THE TRAVELLING GOLFERS
The foundations of this trip were set in 2013 when Heather and I visited Paris for a few days, and then set out and explored rural France. We enjoyed seeing all the sights in Paris, but found Fontainebleau more to our liking. Being a small town, Fontainebleau was not overly crowded, yet had the fine cuisine and shopping, a palace in the style of Versailles, and one of the best golf courses in the land. This was the sort of French experience we were after!
In June 2015 a group of 17 Travelling Golfers set forth from Paris to play golf and see the sights of France. In our group were four Americans who had to cope with thiriteen rowdy Australians, and bus drivers who spoke only French. Our mandate was to play a selection of the best and most interesting golf courses in France, with daily competitions and a trophy awaiting the overall tournament winner. Along the way we would stay at some very fine chateaux, sample the best of French wine and gastronomy, and experience the culture and sightseeing of different regions.
As usual with Travelling Golfer trips we all had an allocated number, in this case from one to seventeen in French, and a golf ball with our number on it to remind us! Unfortunately French was not a strong point with this group, and the numbering off process was a shambles. It was funny how bad we were at counting off in French!
On day one our first stop was the charming village of Barbizon where painters such as Monet came and paved the way for Impressionism. After a stroll around the galleries and museums, we had a bite to eat then headed to Fontainebleau for a 3 night stay. Here we visited Fontainbleau Palace and then Chateau Vaux de Vicomte and were fortunate to be there for their "Midsummer Festival". The French mark the longest day of the year with celebrations all day and night. At Vaux de Vicomte the French dressed up in period costume and in Fontainebleau, music was playing in the streets until midnight - we had to party along with them!
Our stay in Fontainebleau was also notable for the dining, and the first night we had a group dinner in the Michelin Star French Restaurant Caveau de Lys, sited partially in a cave. C'est magnifique!
The golf kicked off at Fontainebleau Golf Course, rated 5th best course in France. Set in the great forest of Fontainebleau with towering oaks, beech and pine trees lining the fairways, the course is quite different to anything we might play, and perhaps reminscent of some English courses. The members of this private course were very welcoming but I hope they have regained their composure as following our wonderful three course lunch in the clubrooms overlooking the course, we were quite rowdy!
Next stop was the Loire Valley where we stayed at the imposing looking Chateau D'Artigny for 2 nights. We played golf at the little know Les Aisses course set in the Sologne forest, and enjoyed the peaceful setting amongst a heathland of heather and pine trees. A visit to the Loire Valley is all about visiting the great Chateaux, and this we did: visiting Chambord Chateau - the largest and grandest, Villandry- famous for its gardens, Chateau de Chenonceau- famously built on a bridge, and Cheverny - famous for its period furnishings.
The ladies had discovered that today was the day the famous "Summer Sales" start in France with 70% off designer brands. We managed to alter our schedule and squeeze an hour in the village of Blois to hit the boutique fashion stores and grab a bargain! Anita was the most successful, coming home with some 'spiffy' outfits.
The fine French dining continued with a grand meal at the highly rated La Chanceliere in the village of Monbazon, and dinner at Chateau D'Artigny itself. We did enjoy playing Lords and Ladies although King David did incur the wrath of one somnelier who insisted he did not assist with the pouring of drinks!
Leaving the Loire Valley the bus then headed south for the 5 hour trip to the Dordogne Valley. Travelling at 100 kmh we had quite a few hours on the bus to hear everyone's life stories. Each of our group took a few minutes on the microphone to be interviewed on their life history. At first some were reluctant to respond, but even Barry (who was Jack) opened up to the audience which was held spellbound for hours with the incisive questioning, learning how each couple met, and where their career paths took them. By the end we looked at each other in a different light!
Our lunchtime stop was the very picturesque small village of Brantome, known as the "Venice of France"- an ideal stopping point.
Then it was on to Chateau des Vigiers for a 4 night stay. Affectionately known as 'little Versailles', Chateau des Vigiers is a restored 16th Century French Chateau, tastefully decorated in French country style, and surrounded by its own 27 hole golf course which winds its way through vineyards and orchards. Our time here was the highlight of the trip: the golf course was picturesque, a simple layout but fun to play! the chateau was perfect with comfortable and individually decorated bedrooms, delightful drawing rooms, library room and billiard room, all inclusive gourmet dinners in the Michelin star restaurant, a swimming pool and Health and Wellbeing Spa, plus outstanding service levels made Chateau des Vigiers an absolutely delightful place to stay. Tres bien!
One of our golf competitions at des Vigiers was a yellow ball competition where I happily teamed up with Ginny and Anita. Anita is a long time friend, and until very, recently a non golfer. It was lovely to finally play a competition with Anita, and the icing on the cake was our team's very resounding win due to some great golf by Ginny and Anita. Another highlight of des Vigiers was the degustation dinner in our own private 16th century dining room. We feasted on French cuisine at its most elegant: the menu included Foie Gras, geese gizzards, roast pigeon and cheese so strong it could "walk around the room". And of course, this was all washed down with matching French wines. It was a grand affair of gastronomic proportions!
On Saturday morning we headed into the nearby village of a Bergerac for their famous market but found ourselves doing an unexpected detour on the way. Our French speaking bus driver took us to a castle overlooking the town of Bergerac, rather than down into the village. Clearly our French needs a lot more work! Eventually we got our message across and arrived in the old town of Bergerac and spent several hours enjoying the market, the shops and cafes.
