes 

The gorgeous light as the sun makes its way behind the mountains just north of the French Riviera is unlike any other. And this time round, I realise that what I remember was not a dream.
 
The South of France has earned a reputation of romance, scenic splendour, and is a destination on everyone’s wish list. But golf has never been one of its many attractions. Such a pity if you, as a golfer aching to discover a less-trodden region, gloss it over. Ignore it at your own disservice.
 
 From here, after picking up my Hertz rental car and with my significant other riding shotgun, I embarked on a five-day itinerary that hits many highlights of a golf trip in the Cote D’Azur.

Day One – Hello Old Friend

A short half-hour-drive west from Nice took us to the town of Valbonne, the first stop on our itinerary. Golf Opio Valbonne was designed in 1966 by English course architect Donald Harradine, and the nature of its holes reflects the era, which is one element that makes the course charming. One advantage of courses built in that time is that they invariably sit in fairy tale-like forests, a dwindling existence in today’s resort-style inclinations.
 
Opio Valbonne suffers none of today’s course dilemmas in that regard. Sitting in the middle of 220 hectares of undulating landscaping, it can count on many century-old trees to offer it shade, a nice reprieve in the height of the hot Provençale summers.

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Golf Opio Valbonne  

In the last two decades, Opio Valbonne has seen two renovations to modernize the layout, the first in 2002, and then in 2012. Apart from rejuvenated greens and improved irrigation, the most obvious inclusion is the 18th hole.

This 130-yard finishing par-3 is a neat departure from convention and, with the terrace restaurant overlooking the green, offers onlookers a nice view of the players’ shots ending the round.
 
At 5,658 yards from the back tees, Opio Valbonne won’t win any distance records by any means. But it shows that you won’t have to be a long course to be an interesting one that’s also fun to play. Given the terrain, you have to be fairly fit to walk the course (limited number of buggies are available). Perhaps that is one of its defences.

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The 18th Hole at Opio Valbonne  

Harradine takes you on a jaunt through the Valbonne countryside. He shows you corridors lined with leafy trees, and reveals hidden secrets like the small green tucked into a wooded crevice on the dogleg-left par-4 7th.
 
He introduces you to water by way of a stream splitting the fairway on the short but deadly 252-yard, par-4 9th, then again all along the right side of the 160-yard par-3 11th. At the 14th, the longest par-4 at 382 yards, he pinches the fairway to remind you that a hole doesn’t need to be long to be intimidating. All along the way, he shows you his “English” side, using trees and foliage to decorate and distract at the same time.
 
Opio Valbonne’s course and accompanying driving range, not to mention its location, makes it a great place to spend a couple of days. Accommodations at the adjacent Chateau de la Begude, a four-star hotel set up in a 17th century country house, is modern and more than sufficient to retire to after your round. And you don’t even need to travel far for great food.

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Chateau de la Begude 

Chef Gabriel Degenne offers two options with the Le Begude Brasserie offering Mediterranean comfort food from a terrace overlooking the course, and Le Ciste, a gastronomic restaurant for more formal fare.

Day Two – Perfumed Detour

After a good night’s rest at Chateau de la Begude, and an ample breakfast at the terrace restaurant, we were ready to take on the second day. We had a full morning before our afternoon tee time at our next golf course, and decided to visit the town of Grasse which was on the way.
 
Grasse is famously known for its perfume industry. Fragonard is arguably the most well-known name when it comes to everything that smells nice, and the company even has a museum that educates visitors on the intricacies of its products. These days, Fragonard has also expanded its product line to include houseware and personal accessories that are as beautifully designed as they are reasonably priced.

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Shopping in Grasse 

But Grasse is more than just perfume. The 13th century Grasse Cathedral is a worthwhile stop, and both The Provence Art and History Museum and Provencal Museum of.

Costume and Jewellery should appease the cultural aesthete. If not, merely exploring the many lanes through this hillside town (you may see the Mediterranean Sea from some spots) is pleasurable enough.
 
From here, the hour’s drive to Chateau de Taulane takes us through the rugged Parc Naturel Regional des Prealpes D’Azur. Breath-taking in stature, country road D6085 is a driver’s delight as it winds its way through the national park that was established only as recently as 2012.

