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Playing in Provence

Carla HarveyBy Carla Harvey,

PROVENCE, FRANCE -- Combine four rounds of golf with the course pro as your guide, with a luxurious barge cruising along French canals, accompanied by cordon bleu cooking, wine-tasting at Châteauneuf-du-Pape and visits to Avignon, Arles, Aigues-Mortes and Saintes-Maries de le Mer. Lead you to it? Step this way into the looking glass and to a spectacular week in Provence. For a holiday of contrasts, Golf-Cruise France is difficult to fault.

Richard Talagrand, a cosmopolitan Frenchman with flair, introduces you to the places that put Provence on the cultural map centuries ago. For his part, Captain Kevin Tickell guides his Saroche tranquilly through the canals and the unsullied vistas of the Camargue, complete with wild horses, black bulls and pink flamingos. Montpellier's coastal region encompasses the area where Golf-Cruise France activities take place. The golf courses are Massane, La Grande Motte, Nîmes Campagne and Servanes, all of which are within a short distance from historical towns and fabled vineyards.

A word about Saroche. The barge, a Dutch built vessel of 39.15 metres, accommodates six passengers in three, spacious en suite staterooms. There is a library and an admirably well-stocked bar. This Golf-Cruise holiday can be booked by a party of six or by double stateroom and the number of actual golfers is assumed to be anywhere from three upwards. Insofar as visits to sites are concerned, flexibility is paramount. Guests will not find themselves marched off to places they'd rather not go.

Prefer to stay in the split-level lounge/dining room or the garden lounge on deck (complete with fish pond), glass of vin rouge in hand and thriller on lap? So be it. But while you relax, keep an eye open to nature, for as author Shelley-Marie Cassidy pointed out in her book, 'A Moving Experience,' "This is an ornithologist's paradise. We cruise through the narrow inland salt lakes, home to white egrets, kingfishers, and the curiously named bee-catcher birds. The Camargue is the only place in France and one of the few places in the Mediterranean where the flamboyantly pink flamingos nest."

Whether you've spent the day golfing, sightseeing or loafing, aperitifs and dinner will be a series of palate-pleasing selections from Jodie the Chef. From a menu presented in the morning, everyone makes his/her choices. Shopping is done and the dishes prepared. The result could be perhaps scallops sautéed in cream and Irish whiskey, followed by stuffed shoulder of lamb Provençal with apricots and caramelised baby onions. To finish, some exotic combination of pastry, cream, fruit, etc. etc. There is no end to 'guest spoiling'. My own favourite was her fish soup Provence - style, savoured in the mind every day. But that was at lunchtime - another chapter altogether.

On the last evening of the cruise, Captain Kevin takes guests to a favoured restaurant ashore for a gala dinner. Richard has his preferred bistros and visitors may well find themselves seated at a bistro in Le Grau du Roi, savouring a fresh sea bass served simply flash grilled and accompanied by crunchy bread and a carafe of chilled, local rosé. Whoever noted that variety is the spice of life would nod in approval.

Variety is also reflected in the golf clubs. Golf de Montpellier-Massane was designed by American Ronald Fream. Cool, carp-filled lakes give pleasure to the viewer and occasional pain to the player, but they are undeniably the most important feature of the course. The Peugeot Golf Guide refers to the course as one which requires using clubs and brains to greatest capacity. Although Massane is fairly flat, it is not a course that rewards complacency. Bunkers and greens are interestingly varied in configuration and offer the most compelling bid for accurate play and a good short game.

David Leadbetter's system is in place at Massane and has proved popular with French players 'Pink Flamingos' (Les Flamants Roses) and 'Seagulls' (Les Goélands) are 18-hole championship courses at Golf de La Grande-Motte, designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior in the late '80s. At the same time, he laid out a 6-hole compact course - a great place to hone your game up before tackling the more demanding courses. Trent Jones used this lakeside location to best effect; the overall impression is reminiscent of Florida golf clubs. A wonderful variety of foliage predominates. 'Lush' is the best visual descriptor of this outstanding course and it is internationally known as a training base for serious players. La Grande-Motte is part of the Volvo annual tour in October. Playing your round with pro Alain Schneider will be a pleasure, as he is greatly and rightfully proud of this club.

Golf de Servanes is dramatic, cradled from the wicked mistral by cliffs and rocky outcrops above. It would come as no great surprise to see a Greek god thunder down upon the course, but as it stands, live entertainment is docile, consisting of impromptu performances by a former shepherd who lives in a cottage on the course. If asked nicely, he will come out to pipe on his flute and tap on his drum. He wears a Glenmuir cap and his walls are adorned with photographs taken of him in performance.

Servanes' location is in the stony foothills of the Alpilles range where undiluted Mediterranean natural surroundings are given additional character by the presence of an 18th century farmhouse adjacent to the clubhouse, itself a renovated oil mill. Golfers will not forget Servanes, for its savage beauty. The course itself is well structured and suitable for most levels of play. .

Ranked by a leading French golf magazine as one of the six best courses in France, Golf de Nîmes Campagne is a private course that welcomes guest players. It sits on 52 hectares of hilly, wooded land, where oaks and blue cypresses are always in motion when the windy season arrives. Strength is a virtue here: the course has long holes and the wind demands keeping balls low. There is an abundance of doglegs and water hazards are strategically placed. The pro here knows all of the angles and is a definite plus to play. All in all, Nîmes Campagne is a pleasure to play, or, as the Peugeot Golf Guide put it, "Like a lifelong friend.who never changes." The clubhouse is incredible - a noble structure complemented by good food and a friendly atmosphere.

To find out more about booking Golf-Cruise-France, contact Richard Talagrand
Golf & Cruise France, Ltd.
Suite 2, 200 Rue du Fenouil,
30240 Le Grau du Roi, France
Tel 33 (0) 466-514-468
E-mail: golf.cruise.france@wanadoo.fr
Web: http://www.zeeoo.com/gcf

Golf Clubs

Golf de la Grande-Motte
Avenue du Golf
Tel 04-675-60500
Fax 04-672-91884
34260 La Grande-Motte
e-mail fmotte@mnet.fr

Golf Massane
Domaine de Massane
34670 Baillargues
Tel 04-678-78787
Fax 04-678-78790
e-mail massane@softel.fr

Golf Nimes-Campagne
Route de Saint-Gilles
30900 Nimes
Tel 04-667-01737
Fax 04-667-00314

Golf de Servanes
13890 Mouries
Tel 04-904-75995

For a story on barge cruising, read 'A Moving Experience' by Shelley-Marie Cassidy, photography Grant Sheehan, published by Phantom House.

Carla Harvey freelances for various magazines in Spain and abroad. Among them are Mediterranean Life, Essential, The Reporter and Lookout Magazine. She was the editor of Marbella Times for five years and WHERE Costa del Sol for two years.

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