The following day was spent exploring the Dordogne Valley, visiting the prehistoric region of Les Eyzies and taking a guided walking tour of the medieval 17th century town of Sarlat. We visited the Rock Grottos de Cazelle, a pre historic cave site, and famously had our photos taken as prehistoric men. Those pics were facebooked around the world , and may well be the most enduring images of the trip. We visited the picturesque, riverside villages of Beynac and La Roque Gageac, and took time to drift down the Dordogne River on a one hour 'gabare' boat ride gliding past castles and villages, and sharing the river with numerous 'bikini clad' canoeists. There is much to see and do in the Dordogne Valley and our visit was just a glimpse. It is somewhere we would love to return to and explore further.
Back in the bus we headed for the medieval town of St Emillion for a guided walking tour. This fascinating tour finished in a church located undergound, and with such good acoustics, the group again recorded a very nice rendition of Frere Jacques which will no doubt be released to the general public at some stage soon. All royalties will be held by The Travelling Golfer! After enjoying lunch in one of the numerous street cafes, we headed to the newly opened and highly acclaimed St Emillion golf course. This golf course was designed by Tom Doak and will become one of the best in the country in my opinion. Whilst it was a privilege to be able to play it, it will certainly benefit from further grow in time. The St Emillion area is famous for its wines, and indeed all the vistas were of vines, and wineries. Of all the wines I tasted in France the wines of this area were the ones I could appreciate the most.
After St Emillion we headed to an overnight stay in Bordeaux. It was the only large city we visited on our tour and whilst it was good to get a feel for the place, a one night stay is always a bit rushed. We had some fun searching for the perfect restaurant for dinner, tramping around for hours and ultimately choosing poorly. The other half of the group were very happy with their choice, choosing the first restaurant they came across ... Oh well, so much for research!
Bordeaux wines are the most famous in the world, and the du Medoc area hosts some of the very best. Our next stop was Golf du Medoc where we stayed and played two highly rated golf courses. Both built in sandy soil amid pine forests and heathland, the courses played hard and fast like good links courses do. And with the thermometer hitting 42 degrees on one of our days, the ongoing heatwave put us all to the test. The Vignes course was well designed and fun to play , but in my opinion the Chateaux course was clearly the better track. I liked the 'big wine bottle' distance markers on the course- a reminder to all of just where we were.
On these trips you never know what is around the corner, and at du Medoc we were in luck. Tesla Motors are making news around the world with their electric cars, and our son Daniel has just signed on to move to California and work for them. When we arrived at Golf du Medoc and Tesla Motors were there offering "test drives' we snapped up the opportunity. Lead foot Barry Lucas, and Heather Fangio were filmed taking the Tesla through its hoops. The fastest car ever built we hear, but they wanted faster...
I must say it is a bit eerie when you move from stationary to very fast in the blink of an eye, and with no sound at all...
The other important component of the Medoc stay was of course the visit to two Grand Cru Class rated wineries: Chateau Pichon Longueville and Chateau Rauzan Segla. A Kylie Minogue look alike named Alice was our host, and she proudly showed us her wonderland. It was picture postcard stuff. And the wine? Yep, I enjoyed learning more about the wine, the history, the process, but sadly my uneducated palate has not quite graduated to the stage where I can fully appreciate what are undoubtably regarded as worlds best wines.
The final stage of our tour was based in the seaside town of Biarritz where we stayed at the very swish Regina Biarritz hotel.
The golf at d'Chiberta and Hossegor Golf Courses was lovely. Both courses are rated in the top ten in France and added variety to our playing experiences. Chiberta has a combination of pure links holes in dunes by the sea, and a number of inland holes in thick pine forest. Everybody liked the course. Hossegor was an inland course set in a lushly vegetated setting. It is a course that demands accuracy off the tee, and whilst not over long, was strategically bunkered to catch the errant approach. A yellow ball game and individual stableford event concluded the golfing component of our trip.
Another brainchild of Heather's research was the addition of an evening trip over the border to Spain and into the famous seaside town of San Sebastian. It is world famous for its innovative gastronomy, with numerous Michelin star restaurants and Pintxos (tapas) bars. We enjoyed a guided tour of the bars, sampling pintxos in several of the best. It was a top night and something a bit different. Thank, you Heather!!
We celebrated the trip, and crowned the new Pullis McNutly Champion, with a closing dinner in the stunning Regina Biarritz Hotel. Congratulations to Barbara Cheal who was the 2015 Pullis McNutly winner with a remarkable performance. In 27 years of competition Barbara is the 2nd lady to have won, and the only person ever to have consistently beaten their handicap on a daily basis over the course of the tournament on courses unseen. Well done Barbara. You have set the standard for future years!
Seventeen of us journeyed through France together over two weeks: we played golf, explored chateaus, gardens, palaces and medieval villages, shopped in markets and boutiques, drank French wine and feasted on the finest French cuisine, we baked in the hot sun and cooled off in the pool, and we managed to laugh no matter how tired we were. A lot of work had gone into the planning and implementation of this trip so it was lovely for Heather and I to see it all come to fruition. New friendships were made, and others consolidated. We had a lot of fun together, and will go away with fond memories.
Bring on the video!
Peter and Heather Wood
The Travelling Golfers
The Travelling Golfer can tailor a golf trip to suit your group. For suggested itineraries see Great Golf Destinations: France
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