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Parc Naturel Regional des Prealpes

Elevation reaches 1,800m and from the higher points where the valleys of the Var province stretch out as far as the eye can see.
 
Visitors to this region, particularly if you like to combine golf with history, can’t do much better than a stay at Domaine du Chateau de Taulane. Its origins go back to the early 18th century when Louise Auguste, the Marquis de Taulane, a royal navy captain, built the chateau next to the ruins of a medieval castle.

After the French Revolution and several changes of ownership, the then-owners Viscount and Viscountess de Marquis planned to build a course designed by C.K. Cotton in the 1960s. The plans did not materialise and the property remained unoccupied until 1985.
 
The new owner, a golf enthusiast, relaunched the project, hired Gary Player to design the new course, and in 1992, Chateau de Taulane opened its doors.

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Chateau de Taulane 

Today, Chateau de Taulane is prized not only for its elegant course, but is also a comprehensive country getaway that boasts a four-star hotel, a gourmet restaurant in Le Marquise de Lisle, indoor pool, jacuzzi and even a Hammam. The chateau contains 28 rooms – decorated in a Provencal style – while another 17 may be found in the former stables converted into a manor house.
 
Player’s course – his first in France – is exemplary of the South African’s style of bringing the beauty of the land to the fore. Playing the 6,222-yard layout feels like traversing the top of the hills of the national park at which it is located. The holes play up and down hillocks, many with tee boxes that provide views of the neighbouring mountains.

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Chateau de Taulane  

Fairways are wide and welcoming, and you won’t need to worry about any hidden hazards to hamper your route to the greens. The finishing holes from the 397-yard, par-4 15th to the finishing par-5 is a climax that is well suited to your experience here.

The 16th, a short, 265-yard par4, is perhaps the most memorable hole. Its tee box sits at the highest point on the course, and the mountain behind presents a jaw-dropping backdrop to the challenge.
 
Above all, Chateau de Taulane is a wonderful blend of new and old that has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the prime golf resorts in France. Of course, you don’t need to play golf to enjoy the place.

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Chateau de Taulane

At the time of our visit, there was a group of auto enthusiasts on an organised trip, which only reflects the lovely roads that crisscross through this part of the country. Whatever reason you come, it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed. 

Day 3 – Lives of the Rich and Famous

We had some time to kill on this day and after a nice breakfast at the terrace restaurant at Taulane, decided to take the leisurely drive down to the sea and the famous city of Cannes. Of course, the place is synonymous with the upper echelons of society, and notably for hosting the Cannes Film Festival, usually held in May.
 
During this late spring date, the who’s-who of the movie world descend on this city by the Mediterranean to grace red carpet events showcasing new movies. You can expect that hotels, shops and restaurants here cater to a crowd that only demands the best.

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The beaches at Cannes 

Of course, you won’t need to spend much money if you’re just having a look. We parked our car at a hotel garage near the Boulevard de la Croisette, that famous, tree-lined street separating a row of five-star hotels and the beach, and went on a walk by the shore.
 
If you’re there for lunch, you may want to splurge a bit at one of several cafes situated right on the beach. You’ll pay a premium over what you can find on streets away from the sand, but it’s not every day that you make like Brangelina, so live a little.
 
Our short jaunt in Cannes set up a day of luxury for our next stop - Terre Blanche Resort, what is arguably the most comprehensive, high-end golf resort in this part of Europe. It took us under an hour to traverse the 40km to Terre Blanche, and our anticipation was justifiably met as we drove through the grand entrance and into the wide driveway of the resort.

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Terre Blanche Resort 

One thing that impressed me was the size of the place. The size of a small hamlet, Terre Blanche is a sprawling property that contains two 18-hole golf courses, a golf driving range and training academy, a kids club, tennis centre, and a stand-alone spa that is in itself worth a visit. You can spend a week here without doing anything twice.
 
True to its five-star designation, the rooms at Terre Blanche are second to none. Villa-style accommodations are built across the property, and each one offers lounging and dining spaces, large bedrooms, outdoor balcony, and a walk-in wardrobe and bath that are the stuff of dreams.
 

