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Eden of the Algarve

Another thirty miles west, I came upon Parque da Floresta, a golfing plantation built in 1987. I played the round with Gary Silcock, a Scotsman employed as the resident teaching professional who hoped to become a golf architect. An admirer of MacKenzie's precepts, Silcock thought that despite two fine finishing holes, the steepness of almost all of Parque da Floresta's slopes asked the player for "too much walking between greens and tees."

After our round, enough light lingered in the sky to warrant the fifteen-mile drive west to Cabo de São Vicente. I don't remember ever having seen a more majestic sight, the sea surge bursting into tumults of white foam and rising to heights of two hundred feet against the somber headland at the westernmost edge of Europe. Slightly to the south and cast in poetic outline by the angle of the setting sun, I could see the fifteenth-century castle on the cliffs at Sagres, where Henry the Navigator commissioned a college of mapmaking astrologers to find the way to the Indies and the Americas.

Five hundred years later, the cartographers of the Algarve have come up with a different set of coordinates for the location of the earthly Paradise--man-made instead of God-given, the province of greenskeepers instead of a promise from priests. The wind shifted into the north as the last light dropped below the horizon, and by the time I again passed through Lagos, it had begun to rain. In the darkness on both sides of the road, at least five new golf courses were under construction. On the evidence of what I had seen during four days of extraordinary luck with both the wine and the weather, I thought it safe to infer that the builders had in mind the same prescription against age and mortality once recommended by Dr. MacKenzie:

"How frequently have I, with great difficulty, persuaded patients who were never off my doorstep to take up golf, and how rarely, if ever, have I seen them in my consulting-rooms again!"

Orientation

The Algarve lies west of Spain at the southwestern tip of Europe. It averages three hundred sunny days a year. Fly into Lisbon or London and change planes to Faro, the provincial capital; Continental (800-525-0280), British Airways (800-247-9297) and TAP Air Portugal (800-221-7370) have connecting flights. For more info, visit www.algarve-golf.com or portugal.org, or call the Portuguese Golf Federation at 011-351-214-12-3780, or the Algarve Office of Tourism at 011-351-289-80-0400.

Where To Play

All of the Algarve's courses insist on proper dress and proof of competence (handicaps often no higher than twenty-eight for men and thirty-six for women). Most clubs don't supply caddies, but some will provide one with advance warning. Algarve Golfe (011-351-289-39-1030), a regional association, offers a thirty-day "passport" for reduced green fees at select courses; numerous hotels also offer discount golf packages.

San Lorenzo
Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo, 8135 Almancil.
T&L GOLF Rating: ****1/2
On the Quinta do Lago estate, the San Lorenzo is among the top courses in Europe. Par/Yardage: 72/6,822. Green fees: $117 public; $34 Dona Filipa and Penina guests. Architects: Joseph Lee and William Roquemore. Phone: 011-351-289-39-6522.

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Vilamoura
The Old Course, Vilamoura, 8125 Quarteira.
T&L GOLF Rating: ****
Host to the 1979 Portuguese Open, the classic design is situated over gently sloping hills, with pinewoods lining the narrow fairways. Par/Yardage: 73/6,839. Green fees: $85 public; $53 resort. Architect: Frank Pennink. Phone: 011-351-289-310-341.

Vale Do Lobo
Ocean and Royal courses, Vale do Lobo, 8135-864 Almancil.
T&L GOLF Rating: ***1/2 (Ocean)
T&L GOLF Rating: **** (Royal)
The Ocean's a tight, scenic layout; the Royal is set more inland and is more difficult. Par/Yardage: 71/5,932 (Ocean); 72/6,616 (Royal). Green fees: $75 (Ocean); $93 (Royal); lower for some resort guests. Architects: Ocean, Sir Henry Cotton; Royal, Sir Henry Cotton and William Roquemore. Phone: 011-351-289-39-3939.

