To Golf or Not to Golf in Aquitaine
Long before I ever set foot in Paris, I fell under Aquitaine’s oozing charm; this hospitable piece of land, wedged between the Pyrenees and Bordeaux, boasts enviable climate and dramatic landscapes that have been drawing in visitors for several decades now. And while the region is mostly known for its spectacular wine selection (hello, Saint-Émilion grands crus), splendid scenery like Dune du Pilat (the tallest sand dune in Europe) and Jardins de Marqueyssac, not to mention intact medieval villages, Aquitaine does have a few hidden cards – including continental Europe’s first golf course.
Aquitaine’s Varied and Stunning Courses
Being home to 54 golf courses gives Aquitaine a certain je ne sais quoi; the region has indeed acquired quite a reputation over the years, thanks to the exceptional geographical location and varied environments of its courses – from vineyards to seaside hills and just about everything in between. One could spend an entire summer touring Aquitaine’s gourmet towns, notable landmarks and assorted golf courses and still not manage to do everything.
Historic Pau Golf Club opened its doors in 1856 along the Gave de Pau River and now features 18 holes, as well as a fascinating golf museum – quite a fitting addition for what is technically the oldest course in continental Europe and the first one to ever be built outside British soil.
On the northern end of Aquitaine stands the idyllic Cap Ferret golf course. Overlooking the Arcachon Bay and its legendary seafood, this fairly modern course includes an educational 9-hole “pitch & putt” section and a coveted nocturnal tee off in the middle of a pine forest.
Luxury travellers will find solace at the five star Domaine golfique du Grand Saint-Émilionnais, dubbed “among the most anticipated new courses in the world for 2015” by Golf Magazine USA. Designed by famed architect Tom Doak and set to open in May, this exceptional “grand cru” course will dominate the Saint-Émilion valley and its centenary oak trees, thus offering a panoramic view of France’s most prized vineyards. The free flowing course’s design was entirely inspired by the land’s inherent beauty and natural movement, for an unbeatable multisensory experience.
Itinerant golfers on holiday in Aquitaine should know that there are five golf passes available (Bordeaux, Dordogne, Medoc, Landes and Biarritz passes), each catering to different courses and offering preferential rates for green fees.
Aquitaine Beyond the Golf
Golf isn’t all that Aquitaine has to offer – it’s a snippet of it, a metaphorical yet impressive side dish to the main course, if you will. I know I was first and foremost drawn to the region’s iconic cuisine, which includes many of France’s staple dishes – foie gras, confit de canard and canelés, for instance. All of which are, obviously, complimented by Aquitaine’s legendary wine selection and picture-perfect vineyards, with vignerons that are always more than happy to take visitors on a tour of their installations and demonstrate their passion for their craft. And share a glass or two!
But Aquitaine’s significance in the France tourism chart goes far beyond gluttony; the region has staged some of mankind’s most compelling scenes and features awe-inspiring landscapes open to infinite promises. In fact, few other places offer such varied possibilities in terms of sightseeing and activities; thrill-seekers, history buffs, foodies, architecture enthusiasts and nature lovers are all catered for in these parts.
From the Paleolithic cave paintings in Lascaux to the storybook castles like Château de Losse and Château de Beynac, from cooking classes at the Domaine de Bassilour in Basque country to canoeing on the Dordogne River, from extremely quaint stone villages like Monpazier and Monflanquin to picturesque hikes in the region’s rolling hills, there is no such thing as being bored in Aquitaine for those who would like to add a side of epicurean culture to their golfing expeditions.