The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.” That catchy old ditty from My Fair Lady danced through my head as I prepared to tee up on the first hole of Altea Golf Club, a lovely 9-hole course sandwiched between the Sierra Bernia Mountains and the sparkling Mediterranean Sea.
It was a blue-sky, sun-drenched November day, the kind tourism promoters promise when they tout the more than 300 days of annual sunshine on Spain’s Costa Blanca — the “White Coast.” Golf is played here all year-round, thanks to an average annual temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with mild winters, hot summers and just over 12 inches of average annual rainfall.
Golf plus culinary delights
The moderate climate and a reputation for offering value attracts scads of northern Europeans — notably Scandinavians, Dutch, Germans, Brits, Irish and French — who flock to this popular golf destination on Spain’s east coast. Top-notch beaches, history and cultural attractions, and culinary delights, from fresh orange juice and almond nougat to paella and Sangria, entertain visitors between rounds.
“This is like the Florida of Spain,” observed Pablo Rivas, general manager of Club Altea, describing the Costa Blanca region as a “second home” for Norwegians and other cold-averse European snowbirds.
His busy Altea Golf Club, with its hilly terrain, pine tree-lined fairways and double tees that extend the nine-hole track to 18, was the perfect start to our five-day, small-group golf getaway to Costa Blanca courses generally not on Americans’ radar.
Club Altea’s upper-deck café, with stunning terrace views, also introduced us to paella, Spain’s iconic national dish. Served in big, round steel pans, the saffron-colored rice casserole with vegetables and various combinations of meat or seafood, was born in Valencia, 80 miles north.
Overall, the Valencia region, which includes Alicante and the Costa Blanca, stretches roughly 125 miles, with 23 courses and 28 hotels represented through the Costa Blanca Golf consortium. Many of the hotels, including Dona Monse Hotel (with views of Torrevieja Pink Salt Lagoon), offer multi-course, stay-and-play options for golf groups, large and small.
Affordable Alicante region
Karl Herssens, of the Dublin-based golf tour operator, Golfbreaks.ie, said he was pleasantly surprised by the quality and affordability of Alicante-area courses he played last November, when I met him. He has since arranged trips there for some 200 golfers, in groups ranging from two to 40, though there’s room for more, he said. Ground packages include accommodations, golf, transfers, club rental and more; airfare typically is on your own.
“Alicante is still a relatively unknown region, which offers some fantastic golf courses at a great price point,” Herssens said. “Whether it’s a group of older golfers looking to enjoy the golf and experience some of the culture, or a group of younger people looking to enjoy the nightlife, there is something for everyone.”
The 18-hole Hotel Alicante Golf course, designed by legendary Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros, is popular, Herssens said. The course measures 6,820 yards from the tips.
“The design of the holes and strategically-placed bunkers and water hazards require you to think your way around the golf course,” Herssens said. “I’ve had a few groups staying there, and they all enjoyed the fact that the course is on-site and there are plenty of nice bars and restaurants close by.”
The tram beside the hotel is a plus for exploring local attractions, including Alicante city center, beaches and the mountaintop Santa Barbara Castle, with amazing views over the bay. One of Spain’s largest medieval fortresses, it served as a prison during the Spanish Civil War.
Lo Romero, a lush former orchard with back tees stretching 6,821 yards, was our group’s favorite. With a memorable island green, its signature hole, the par-4 18th, provides an entertaining, often dramatic finish for golfers and spectators alike.
“The value for money is incredible,” Herssens said of the well-maintained layout with eight lakes and 57 bunkers.
Offering varied golf experiences for all skill levels, other courses in the southern Alicante region that welcome group tours include Alenda, Bonalba, El Plantio, Vistabella and La Marquesa, whose clubhouse terrace cafe serves a killer brownie.
El Saler and Valencia
My personal favorite course, farther north near the cosmopolitan city of Valencia, was El Saler. The challenging, championship track on the grounds of Parador de El Saler is part of Spain’s network of upscale, government-run hotels in former castles, monasteries and other special places.
Set along the Mediterranean coast and winding past Albufera Nature Preserve’s pine trees, the windswept 18-hole track, with 90-plus bunkers and large difficult greens, is ranked among the best in Spain and all of Europe. Stretching 6,950 yards from the tips, it was conquered by Bernhard Langer, whose course record-62 at the 1984 Spanish Open still stands, according to a wooden plaque near the first hole.
With a fine restaurant, seasonal pool and spa, the contemporary parador is located 11 miles from Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, which is simultaneously hip and historic. Take time from golf to explore its attractions, from the Santiago Calatrava-designed City of Arts and Sciences, a futuristic cultural complex with an eye-shaped IMAX theater/planetarium and Europe’s largest aquarium, to the 13th-century Valencia Cathedral in Old Town. In an elaborate side chapel, under glass, sits the Holy Grail, recognized by the Vatican as the legendary chalice Christ used at the Last Supper. A quick prayer might help your golf game.
Heading to Costa Blanca?
With numerous international flights and connections, the Alicante and Valencia airports provide easy access to Costa Blanca. For golf and travel information, check golfcostablanca.org, spain.info and parador.es.
Article by Susan R. Pollack