Fifty years ago, Polish-Jewish entrepreneur André Jordan – whose family had fled Poland during the Holocaust – looked out from a nearby hilltop and had an idea. It fundamentally reshaped this part of the world, Portugal’s stunning southern coast.
“It was a day I will never forget,” the country’s 'godfather of golf' recalls in his memoir. “I sat on the hill, looked across the marshlands and I had a vision of what would become the Quinta do Lago Master Plan.”
The pine woods and run-down farmhouses were soon transformed into a golfing resort that now draws thousands of British visitors every year – soaking up the sun with views overlooking man-made lakes and a lagoon that stretches 30 miles.
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Something like 90% of the resort’s visitors are from the UK and Ireland – forking out around €170 a day in the high season to put their nine irons to use in the heat.
The master plan ensured most of the land remained undeveloped, giving this resort a strong focus on nature – but it’s not short on delicious food and innovative cocktails either.
Now, full disclosure – I’m not sold on golf. To me it seems a ludicrously wasteful use of space that could otherwise be party bars nestled within Mediterranean woodland. But I gave it a crack and even this cynic could see the appeal.
The views of the three courses of the Quinta do Lago resort seem to wash away all your troubles. We got around on buggies (€50 high season) and we could have driven around them all day. These courses have hosted the Portuguese Open eight times, a resounding endorsement of this Iberian golfing haven.
Of course, many of the celebs don’t come for the fairways and tee boxes.
With its array of high end restaurants and a world-class sporting complex, The Campus, the resort can offer a bit of a respite for members of the upper echelons.
With two five-star hotels, The Wyndham and The Conrad, and a Michelin-recommended fine dining restaurant in Casa Velha, you can spend a week here in total comfort and relative seclusion.
And wealthy Brits are flocking here to the 500 or so villas that have their own pools, saunas and spiral staircases. We toured two – a mega-pad going for €14.5million and another for a more modest €4.5million. It is a magnet for famous footballers and their second homes – as well as golfing fans Ant and Dec, I was told.
The Quinta-owned Magnolia Hotel gives a taste of the lifestyle here at more affordable prices.
This stylish motel-themed getaway offers good value double rooms and it’s the ideal stay for dedicated golfers, or sports fans hoping to use The Campus – the 2018 sporting mecca that was packed to the rafters with ex-tennis champs and padel enthusiasts.
My room was fairly basic – no bath and slightly lacking in terms of lighting – but since I was out and about enjoying the resort most of the time, it didn’t matter too much.
Fitness and food at The Campus
While annual passes are an eye-popping €1,800 for this athletic hub – which boasts a cracking spa, two gyms and plenty of tennis courts – day passes are a more reasonable €46, and give full access to facilities like the pool and spa. You can also grab a pint or protein shake at the comfy Dano’s bistro. People-watch there at your leisure – though you may be politely asked not to pester the sporting personalities wandering past.
Dining and drinking
It wasn’t The Campus or scenic greens that won me over. It was the joyous array of restaurants.
Get spot-on steak at Bovino (where veggies like me were impressively well-catered for). Elsewhere, eat lobster by the lake at the newly renovated Casa do Lago.
Or pause from sunbathing on the beach at the (soon-to-reopen) Gigi’s bar.
Sustainability centred Quinta goes big on local fare, with its own farm producing tons of produce every year for top-notch chefs – led by Brit Gareth Billington.
So if you’re feeling bad about the air miles, the food miles are at least close to zero.
The new and modern Asian fine-dining haunt Umami cements the resort’s image as a luxury getaway for those with cash to spare.
Lots to love
While it wouldn’t be the first choice for serial sport-avoiders like me, there’s lots to love at Quinta do Lago.
You can sample its delights without breaking the bank at the Magnolia Hotel. Just be aware that you’ll need to rely on hotel transfers or Ubers if you don’t drive – pavements are hard to come by.
André Jordan, now approaching his 90s, can look over that same hilltop he visited 50 years ago and be proud of his creation. But in a decade of growing climate awareness, it wouldn’t hurt to turn just one of those golf courses into a nature reserve.
You’ll find me birdwatching, cocktail in hand, trying not to get hit by a golf ball.
Book the holiday
Get there: Flights to Faro, Algarve, Portugal, are available from 16 airports across the UK.
Stay there: Rooms at the Magnolia Hotel at Quinta do Lago resort, Algarve, start at around £105 a night B&B; Family Cottages from around £188. Visit themagnoliahotelqdl.com and quintadolago.com/en.
More info: Head to visitportugal.com/en.
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