Stay, Play, Tour and Dine
What a thrill to golf and tour countries across the pond, from whence many Americans came. Centuries old castles and architecture are prevalent throughout Europe. Creating an itinerary may be difficult since there are so many places to stay, play and tour. Here are just a few recommended places there.
The Home of Golf: Scotland
Scotland is the home of golf, so where better to start? No other place invokes awe and respect of golfers like St. Andrews and the Swilcan Bridge.
- Stay – The historic Rusacks House is strategically situated on the 18th fairway of the Old Course, with views of the 18th green, the 1st tee, the clubhouse and the beach where “Chariots of Fire” was filmed. It is a perfect staging hotel for an extraordinary golf trip. Memories of fabulous pro finishes and celebrated wins wash over you.
- Play – St. Andrews Old Course is definitely on the bucket list for any golfer, but nearby championship courses abound – The Dukes, Carnoustie, the New Course, Jubilee, Castle, Strahtyrum and the local favorite, Kingsbarn.
- Tour – Edinburgh is convenient for airport arrival and departure as well as cultural submersion. B&Bs are a comfy and friendly option here. Tour the city on the double decker bus and hop off to walk the Royal Mile of restaurants, bars, tartan factories and the Edinburgh Castle. Enjoy listening to the brogue of kilted history tellers as bagpipers whistle hypnotic Celtic notes.
- A road trip to the Stirling Castle will place you in Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” movie. Climb the narrow spiral stairs to survey the historic landscape of William Wallace.
- Dine – Breakfasts are hearty with eggs. Bacon and seafood is plentiful in Scotland, but one must really acquire a taste to appreciate the ritual of ingesting haggis and blood pudding, perhaps the reason Scotch was invented. We love the single malts of Glenmorangie. Anything over 10 years old is amazing. Slange Var, get it to the hole!
Ireland is one of the most welcoming countries on earth. The people are genuinely friendly. Rolling hillsides are patterned with green and stonewall hedges, dotted by countless sheep and boulders where the Psalms could have been written. Miles pass such as this and then a lake or a fjord or the Roundtree Marina with colorful ships pops into the scenery and waves crash.
- Stay – The options are endless. Traditional Irish hospitality meets Four-Star luxury in Northern Ireland at Bushmills Inn. The food is exceptional and the burning peat in the fireplaces creates a warm, homey atmosphere. Sheep graze in the meadow across the creek.
- Play – Two of Ireland’s famous courses sit just a wedge away in Portrush. Royal Portrush and Portstewart along the Atlantic are exceptional links style layouts with plenty of heather and gorse. Royal Portrush has two courses, the Valley and Dunluce. The historic Dunluce Castle is seen from the cliff side holes. It is the only course in Ireland to have hosted the Open Championship. Both Royal Portrush and Portstewart offer elevated views of the city and beaches of Portrush, which a caddie described like this, ” It’s 5000 alcoholics clinging to a rock.” You’ve got to love the Irish sense of humor.
- Tour – The Bushmill distillery is in walking distance of the Inn for tours and tastings. Along the seaside, the Giant Causeway is a remarkable geological site with hexagonal shaped stones that are tightly stacked making a unique and mysterious formation to traverse and behold. A hike across the Carrick a rede rope bridge is exhilarating as it connects the mainland to local islands. Again a double decker bus tour gives a broad perspective of the city. Hop off at the Guinness Factory and enjoy the 360-degree views at the top.
- Dine – The memory of coming off the 18th green of any course in Ireland is the cup of soup and half sandwich with a fresh Guinness. What more could you want? Clubhouse and restaurant chefs prepare local cuisine to perfection. Seafood and lamb are favorites with fresh vegetables and everything goes down smoothly with a Guinness and digests well with an Irish coffee. Slainte, may the hinges of our friendship never get rusty!
Italy has so many beautiful and distinct regions from Puglia’s Acaya, famed for Justin Timberlake and Jessica Beale’s wedding at Borgo Egnazia to the fashionable Milan, the gondolas of Venice, the northern lakes, Villas of the Tuscany wine region, and the capital of Rome.
