FAIR­WAY TO HEAVEN

As Quinta do Lago opens an elite fit­ness cen­tre in the Al­garve, Thersa Harold dis­cov­ers there’s more to the re­sort than golf and good weather

Prestige (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

There’s some­thing sur­real about Quinta do Lago. Set on the south­ern coast of Por­tu­gal, the re­sort is a 15-minute drive from Faro air­port that in­volves a high­way and then back roads, be­fore the route turns to smooth tar­mac. A dis­creet sign lets you know you’ve ar­rived – if the man­i­cured grounds and im­pres­sive vil­las haven’t given it away al­ready.

Res­i­dents use the many round­abouts as land­marks – so, for ex­am­ple, you’ll find the driv­ing range at Round­about 4 or Bovino Steak­house off Round­about 6. Al­most 50 years ago, Quinta do Lago, which lit­er­ally means “farm on the lake”, was an iso­lated farm­stead. That was be­fore prop­erty de­vel­oper An­dré Jor­dan trans­formed the area into one of Europe’s most ex­clu­sive des­ti­na­tions. Sur­rounded by more than 800ha of the Ria For­mosa Nat­u­ral Park, the gated com­mu­nity and golf re­sort has catered to the likes of Ayr­ton Senna and Princess Caro­line of Monaco (and speak­ing of which, one of the first things I learn dur­ing my stay is that Quinta is three times the size of the prin­ci­pal­ity).

Un­til re­cently, says Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Sean Mo­ri­arty, Quinta do Lago was recog­nised as a “very elite, wealthy re­tire­ment home for golfers. That’s the way it was for quite some time, but it was also a hid­den gem for a lot of peo­ple. What we’ve been try­ing to do over the last cou­ple of years is to bring in more fam­i­lies, make it more open. A lot of peo­ple de­scribe Quinta do Lago as a sanc­tu­ary. When they come in here, peo­ple don’t tor­ment them, peo­ple aren’t at them all the time.”

“Them” pre­sum­ably refers to any of the sports and tv per­son­al­i­ties who’ve made their se­cond home here. Ru­mour has it that for­mer foot­baller John Terry has a villa, so I’m on high alert for celeb sight­ings. Is that Lit­tlefin­ger from Game

of Thrones in the cafe? If so, he’s look­ing re­mark­ably tan. I walk past Judy Mur­ray on my way to break­fast and find out later that she’s run­ning a ten­nis camp for kids. I think of all the par­ents hop­ing for the next Andy or Jamie.

If you don’t hap­pen to be one of the su­per-rich who own prop­erty here, your ac­com­mo­da­tion will range from self­catered vil­las to ho­tels such as the Con­rad Al­garve and the em­i­nently In­sta­grammable Mag­no­lia Ho­tel. But the cur­rent buzz around town is all about The Cam­pus.

“What we’re try­ing to cre­ate here is a fly-to des­ti­na­tion, not just a drive-to des­ti­na­tion,” says Mo­ri­arty. Of­fi­cially opened in au­tumn 2018, the €10 mil­lion venue has al­ready hosted the Bei­jing Si­nobo Guoan foot­ball club, which trained on its sta­dium-qual­ity pitch. Along­side foot­ball, The Cam­pus boasts ten­nis and padel courts, an aquatic cen­tre, yoga stu­dios and The Bike Shed.

Run by the Ir­ish cy­clist and dou­ble par­a­lympic cham­pion Mark Ro­han, the Shed is his bid to put the Al­garve on the cy­cling map in much the same way as Mal­lorca. Of­fer­ing every­thing from cus­tom bike fit­tings to one-to- one coach­ing, it’s geared to­wards both recre­ational and com­pet­i­tive cy­clists and triath­letes. “We had a guy here with his daugh­ter, who wanted to do a 10km ride, and they ended up do­ing 20km,” says Ro­han. So it’s with some trep­i­da­tion that I wheel my bike out­side and pre­pare for my guided tour of the Ria For­mosa.

It turns out we needn’t have wor­ried. Con­sid­ered one of the seven nat­u­ral won­ders of Por­tu­gal, the na­ture re­serve is a pleas­ingly flat maze of canals, is­lands, marshes and bar­rier is­lands. It’s also a bird­watcher’s par­adise, our guide tells us as she hands out binoc­u­lars. She points to­wards a cor­ner of the wet­lands and from our bikes, we spot a

spoon­bill and a glossy ibis. (“I used to date a girl called Glossy Ibis,” quips one of my group.)

Of course, no visit to Quinta do Lago would be com­plete with­out swing­ing a golf club – even for a com­plete new­bie such as my­self. We make our way to­wards the driv­ing range ( yes, at Round­about 4) and visit the first Paul Mcgin­ley Academy in the world. Founded in 2011 by the cap­tain of the 2014 Ry­der Cup-win­ning team, the academy is man­aged by José Fer­reira, who shows us around the Tay­lormade Per­for­mance Cen­tre. It’s the only one of its kind in south­ern Europe and is equipped with ma­chines to test every­thing from your swing to your weight dis­tri­bu­tion. When Fer­reira tells us that the radar tech­nol­ogy used in their tracker is the same as that used by the navy, I won­der, briefly: why?

But all such cyn­i­cism is brushed aside when Fer­reira drives us to the short-game prac­tice area for a quick les­son. Set back from the driv­ing range, the se­cluded area can be re­served for vips, and is where Rory and Tiger like to prac­tise, ex­plains Fer­reira. It’s stun­ning. Atyp­i­cally for the Al­garve, the clouds are heavy that day and rain threat­ens at any mo­ment. Now and again, bright rays of sun shine through, giv­ing the pro­ceed­ings a vaguely re­li­gious qual­ity. Is this my Da­m­a­scene mo­ment on a golf course? I hope not.

I clutch my club, ad­just my feet, eye the ball. And swing.

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