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Terre Blanche Villa

After checking in, and spending some time enjoying the well-appointed living room of our villa, we went out to explore what we originally came here for – the golf. Welshman Dave Thomas, a golf legend in the 1950s and 60s, designed both the Le Riou and Le Chateau courses here at Terre Blanche. As a playing professional who came in runner-up in the Open Championship in 1958 and 1966, Thomas knew a thing or two about making a golf challenging.
 
With two layouts on his hands, he had the leeway to make each one different, catering to different types of golfers. But the truth is that even if there are elements that favour specific approaches, both courses are wonderful to play regardless of what handicap you hold.
 

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Le Riou Course, 18th Hole

We decided to play Le Riou the first afternoon we were there, and in retrospect, we should have planned it for the other way around. As Terre Blanche’s “members” course, Le Rioux is restricted for visitors and is palpably the tighter of the two.

But this stinginess of landing areas just means that the flora that gives this property its colour encroaches more into your line of play. If scoring isn’t your top priority, you can look at this as a “cup half full”.
 
Holes carve their way through the dense foliage, and trees come right up against the fairways. You won’t need to worry about rough if you miss the short grass because the likelihood is that you won’t find your ball. There is great movement from tee to green, and holes like the 300-yard, par-4 16th give you stupendous views of the countryside.

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Le Riou Course, 6th Hole 

At 6,005 yards from the tips, distance is not much of an issue on most holes. But accuracy is held with great esteem here, as is the ability to hit high approach shots. Many of the greens are raised, and in the case of the par-3 14th, even invisible from the tee boxes.
 
We retired from our round pledging not to look at our scorecards, but just to hold onto the fun we had just experienced. With the evening sun casting its low light on Thomas’ tight but titillating course, we could only vouch to return, one day, to play it again.

Whatever woes we had on the course, easily washes away with a nice meal. Terre Blanche madet his easy by giving guests several dining alternatives. For those who enjoy a formal meal, Faventia is the Michelin-starred restaurant where chef Philippe Jourdin uses regional ingredients in his menu.

Les Caroubiers restaurant

Les Courabiers Restaurant

Les Courabiers is located on the second floor of the golf clubhouse and is perfect for golfers who want a view of the course while enjoying typical French dishes. And La Guadina, which we chose for our dinner this night, is a stylish and casual brasserie with an international selection that also hosts breakfast each day.

Those with kids will be happy that Le Tousco Grill is located right next to the pool and away from the more adult-oriented areas.

Day 4 – Perfect Day

After our “warm-up” round at Le Riou the afternoon before, we were ready to tackle the longer Le Chateau this morning. At 6,616 yards, this course that’s open to visitors and resort guests is considerably longer than its sister layout. However, the increased length is mitigated by wider fairways and greens that are more straight forward to approach.
 
While “friendly” may be a bit of a stretch to describe Le Chateau, the course does not have any hidden tricks up its sleeve. From the tee boxes, you can surmise the hazards that need to be handled, and most of the holes lets you play around trouble.

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Terre Blanche

There is some water to be considered, though. The large pond to the right on the par-5, 515-yard 6th is the most obvious one that needs to be addressed with humility.
 
Otherwise, Le Chateau offers a pleasurable trip through the Terre Blanche property with its ample landing areas for your driver and less-than-dastardly green complexes. Many of the putting surfaces lets you run the ball up through the collar with a variety of clubs.
 
Getting our round done in the morning meant that we had the afternoon to explore the region around the resort. One of the best things of its location is that the ancient villages of Seillans and Tourrettes-sur-Loup is less than half an hour away by car.

A visit to Terre Blanche cannot come without a side trip to Seillans. This “ville perche” (village perched on a hill) is known as “one of the prettiest villages in France”, and I dare you to refute that claim. The easy drive from the resort takes you straight up a hill to Seillans. You can easily park your car at a public lot on the fringe, and take to foot to explore the town.

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There are several shops and cafes where you can stop at in Seillans, but the real attraction is the nature of the narrow lanes, and the ancient buildings that give this place its charm. If you find yourself thee on a clear day, the entire plain between the Esterel and French Alps opens up in view. 

