At the magical, elegantly rural Terre Blanche Golf Club, scents of lavender, mimosa and thyme mingle just 45 minutes from the Nice Côte d’Azur airport on the French Riviera. Golfers of all levels and challenges flock to this sunbathed, wooded summit where the 2012 French Riviera Masters (European Senior Tour) is scheduled.
Before passionate golfers, including Sir Sean Connery, assembled on the grand oak, cypress and Mediterranean pine studded hillsides at Terre Blanche, this quiet, inland corner of Provence known as the “Arrière Pays” (back country) was known for Fayence pottery – from the local authentic medieval village of Fayence – village markets, olive groves and sprawling vineyards that dot the limestone hills.
Connery and his wife, Micheline Roquebrune, whose family is native to the non-developed region, purchased the storybook setting in 1979. The vast 741,000-acre “Domaine” (it’s the size of Monaco!) links the mountains to the sea and boasts an extraordinary landscape complete with sloping hills, forest, lakes and rivers.
Connery was so passionate about golf that he hoped to build his dream golf course and 1,000 homes on his 300-hectare estate. The celebrated star’s dream went unfulfilled, and after selling it to a business tycoon who went bankrupt, it was purchased by German billionaire Dietmar Hopp in 1999. Hopp developed the luxurious, ultra-hospitable, Four Seasons Resort Provence at Terre Blanche which opened in 2004.
A porte-cochère fronted contemporary main building houses art-filled public spaces. Meandering walkways lead to 115 suites in fewer than 50 stone-walled, terracotta-tiled, ochre-colored villas. Each light-filled accommodation has high ceilings, views and décor touched by texture: wood, stone, rattan and woven fabrics topped with high-tech amenities.
The two Dave Thomas-designed championship 18-hole, par-72 courses also made their début at the Terre Blanche Golf Club that year and are considered among Europe’s most prestigious. "Le Château" Golf Course is ranked 18th in [ital]Golf World’s top 100 courses in continental Europe for 2011. This 21,000-foot championship course is the venue for the Terre Blanche Ladies Open (part of the Ladies European Tour Access Series). It challenges ambitious golfers with its jagged-edged bunkers, splendid water obstacles and greens and flag positions. The hilly and more technical "Le Riou" course overlooks an ancient nearby village. This course is a bit shorter (19,700 feet), demands strategy and precision and is reserved for club members and guests plus resort guests. Both courses require a 35 handicap.
Terre Blanche recreational facilities feature a huge pool deck adjacent to a 6,458-square-foot infinity pool, a whirlpool and children’s pool. The club’s unique high-tech Albatros Golf Performance Center offers a dedicated place to practice and perfect each aspect of the game and is the first training center ever to hold the European Tour Performance Institute status. The two-story facility has indoor putting greens, 64 practice mats over two floors and heated training areas plus chipping greens. The comprehensive training center features a David Leadbetter Golf Academy, TaylorMade showroom and pro shop and Biomecaswing Sport Performance Center where scientific biomechanic knowledge combines the laws of mechanics and anatomy to help each player achieve top performance.
Golf packages include superior suite accommodations, an American breakfast for two and two green fees per night for either course. (Non-golfing partners substitute a spa treatment.) Green fees include golf cart with GPS, bottled water, access to a beverage cart and the Albatros Golf Performance Center (with two buckets of balls) plus golf club maintenance. Of course, even the most devoted golfer has to eat and, in my humble opinion, food doesn’t get better than in Provence.
Chef Franck Ferigutti, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (the highest award a French chef can attain) took the reins as Chef des Cuisines at the resort’s restaurant Faventia. Before arriving at this prestigious kitchen in April 2012, Ferigutti created gourmet treasures in world famous Michelin-starred restaurants: La Pyramide and Au Casino le Lyon Vert in Geneva and Casablanca and as a partner with Paul Bocuse. At Terre Blanche, where the emphasis has always been on fresh, local and seasonal ingredients, the bevy of Provençal bounty includes truffles, tapenade and Mediterranean seafood. Even the luncheon buffet delights with its extravagant fresh choices.