Quinta Do Lago
Quinta do Lago Course, Quinta do Lago, 8135-024 Almancil.
T&L GOLF Rating: ***
Host to seven Portuguese Opens, the course winds through umbrella pines and around water hazards. Par/Yardage: 72/7,095. Green fees: $84 public; $55 resort. Architect: William Mitchell. Phone: 011-351-289-39-0700.

Palmares
Meia Praia, 8600 Lagos.
T&L GOLF Rating: ****
A combination of beach views and mountain landscapes makes it one of the more scenic courses. Par/Yardage: 71/6,519. Green fee: $47 public. Architect: Frank Pennink. Phone: 011-351-282-76-2953.

Penina
Le Meridien Penina Golf & Resort, 8501-952 Portimão.
T&L GOLF Rating: ***1/2
The Championship course was the first built in the Algarve. Par/Yardage: 73/7,042. Green fees: $72 public; $28 resort. Architect: Sir Henry Cotton. Phone: 011-351-282-42-0200.

Where To Stay

Most resorts have restaurants, swimming pools and tennis courts, and will book anything from tee times to massages. Prices vary by season, and promotional packages and discounts on golf are available.

Hotel Quinta Do Lago
Quinta do Lago, 8135-024 Almancil; 011-351-289-35-0350 (www.quintadolagohotel.com).
With 132 rooms and nine suites, this is luxury at its finest. Surrounded by 1,700 acres of forest, the hotel has a reserved beach area, a gym, a spa and baby-sitting. Rooms: $168-$355. Suites: $234-$1,871.

Hotel De Lagos
Rua Antonio Crisogonos dos Santos, 8600 Lagos; 011-351-282-76-9967.
This first-class hotel is set in its own gardens on three hilltop acres. Amenities include health club, live music and beach access. Rooms: $75-$123. Suites: $112-$171.

Le Meridien Dona Filipa
Vale do Lobo, 8136-901 Almancil; 011-351-289-35-7200.
Set on 450 acres, this is Vale do Lobo's flagship--tasteful furnishings and beautiful grounds. It has 154 rooms and a fabulous children's club. Rooms: $145-$350. Suites: $275-$1,400.

Le Meridien Penina Golf &Amp; Resort
8501-952 Portimão Codex, 011-351-282-42-0200.
The 196-room Penina is set between the old fishing town of Portimão and historic Lagos. Amenities include Penguin Village, a delight for children. Rooms: $99-$205. Suites: $178-$365.

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Where To Eat

Portugal is known for its seafood. You simply can't leave without sampling the sardines (charcoal grilled with sea salt) and tuna (grilled in thick steaks). Another regional specialty is white bean stew, a delicious combination of seafood, bacon, sausage and white beans. As for drink, be sure to sample the port, as well as the vinho verde (green wine).

Casa Velha
Quinta do Lago; 011-351-289-39-4983. $$$
Once a century-old farmhouse, it sits on a hillside overlooking a lake. Offerings include shellfish soup, smoked ham patanegre and rack of lamb.

Grill Sirius
Marinotel, Vilamoura, 8126-901 Quarteira Codex; 011-351-289-38-9988. $$$
This elegant drinking and dining establishment offers a variety of grilled fish and meats with a French emphasis.

Restaurant Ermitage
Estrada Almancil, Vale do Lobo; 011-351-289-39-4329. $$$$
This cozy place also occupies an old farmhouse. It serves international entrées such as open ravioli filled with lobster.

Sueste
Rua da Ribeira N91, Ferragudo, 8400 Lagos. 011-351-282-461-592. $$
Specializing in seafood, Sueste offers excellent grilled fish, as well as clams and shrimp doused in garlic sauce.

Other Activities

Horseback Riding: Many hotels will arrange rides for you. Also try Centro Hipico Pinetrees at 011-351-289-39-4369.

Beaches: In Vilamoura, Praia da Marina is at the Marinotel; the other is Praia da Falésia. Twenty-seven miles from Faro is Armação de Pêra.

Also: Fishing, waterskiing, windsurfing, sailing, scuba diving and hiking are available (ask at your hotel). And the Algarve is home to three casinos: Vilamoura, Monte Gordo and Praia da Rocha.

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