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Golf travel: Lisbon always offers a warm welcome - no matter the weather

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BASED on previous golfing experiences in Lisbon, the heavy rain and leaden grey skies came as a great surprise; the warm and helpful welcome from its people did not.

This is an area with an abundance of quality golf courses, rich in cultural history, and teeming with top resorts and restaurants – and the pride that all Lisboans feel is manifest in its customer service.

The second hole at Royal Obidos.

The second hole at Royal Obidos.

So it was that a member of Dolce CampoReal's staff, affronted by the sodden conditions, returned to us every couple of holes on the Donald Steel-designed layout to provide fresh, dry towels, apologise for the inclement conditions, and help us search for lost golf balls.

Even a curtain of rain could not disguise that this was an exceptional course, blind shots adding to its challenge as its holes rose and fell between wooded valleys, a feeling of seclusion adding to its appeal.

The sun made its customary appearance the following day at the renowned Praia D'El Rey resort, which served up further proof of Lisbon's pre-eminence as a golfing destination.

Here is an enticing blend of opposites: the player goes from being buffeted by the elements on its links holes to being cocooned on parkland turf, the roar of the Atlantic deadened by a forest of pine trees.

Two of its short holes highlight the contrasts. The eighth carries echoes of the famous 12th at Augusta, played across water from elevated tees to a green that is narrow from front to back, but wide from east to west.

The 11th is an uphill hole, surrounded by bushes and with a green shaped like a quotation mark that narrows almost to trolley width, and gives the impression it is auditioning for a part in an Open championship.

Whether playing over the topiaried bushes at the fifth or under the unblinking gaze of the derelict fishermen's houses that border the 14th, the golfer is aware that Praia D'El Rey is something special.

Bom Sucesso, another Donald Steel creation, also offers glimpses of the Atlantic albeit from a distance as the ocean forms part of the spectacular landscape on view from its 15th and 17th holes, as does Ilha das Berlengas, an island bird sanctuary.

On-course birdies may be less plentiful than those under protection on Berlengas, but Bom Sucesso is a fine test of golf presented within an area of both natural and man-made beauty.

The tumbling, turning fairway of the second, for instance, takes you to a green protected by water and overlooked by a tiered garden feature like a miniature Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

On the final stretch of holes the player's concentration levels will be tested not only by the challenge offered by holes 17 and 18 in particular but also in terms of his or her ability to ignore the views; this golfer failed the latter test, so glorious is the panorama.

Royal Obidos is the last course designed by five-times major champion Seve Ballesteros before his sad and premature death. He promised golfers and investors "a great and wonderful place" on Portugal's Silver Coast and the Spaniard was true to his word.

Fashioned on land between the Atlantic Ocean and Obidos Lagoon, Seve also made extensive use of water as a potential hazard on several holes of a beautifully sculpted course. Dog-legs in both directions abound as he looks to reward the player who can shape the ball either left to right or right to left.

A delightful course sees both nines brought to a spectacular conclusion; the 9th a 376-yard par-4 and the 18th a 540-yard par-5. The latter is played out under the watchful gaze of people in the adjacent clubhouse, although the ocean and lagoon may draw the majority of their attention unless you hole a particularly impressive final putt.

If you do not, perhaps a quiet moment of contemplation is required at the Alcobaca Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site whose architecture has impressed for almost a thousand years.

Or forget about it with a post-round spell on the beach at Nazare, a busy fishing town best viewed at night from atop the cliffs that are reached by riding on its fenicular.

As with Alcobaca, history abounds at the mediaeval fortress town of Obidos, a place teeming with beguiling bookshops and home to a restaurant that is paradise to this bibliophile and gastronome, The Literary Man.

Lighted columns arch up towards the ceiling of a room that is part library, part living room, part restaurant. All of its walls have shelves laden with books and were I to spend my life divided between golf courses and here, I would assume my silent prayers uttered at the Alcobaca Monastery had been answered.

Chris Stratford is a member of the International Golf Travel Writers' Association.

He stayed at Dolce CampoReal hotel, Bom Sucesso Design Resort and Royal Obidos Spa & Golf Resort.

www.dolce.com/camporeal/

www.praia-del-rey.com/en/

www.bomsucesso.net/

www.royalobidosgolf.pt/en/

www.areiasdoseixo.com/en/hotel-overview.html

www.theliteraryman.pt/en/