Licence to thrill: golf in Nice and Provence
The South of France is known for The Cannes Film Festival and the super-rich of St Tropez.
In the hills above Nice and amongst the purple landscapes of Provence are two golf resorts with a licence to thrill..
- The James Bond connection at Domaine De Terre Blanche
- Super luxurious villa suites
- Two Dave Thomas designed championship courses
- Michelin starred culinary magic
- Lavender fields and medieval hill towns
- Mistral wind at Provence Country Club
If Ian Fleming – the creator of world famous British secret agent James Bond – ever had 007 take a golf holiday, he might have chosen Nice and Provence in France as the destination.
He would likely have imagined a thrilling course in a secretive hilltop setting bathed in Mediterranean sun.
It would be a short drive from a millionaire’s coastal playground full of yachts and high-rolling casinos.
The real life Bond Connection
How fitting that actor Sean Connery – who played James Bond in the movies – once owned the land that has been developed into a luxury golf resort in the hills above the French Cote D’Azur.
The Four Seasons Resort at the Domaine de Terre Blanche, just 35-minutes from Nice, is an 111-room Provencal style luxury resort.
German software tycoon Dieter Hopp bought the land and built a truly world class golf resort, hotel, spa and real estate development.
While close to busy Nice and the gateway to Cannes and St Tropez, the resort offers true Provencal elegance and a relaxing retreat for discerning golfers and travellers.
At its centre are two magnificent Dave Thomas designed championship golf courses, Le Chateau and Le Riou.
Both courses enjoy sweeping views of medieval hillside villages, olive groves and the Southern Alps.
They both wind through spectacular pine and oak-lined hills.
The resort opened in 2004 in controversial fashion.
An enormous perimeter security fence, 11.5 kms long was erected around the five-star resort.
The locals in Pays de Fayence thought it was meant to keep them out and they complained.
Instead, the fence was meant to prevent the local population of wild boar from running loose and destroying the perfectly manicured greens.
Domaine Terre Blanche makes no secret of its desire to be the premier golf resort in France.
EURO 35m to build
It cost 35,000,000 EURO to build the two courses.
This included laying an overland pipe to transport water from a local lake, a 3.5km re-route of the D-56 highway, and a new bridge built across the Riou Blanc river.
The golf courses are presented with meticulous attention to detail.
Luxurious villa suites and Michelin starred gastronomy
The same attention to detail is given by the chambermaids to the luxurious ochre villa-style suite and by the waiting staff in the truly fabulous Michelin starred “Faventia” restaurant.
Thomas’s 7235-yard Le Chateau is the stronger course, but his 6,567-yard Le Riou requires better course strategy as it is set in a smaller area with a number holes that dogleg left and right.
One of the best features of the Le Chateau course is the 18th century Chateau on the par-five 6th from which the course takes it name.
The par-five 11th is also a postcard perfect hole.
It snakes downhill along a cascading stream and sandstone rockbed.
The courses are unusual in that there is not a single weak link to Thomas’ sequence of well crafted golf holes.
The Domaine de Terre Blanche is still young but quickly established as a must play golf resort.
Golfing in Provence’s purple haze
The Provence Country Club – around a two-hour drive south and 15kms from Avignon – has transformed a former private members course into a fast growing golf resort and apartment community.
British property developer Guy Buckley took the opportunity to create the resort around a Jean Garialde designed championship course.
The resort is near the Venetian style towns of Isle Sur Sorgue and Fontaine de Vaucluse, and the medieval hill town of Gordes.
Provence Country Club enjoys the classic Provencal setting and looks out over the Blue Mountains at Le Luberon and the Haute des Alps Provence.
It has a spectacular location but the course is a different prospect to the perfectly presented layouts at Domaine De Terre Blanche.
At the time of our visit, the course was fast and hard and ragged in places but enjoyable to play.
Mistral Winds: shot-maker’s paradise
The opening holes are tight and wind through dense trees, made more difficult by the prevailing “Mistral” wind which can knock even the best-struck iron off-line.
The condition of the course needed improving – and Global Golfer would be interested to hear from readers who have played there recently.
Why not review it for us?
It was dry and bare in places and played like a bouncy seaside course.
If you like challenge and employing shot-making skills, you’ll enjoy this test.
There is a very new feel to the Provence Country Club, particularly the impressive clubhouse and pleasant apartments.
It has the potential to be an attractive draw for golfers in a region of Southern France that has few courses of real note.
Golf de Nimes Campagne, on the Route de Saint-Gilles in Nimes, is one course that needs no introduction in French golfing circles.
This private club welcomes visiting players and is considered the sixth best course in France.
The white clubhouse is a monument to a course set in 52 hectares of woodland with oak and blue cypress trees.
Like the Provence Country Club, the course is most difficult in the windy season and the trees seem constantly in motion as you battle round doglegs and over water hazards.
To the west of Nimes, in the Dordogne region of Aquitaine, is another golf resort built by another English investor committed to ensuring golf tourism takes off in Southern France.
The Villenueve sur Lot golf course is situated in fields awash with sunflowers and surrounded by mature woodland.
It was built in 1987 but allowed to fall into decline.
Englishman Graham Goodman redeveloped the resort to include luxury apartments lining the first fairway of a picturesque 6,700-yard golf course.
With major investment being made in golf by established Hotel groups like Four Seasons and private resort owners, golf is set to take off in this region of France.
It will always be known for its baking hot summers, penchant for boulle and liberal flow of wine.
Now, golfers have plenty of choice to combine their love of the sport with all the romance, mystique and elegance of one of France’s most desirable holiday regions.
WHERE TO PLAY
Le Chateau at Terre Blanche Golf Club
Le Riou at Terre Blanche Golf Club
Provence Golf and Country Club
Villeneuve Sur Lot Golf and Country Club
Golf Nimes de Campagne
WHERE TO STAY
Four Seasons Resort Provence at Terre Blanche
Nice is the city at the heart of the French Riviera, famous for its soft warm light which brings life and colour to the architecture, trees and stunning beaches.
A good way to spend a day is wandering through the flower and fish markets in the “Cours Saleya” district and strolling the narrow streets of the historic Old City.
L’Isle sur la Sorgue is a picturesque town near Provence Golf and Country Club. Its canals, streams, waterwheels and alleyways have earned it the name “Little Venice”.
Restaurants line the waterways. Numerous antique shops, galleries and shops make a visit to L’Isle sur la Sorgue fun, cultural and stimulating. Market days are Thursdays and Sundays when the streets are crowded with antique stalls.
Fontaine de Vaucluse lies at the source of the river Sorgue, and its natural spring is the largest in France and the fifth largest in the world.
The magnificent hilltop villages of Mènerbes, Gordes, Lacoste are also easy to explore.
A trip to Provence would not be the same without a trip to a wine cellar or La Cave, enabling you to sample the best of the Cotes du Rhone and Chateau Neuf de Pape regions. There are many cellars open year round to visitors.
A good insider’s guide to the area is Provence Food and Wine, a blog written by travel writer, wine expert and part-time Provence resident Mary Dowey.
The historic and cultural cities of Avignon, Aix en Provence, and Saint Remy provide an exciting day out.
Average Summer temperature of 22 degrees celsius.