- Stay – In Rome book a hotel in walking distance to everything on the tourist map. We looked on hotels.com to find the best deals. Check in and step right out to the cobblestone nightlife with street side restaurants and stylish shops filled with leather and lace.
- Play – Golf might not be the first thought when traveling to Italy but every area does have a great course – San Domenico Golf Course is a challenging track along the Adriatic Sea near the Acaya Golf Course, host of European Challenge Tour events. Troon manages the beautiful Castiglion del Bosco in the hills of Tuscany.
- Tour – Walk the streets of Rome or take a taxi or bus to the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps and the Vatican where a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica passes over our apostles’ tombs, taking in all the sculptures, murals, mosaics and domes. Be in the audience to the Pope on Wed. mornings if you like. What a contrast to the magnificence of ancient architecture when standing at the forum and coliseum where gladiators entertained Romans to their death.
- Take the train or drive to Florence where a pilgrimage of art aficionados line up to enter the cathedral and museums. Inside is Michelangelo’s little David but outside the masters’ dominating sculptures are magnificent to behold in the piazza. Michelangelo’s Rose garden is located across the river with antiquities that can only be appreciated in person. Buy tickets online to any of the museums and skip the tourist lines.
- Dine – Perhaps the favorite food capital of the world is Italy where a “Bar” sign means, food, alcohol and gelato, the creamiest of ice creams. In Italy the pasta-bilities are endless. Dining is a slow, intimate and social 4 course (minimum) experience including aperitivos, pasta, seafood or meat entree, desert and wine. Top it off with limoncello at Ivan Torresi’s Il Tartarughino (turtle) restaurant in Rome. You might be laughing and singing, “Volare” in the piano bar with the soccer nationals. Salute!d
Sicily is the volcanic island off the Italian boot, theatrically most famous for the Godfather movie. Catania airport is a short flight from Rome and economical on Ryan Air.
- Stay – Donnafugata Golf Resort and Spa in Ragusa is a relaxing retreat on 800 acres with well-manicured floral grounds and Italian Baroque architecture. Il Picciolo Etna Golf Resort & Spa is situated on the lower slopes of Mount Etna.
- Play – Gary Player designed the Parkland and Franco Piras the Links courses at Donnafugata to be the best in Sicily while Il Piccolo was the first course built in the country with holes traversing blindly up and down the mountain with a smoking (literally) view of the volcano, spewing fire or lava.
- Tour – Helicopter excursions offer a birds eye view of volcanic activity from Il Piccolo if you dare. Take the Patria Rossi winery tour where ancient French Oak barrels are climate controlled naturally in the volcanic underground caverns. The lava-enriched soil produces very fine wine grapes for both red and white varietals.
- Shift a Fiat or Renault Twingo around sharp curves of Catiglione for breath-taking views, stopping to hike the Gorge of Alcantara with fissures formed by the fast river cooling of magma in overlapping lava flows over 8,000 years. The winding road then descends to Taormino, a touristic enclave of boutique hotels perched high on the cliff overlooking the Mediterranean with Gondola transport to sea level.
- Tour Ragusa to see the archeology and Baroque palace and churches, wine cellars, farm houses and private beaches.
- Dine – Sicily sizzles with aromatic spices calling your indulgence. The wine bar at Donnafugata serves lunch and dinner with subtle, romantic lighting in the evening. The floor has a glass covering to view the antique wine press below. Il Carrubo restaurant serves upscale gourmet dinners. We recommend splitting courses if you want to still walk. Ragusa has romantic seaside dining. In Siracusa, you will find the best pizza served while overlooking the Mediterranean. Gallinella fish pairs well with the local Patria Rossi wine at Il Picciolo. A Saluti!
Spain is the home country of PGA greats Ballasteros and Sergio Garcia as well as the literary legend, Don Quixote.
- Stay – Malaga airport, via Madrid is small and fairly easy to maneuver. Rent a car for the most freedom to explore. Timeshares, airbnbs, city hotels and expensive seaside resorts serve all desires.