I visited Terre Blanche in 2004, shortly after it opened and again, more recently, to experience and write about its magnificent stand-alone 35,000-square-foot spa facility, set among terraces and gardens overlooking the golf course. The entry to the two-story lobby inspires a jaw-drop when the 79-foot, indoor lap pool topped by a cathedral-like, vaulted ceiling comes into view. A serene ambiance prevails in the state-of-the-art gym, a Zen studio where fitness classes and private sessions are held, ice fountains, an indoor dry-heat room known as a Laconeum and a steam room, which the French call Hammam, plus a jet-strewn vitality pool. Upstairs, there are his/hers locker rooms and 14 treatment rooms – all equipped with showers, hydraulic beds and heated blankets.
The two VIP or couple’s suites feature double whirlpool baths, steam showers and private terraces with outdoor cabanas (for services in temperate weather). In France, where beauty is paramount, skin care is a cherished tradition and guests enjoy a vast menu of skin, nail and hair services.
Off campus, the cobblestone-street villages of Callian, Tourrettes and Fayence (within 15 minutes) offer cafés with views of 15th-century sites plus charming shops and morning markets. Grasse (30 minutes) is home to perfume and the Musée Fragonard within an elegant 18th-century villa.
Four Seasons Resort Provence at Terre Blanche combines an intense attention to detail, the riches of the region and the Four Seasons management savvy and preoccupation with treating the client with warmth and as king. In fall of 2012, Four Seasons will cease managing the resort. I am confident that Terre Blanche Management will maintain its high standards and guest-first priority.
Trips by car from Terre Blanche
Saint Tropez ranks first among my favorite small towns along the Cote d’Azur and it’s only 40 miles, a magnificent hour’s drive from Terre Blanche. This café-clustered port enjoys a reputation among the rich and famous who arrive on mega-yachts, helicopters or private jets. It’s a pedestrian friendly village with a palpable playfulness in the sea air. A visit there is topped by seeing a treasure trove of paintings hanging within the Musée de l’Annonciade, once a tiny, seaside chapel. Amid paintings by Bonnard and Matisse, one by Paul Signac – a local resident – hangs next to the window-shaped opening and captures that very view on canvas. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the scent of rotisserie chickens and herb-infused pizza emanates from the marché at Place des Lices. “St Trop” is famous for Bardot, beaches and Hotel Byblos where red clay tile roofs and pastel-painted walls provide the backdrop. The intimate enclave lures celebrities and those who celebrate l’art de vivre with fine dining, luxe rooms and a hip nightlife. The Hotel Byblos shuttle transports its guests to the hip beaches in Ramatuelle.
ARTISTS AND MUSEUMS
Artists – among them Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, Renoir and Signac – were attracted to the vibrant luminescence along the French Riviera. The beau monde chased the scenery and sunlight and the Cote d’Azur became one of the most desirable destinations in the world. For art aficionados, it’s Mecca, worthy of a pilgrimage. St. Paul de Vence, home to the Foundation Maeght, is one of Europe’s best modern art collections with Braque, Miro, Kadinsky, Matisse, Bonnard. In Vence, Matisse decorated stained glass windows at the Chapelle du Rosaire to thank the nuns there who nursed him back to health. Renoir fans will want to schedule time to visit his small home nearby in Cagnes-sur-Mer where recognizable props – but no original paintings – are displayed in the artist’s studio. Picasso enthusiasts flock to Musee Picasso in Antibes.
Driving to or from the airport, Nice is worth the stop, particularly for Musée Matisse and Musée Chagall and a drive along the beachfront Promenade des Anglais. In Cannes, the seafront Boulevard de la Croisette is lined with majestic palace hotels and haute couturier designer boutiques. The concierge will advise about the sporadic museum schedules and make the very necessary lunch reservations for the fine, Michelin-starred restaurants near them.
For more information, visit www.terre-blanche.com.
Irvina Lew is a Francophile who studied at The University of Paris, Sorbonne, taught French for 30 years and travels to France as often as possible. The French Riviera is her favorite destination.