Cannes may be renowned for attracting film stars to the French Riviera, but it also plays host to a number of top-quality golf courses. Mark Alexander finds out what Europe’s film capital has to offer both off and on the course
You know you are on a flight to Cannes when you overhear the other passengers debating the relative merits of the latest blockbuster or knowledgeably discussing the careers of Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie. Without doubt, Cannes is a film town and even during a midweek flight from London in March, there is only one topic of conversation.
Apart from the motion picture references and the obligatory name-dropping, another tell-tale sign that Cannes awaits is the number of passengers wearing sunglasses and the plethora of designer labels that make this flight as much to do with fashion as it is about travel. We are, after all, heading for the Côte d’Azur, otherwise known as the French Riviera – a stretch of coastline that has been synonymous with chic elegance and lofty living since the 1950s. The original playground for the rich and famous, Cannes and its surrounding villages have welcomed glamorous film stars, wealthy tycoons and fashion icons, with the town reaping the rewards.
We fly into Nice airport, which is less than an hour from the elegant boulevards and beach-front hotels of Cannes. Here, amid the Hollywood murals, cherry-red supercars and opulent jewellery shops, the city has embraced its starlight status ever since the first film festival took place in 1946.
The breathtaking super yachts anchored in the marina and the manicured beaches with nearby cafes and restaurants make this a wonderful place to people watch. But Cannes offers much more than just the opportunity to overindulge in celebrity spotting.
The steep hills and tranquil villages that surround Cannes are home to twelve 18-hole golf courses all within an hour's drive of the beach. Indeed, since many are found on the outskirts of the city, the idea of playing a morning round followed by an afternoon soaking up the Mediterranean sun is a very real possibility. More importantly, the courses are as diverse as they are beautiful ensuring the range of golfing challenges will keep you engrossed throughout your stay.
One constant that links all the courses together is the standard of catering which never seems to falter. In fact, the food on offer exemplifies all the finest traditions of French fine dining, but with the added benefit of perfect views across the 18th green. Simply magnifique.
As well as the courses reviewed here, the Côte d’Azur has a number of up-and-coming tracks that deserve a mention. Opio Valbonne Golf Club, for instance, is undergoing a substantial make-over that is being supervised by the experts at Nicklaus Design. The work, which is due to be completed in May, will dramatically improve this parkland layout.
Elsewhere, Terre Blanche Resort and Golf Club in Provence will welcome the European Senior Tour for the first time when it hosts the French Riviera Masters in September. The club recently became the 10th member of the European Tour Properties Portfolio, and the third venue – alongside the London Club and Le Golf National – to gain European Tour Destination status. Without doubt, Cannes has a lot to offer, not only on the golf course but also on the beach and boulevards. If you’re looking for a chic retreat, it doesn’t get much better than this.
WHERE TO PLAY
SAINT DONAT *****
Expectations are funny things – sometimes you expect too much; sometimes not enough. When I visited Saint Donat, my expectations were not up to much which, in hindsight, is baffling. It might have been something in my morning tea, but I wasn’t holding out much hope for this parkland track. As it turns out, De Saint Donat is a testing, beautiful and exquisitely presented championship course of the highest order.
I could sense that my intuition was off when I entered the open-plan clubhouse with a welcoming bar and fully-stocked pro shop. Standing on the first tee and presented with an opening left-handed dog-leg to a raised green, my doubts gained momentum. By the time we reached the extraordinary par-3 third, which is carved through a ravine and banked by a gurgling river, I had completely replaced my indifference with heart-felt admiration.
Opened in 1993 and designed by Robert Trent Jones II, Saint Donat is a very special course indeed which combines visual delights with an intriguing layout that entertains, tests and delights in equal quantities. For instance, the superb third was followed by a sweeping par-4 from an elevated tee that gave me goose-bumps. And so it continued – hole after hole, the standard of design continually improved and, gratifyingly, the high design standards were met by the care and attention lavished on the course by the green keeping staff.
The par-3 tenth must be one of the prettiest in Europe guarded as it is by a sweeping lake with an ancient chapel serving as a serene backdrop. The approach to the 404-metre (442-yard) 13th from an elevated position is taxing but hugely rewarding as long as you hit the putting surface, and the closing hole, which is deceptively long and potentially punishing, is the ideal finale to an invigorating round.
With tee shots to savour, attractive green complexes and smooth putting surfaces, Saint Donat is a course to relish.
De Saint Donat Golf & Country Club
Yardage: 6,405 Par: 71
Designed by Robert Trent Jones II
Written by Mark Alexander
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