- Play – Valderrama Golf Club is first class from the moment you pass through the gate. Lush forest surrounds the course. The signature hole is number 4, which Robert Trent Jones calls one of his favorite par 5’s in the world. The 11th green offers an ocean view to the east and the Rock of Gibraltar to the west. Valderrama has hosted the Volvo Classic as well as the 1997 Ryder Cup.
- Steve Ballesteros designed the unique layout of Alhaurin golf course. Pines mix with figs and olive trees in this natural mountain setting with a distant old castle. Abundant flowers range from the sweet smelling honeysuckles to Queen Annes’ lace the size of dinner plates. The up and down course makes you feel like a billy goat by the end of the round – a grateful billy goat.
- Tour – The Rock of Gibraltar, from Malaga south along the ocean’s edge involves driving over a runway and climbing the steep and curvy road in search of Barbary apes. The lights off the coast, from scattered ships and Africa beyond, dance on the water below before daylight.
- The old town of Mijas up the coast from Malaga is paved with cobblestones on a mountainside, with a magnificent view of the sea and terrific shops to explore.
- We spent the most magical day in Sevilla with old friends, after passing miles and miles of olive orchards. There we learned about local customs, strolling through plazas, and absorbing the magnificent architecture, concluding the evening with the smoothest brandy on a secret hotel rooftop terrace looking out at the Cathedral of Sevilla’s bell towers.
- Dine – Tapas and Sangria are a delight at the many beach restaurants. Buffets might include heart healthy rabbit. Serrano Ham is cut with a carver’s knife. A glass of red wine from Rioja or the cerveza of choice, Cruz Campo. Salud!
Azores is comprised of the volcanic archipelago islands in the Atlantic, 850 miles off the coast of Portugal. SATA flights from Boston and Philly arrive on Sao Miguel (the Green Island.) Ponta Delgada is its main city with small shops and restaurants adjacent to the port marina. Ancient stonewalls delineate perimeters of past and present boundaries dotted with livestock around the island, an artistic contrast to the brilliant green carpeted hillsides above the deep blue shoreline.
- Stay – The Marina Atlantico Hotel has the best balcony views of the harbor activities and is a short walk from the Center Square and Iberian city life. The Terra Nostra Garden Hotel is the # 1 hotel on Trip Advisor. The Caloura Hotel is also a lovely boutique option isolated on a cliff side setting with panoramic views of the ocean.
- Play – The sub-tropical temperate climate is perfect for golf on the two island courses. Baltalha Golf Club has 27 holes that move up into the hillside with thick tree-lined fairways. Lava rock fences and purple morning glory vines border the course. Several holes are ocean view and all the greens are in great shape. The clubhouse restaurant has a second story patio offering spectacular views of the course.
- The Furnas Golf Club is located in the mineral spring area with similar landscape. Giant hydrangea bushes are full of bright blue blooms the size of basketballs.
- Tour – Caldeira Hot Springs’ boiling pools are way too hot for bathing but perfect for underground cooking of corn and stew. A light sulfur infusion contrasts with the floral and iron aromas at Terra Nostra Garden in Furnas has an immense circular stone tiled swimming pool that is filled with yellowish liquid. The healing water is around 100 degrees. Don’t wear anything white or it converts to orange.
- For an enchanted evening go to Quinta de Pico de Cruz. A dancing horse and rider lead patrons in the dark through the long tree lined entrance for an introduction of the family and Lusitano horses in the stables followed by dinner in a quaint dining hall after which the tableside windows open to an arena sparkling green against the dark mountain. The passionate music, harmonic partnering of man and equestrian athleticism that ensues puts “Dancing with the Stars” to shame.
- Dine – Sao Miguel is blessed with exceptional farmlands and dairy production so the food is always fresh. Seafood blends with local meats for savory surf and turf. Tea plantations produce amazing brews. Cuisine blends Portuguese and European style menus. Dry vermouth, gin and Campari are popular cocktail components. Saude!