Day 5 – The Finale

All too soon, our South of France golf getaway has come the final stop. The thing about going on a multi-day-multi-round golf trip is that you get into a comfortable rhythm. The more I play, the more eager I am to get out on the course again.
 
Our morning started out with a visit to Tourrettes-sur-Loup, a historical village up the Puy de Tourrettes, next to Seillans.

We were lucky enough to catch the weekly market at the Place de la Liberation in the village. Local produce, herbs and spices, arts and craft, clothes and homewares are sold by local vendors by centuries-old buildings under the cool shade of leafy trees. And if you’d like to find some spiritual solace while you’re there, St Gregory’s Catholic Church is conveniently located on the street of the stalls.

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The Market 

After picking up a few items (I couldn’t resist a bread bowl carved out of a single block of wood), we made haste out of Tourrettes-sur-Loup in order to make it to Les Domaines de Saint-Endreol for our final round of golf.
 
The drive took about half an hour, mostly on the quiet D47 that winds its way through countryside and vineyards. Through the gates of the golf and spa resort is located right off a suburban road, leading you to Saint-Endreol’s 140 hectares of unspoiled land.

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Saint-Endreol, 8th Hole 

Saint-Endreol offers guests a step into tranquillity. The iconic country manor main building is as typical of Provence as they come, and houses a cosy bar that surely must have heard its fair share of golf stories and some. A walkway connects to the building next door which was where we grabbed a bite to eat before heading out to the Michel Gayon-designed course for our final golf game.
 
Playing the 5,883-yard course at Saint-Endreol is much about mountain trekking as it is handling a layout that is designed to punish your misgivings. We were lucky enough to get a golf cart and rue the demise of golfers who have to walk up the many steep slopes to elevated tee boxes.

Then we realised that most golfers – many in middle age, like the group ahead of us - here pushed their own trolleys. It goes without saying that we made ourselves as inconspicuous as possible through our round.

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Saint-Endreol, 2nd Hole

Though not particularly long, Gayon’s design is meant to test your shot-making skills more than a measure of how far you can hit the ball. The holes move from side to side, many requiring you to hit small landing areas with hazards right and left. The longish, par-4 second has a cape disposition with a large pond to the front right of the green and surely despair on the left where a steep slope can take your ball to oblivion.
 
All through our round, the awe-inspiring view of the Rock of Roquebrune looms in the distance, as if keeping an eye on whether we adhere to the rules of the game. Play the course at the right time of day, and the shadows on the red rock cliffs appear as menacing as they are gripping. You’ll not be able to keep your eyes away.

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Saint-Endreol  

The course takes you up the hill with holes 8 through 12 playing at the highest points. The 13th is worthy of its signature-status. Standing on the tee box, the hole plunges several stories towards the lake below that hugs a green surrounded by sand bunkers. Just finding the grass with your tee shot on this 176-yard par-3 is a success.
 
Les Domaines de Saint-Endreol offers pleasant rooms in a separate building a short drive from the golf course. The set up can take large groups, which makes it a fine place to hold a conference or company outing.

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Saint-Endreol’s spa is considerable in size at 2,000 sq m, and you’ll be able to indulge in an indoor pool, aquatic treatment pool, steam rooms and saunas, a whirlpool bath, and a wide range of treatments at its seven therapy rooms.
 
Golf doesn’t immediately come to mind when you mention a trip to the Cote D’Azur or Provence in the South of France. But these courses and resorts in Var that sit between these two famous destinations prove otherwise.

Best of all, if you do come with your golf clubs, you’ll not only discover these amazing courses, but also enjoy everything else that the region is known for. 

Contact Information

OPIO VALBONNE RESORT & CHATEAU DE LA BEGUDE
Route de Roquefort-les-Pins
06650 Opio
France
www.golfopiovalbonne.com
www.chateau-begude.com
+33-4-93-12-00-08

CHATEAU DE TAULANE
D6085 Le Logis du Pin
83840 La Martre
France
www.chateau-taulane.com
+33-4-93-60-31-30
 
TERRE BLANCHE HOTEL SPA GOLF RESORT
3100 route de Bagnols-en-Foret
83440 Tourrettes
France
www.terre-blanche.com
+33-4-94-39-90-00
 

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