Golf Article

France - Golf & A Lot More

Think Destination First, Then Think Golf

By Peter Hellman


Has your spouse ever said this to you, "Why is it that when you think of a vacation, your mind goes right to your putter.  Don't you realize that there is more to life than golf"?

The first time a friend of mine heard that utterance, he had to think a moment.   Should he say something witty or something safe?  He went for the safe.  "Of course, honey", he said, "There must be several things more important than golf.  I just can't think of any right now." 


In addition to a little sensitivity training, I have some ideas that might earn my friend some spousal points and still satisfy his putter fetish.  Simply put, the idea is to "think destination first" and "think golf second."


As horrid a thought as this may seem to some of you, know that the world is replete with great golf courses and that some are located in areas of exciting historical, architectural, cultural and experiential value.  There is no reason why travel planned around a destination can't also be a soul satisfying golf adventure.


I recently returned from France on just this type of trip.  From a base at a cool chateau, converted into a hotel, my wife and I played some great golf and explored the Bordeaux region of France.  First, let me tell you about the Chateau des Vigiers.  It is located in the Dordogne region about 1 ½ hours east of Bordeaux.  It is within easy reach of the great vineyards of Saint-Emilion, Pomeral, Sauternes, Medoc, Bergerac and Monbazillac.  The chateau itself has 45 rooms, suites, and comfortable public areas.  Adjacent to the chateau are two new buildings beautifully built to compliment the chateau itself.  It has one and two bedroom suites suitable for families or sharing couples. 


With a fireplace, a generous patio and a small kitchenette, our suite, in one of the new buildings, was perfect for relaxing after a full day of golf and exploration.  Cooking for yourself, however, is not what you want to do at the Chateau des Vigier.  The two restaurants on property, one casual and one more upscale, are superb and the wine list is extensive.  We particularly enjoyed their creative salads and roast duck.  The breakfast buffet was my favorite.  Great breads and pastries, delicious local sausages and tasty fruit were only some of the choices available.  A pool, shady patios for lunch or a beer and a cozy bar all add to the comfort of Chateau des Vigiers. 


The Donald Steele designed golf course is a beauty with challenging holes bordered by productive vineyards from which the Chateau produces its own wine.  A third nine is in the works and should be open for play next year.  Steele has designed many courses in Europe and the U.S.   An advocate of minimalism in course design, he has Cyprus Point among his many design credits.  . 


From this comfortable base with access to good golf, my wife and I set out to explore the area.  Being one of France's most respected wine regions, visiting vineyards and wine tasting topped our list of things to do.  Saint-Emilion was our first stop.  This ancient citadel is a charming village of narrow lanes, shops, caves (underground storage areas dug into solid rock for aging wine).and interesting restaurants and cafes.  The tastings were fun and we returned to our base with several wines from the region. 


Our most interesting wine experience occurred just a few kilometers from our base at the Chateau le Chabrier.  Pierre Carle, owner of the vineyard, was a splendid host, taking us through his entire operation and explaining the age-old techniques of wine making.  He was proud of his small vineyard and treated us as "eager to learn" guests.  The tastings were a treat.  Like many of the small vineyards, you will not find Chateau le Chabrier at your favorite liquor store in the U.S.  We solved that problem by adding few bottles to our luggage,


Lest you think that all we did was drink wine, I must tell you about some of our other experiences.  Not far from our hotel is the town of Bergerac, an old wine center with an enjoyable monthly antique market.  It was a bit more like a flea market, but the variety and uniqueness of the items offered made it a great stop.  The weekly open-air food markets are also a must.  There seems to be at least one in some village each day of the week.  Our favorite was in Sarlat.  Sarlat is an ancient well-preserved town several miles east of Bergerac and is worth a visit.  Foods of every kind and description are available.  The local produced Fois Gras was unbelievable. 


This area, particularly along the Dordogne River, sprouts medieval castles and unbelievably quaint towns and villages.  It is also the home of some interesting caves and ancient cave drawings.   Though the famous Lascaux Caves are now closed, we found the Rouffignac Cave welcoming and the drawings incredible.  A 15-kilometer canoe trip down the Dordogne was a treat.  With a picnic lunch and some wine, we rowed lazily down river past several charming towns and chateaus to the incredible walled city of Beynac. 


So, next time you bring up a vacation idea to your spouse, think destination first and then think golf.  I think that you will both enjoy it.