France isn't known for its golf, but there are some lovely spots to visit that golfers will enjoy — and which have plenty to keep non-golfers entertained too, as Roderick Easdale discovered when he spent a few days at Souillac Golf and Country Club.
‘Country Life is the reason I am living here!’ the waiter at La Marterie Golf Club exclaimed.
The waiter was none other than David Burrows, an FA Cup and League winner with Liverpool in the 1990s. Having read an article on the Dordogne in Country Life, he suggested to his wife, Jackie, that that summer for their holiday they should explore the Dordogne rather than go to their timeshare in Portugal. They came back again and again until, in 2004, following David’s retirement from the game, they moved here for good.
It’s not hard to see why. Famously beautiful, the Dordogne area is rich in castles, chateaux, caves and spectacular views, the latter getting better the further you go west. There are charming medieval towns, impossibly quaint villages and natural wonders.
Our base for the trip was Souillac Golf and Country Club, a collection of 92 attractive wooden lodges set within this peaceful woodland and arranged into little hamlets, each with its own pool.
Each lodge — there are 2, 3, and 4-bedroom ones — is privately owned, with some of the owners spending long stretches here while others are rented out. They’re spacious and comfortable, with open-plan kitchen, dining and living room, plus terrace, balcony and a small garden area. It’s essentially self-catering, with a shop on the site in the season and the golf clubhouse serving lunch and dinner.
Souillac also has a large communal swimming pool near the restaurant’s terrace, plus a couple of tennis courts, a boules pitch (of course), table tennis and a children’s playground. The highlight of the town beyond the club is Sainte-Marie Abbey church, a fine example of Romanesque and Byzantine architecture — while the rest of the Dordgone awaits.
Two bedroom apartments at Souillac Golf and Country Club start at around £100 per night – see more details at www.souillaccountryclub.co.uk
Golf in France is invariably reasonably-priced — think roughly €30 to €50 in high season — and our starting point was Souillac Golf and Country Club’s golf course, which is entertaining, attractive, hilly and full of character and quirks. It is also tight, very tight, an almost unrelenting test of your accuracy. The six golf journalists among our party had a competition amongst ourselves which was won by a chap who scored 36 Stableford points — aided by a hole-in one on the 17th — and even he lost four balls in the process.
Anything wayward tends to be gobbled up by the thick forest. You do not have to be long — at its maximum this par-67 layout plays to 4,800 yards — but you do have to be straight and to plot your way round. Luckily there’s a driving range and putting green to tune up before you play – and a pro shop if things get so bad you need to resort to a quick lesson.
Parc et Golf du Coiroux at Aubazine is an attractive tree-lined parkland layout. There is a variety to the holes although a funnel through trees is the most common fairway. It is almost as tight in places as Souillac but you don’t lose your ball, merely have to play out from under trees back to fairway.
La Marterie is generally reckoned the best course in the area and it did not disappoint with some clever designs. The first of the standout holes is the 5th, where the tee shot is blind over a water-filled valley, and the second shot is to a small green tucked away and down on the right hand side. The back nine features a ribbon of water hazards, to be crossed either on the drive or just before the green.
La Forge is an unpretentious, friendly club with a charming, atmospheric par 30 layout of 1,543 yards. After the dull opener comes a series of engaging holes with adroit variety to the designs. The plummeting 77-yard 2nd, to a small upturned saucer green with water fore and aft, is a cracker.
Food and Drink
The aforementioned David Burrows had joined La Marterie, becoming friends with fellow member Steve Lea. When the club’s restaurant manager left, David’s wife Jackie persuaded Steve’s wife Rebecca — a retired restaurateur — to run the restaurant with her. The distaff side cook; their husbands run the front of house.
Chateau de la Treyne
If you fancy pushing the boat out, Chateau de la Treyne, between Sarlat and Rocamadour and towering over the Dordogne river, offers sumptuous food and exemplary service. Waiting is a more prestigious role in France than in the UK and for that reason you do not tip waiters in France. Since 1998 Stéphane Andrieux has been its chef and in 2002 the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star. ‘I adore revisiting terroir-based cuisine, working with foie gras, Quercy lamb or pot au feu. I like dishes that stimulate the taste buds and play on acidity and bitterness,’ he told us.
Other things to do
Towns and villages
Sarlat is a well-preserved and vibrant mediaeval town, albeit slightly scarred when, in the mid-19th century, the main shopping street was carved through the town. La Roque Gageac is a beautiful village on the north bank of the Dordogne, backed by cliffs in which were created modern dwellings. The cliff-side village of Rocamadour is a pilgrimage site with a complex of religious buildings, including the Chapelle Notre-Dame with its Black Madonna statue. The 216 steps of the Grand Escalier used to be climbed by pilgrims on their knees.
Gouffre de Proumeyssac is a vast cave in which hang huge stalactite formations, imaginatively presented in a music-and-light show.
The caves at nearby Lascaux are even more famous, thanks to their prehistoric paintings, and while they’re closed to the public due to the sensitivity of the site there is a fibreglass replica of both cave and paintings, which were discovered by a group of schoolboys in 1940.
The Chocolate Museum at the Bovetti factory explains the chocolate-making process, and tours end with a tasting, and, for children, the chance to make their own moulded chocolate figure. This, we happily discovered, was also extended to tours by visiting journalists, so I have a very cheerful looking lamb greeting me every time I open my fridge: a fun reminder of a fun trip to the Dordogne valley.