Spain - Golf swings and sherry in the sun
A golfing enthusiast in Mayo rolled out of bed at 1am after a few hours' sleep, dressed, had a porridge breakfast, put a travelling case and his golf clubs into the car and drove to Galway. There he stepped on to the airport bus to Dublin and at 6.30am, as the city was coming to life, he was greeted in the departure lounge by his fellow travellers. Within an hour, this resolute brotherhood was flying south to Seville and travelling on by coach to the Iberostar Novo Sancti Petri complex, a magnificent golf and holiday resort in Chiclana, about 30km south of Cadiz.
The dedication of golfers to their sporting passion knows no bounds.
But frequently there is more to these trips than birdies and bogeys, slices and sockets, mulligans and mis-hits. In the company of a group of over 50 from many parts of Ireland, not all golfers, a full day was thoroughly enjoyed away from the fairways and in the heart of Jerez, a prosperous and expanding city that involved 'enotourism' or places where wines and distilled beverages are produced. And it was in the Williams & Humbert bodega, founded in 1877, that we spent over an hour walking through the cellars, hearing about the processes that turn grape into sherry, and then sitting down to pass judgment on a number of the products (and well before the sun was over the yardarm!).
What was even more interesting was the tale of William Garvey Power, an aristocrat born in 1756 at New Ross in Wexford, to Patrick Garvey Shortall and Mary Power. He arrived in Cadiz in 1776 in search of merino rams to mate with his father's ewes, but the story goes that his boat was wrecked in a dreadful storm in the bay and he was rescued by a Spanish naval captain, Rafael Gomez, whose daughter nursed him back to health at their home in Puerto Real.
Not surprisingly, he fell for Sebastiana Gomez Jiminez and married her in 1794, had two children and never returned to Ireland - although he apparently did send the sheep - moving to Sanlucar as a general merchant, but later taking a serious interest in wine. At 38, and now wealthy, he moved to Jerez and built the biggest bodega in the city, which he called 'Bodega San Patricia' after his native country's patron saint. The business is still thriving.
We moved on to the Como Bailan Los Caballos Andaluces, which can probably best be described as equestrian ballet with choreographies based on the traditional and cowboy methods of taming wild horses, augmented by wonderful Spanish music. It has much in common with dressage, and some of the Spanish riders have been very successful in the Olympic Games. Repeated five times weekly, the show lasts about 90 minutes.
The magnificent indoor hall is situated beside the palace of the Recreo de las Cadenes which was designed by Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera House and the casino at Monte Carlo. It is worth a visit, as are the gardens and an equestrian art museum. The principal benefactor was Alvaro Domecq, an aristocrat, one-time bullfighter and sherry magnate, who fathered 19 children, 14 of whom died at childbirth.
Music was also central at our next rendezvous, which followed a light lunch in a mini-theatre-cum bar. As the lights dimmed, the first gentle click of foot on floor could be heard and, slowly, with ever-increasing tempo, we were introduced to the emotional intensity of flamenco dancing. It was, I learned later, Flamenco Puro, a form that is closest to its Gitano (Roma) influences, improvised rather than choreographed with the dance always performed solo.
While the volume of the singing at times almost numbed the senses, the grace, poise and sensuousness of the dancers was stimulating, as well as the rhythmic stamping of the feet. The general reaction from the Irish audience on the coach later seemed to be split, some no doubt influenced by their Riverdance days.
Also worth a visit is Cadiz, a 25-minute drive from Novo Sancti Petri. To get a feel for the locality and its people, though, I decided to take a bus; or two, as it turned out. The first brought me to the city of Chiclana, a rapidly expanding home to 80,000 people, followed by another to Cadiz, where I immediately hopped on the Red Bus to get a feel for a city that was founded by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC and is almost surrounded by water.
It took less than an hour, at which stage I was acquainted with all the major sights and as the city is relatively small, I was then able to reach all my destinations on foot. The most outstanding is the Holy Cross Cathedral, a mix of Baroque and Neoclassical styles with several cultural heritage exhibits and many unparalleled works of art.
If you are energetic and adventurous, you can hire a Segway PT near the cathedral, but two or three hours' strolling, with an occasional break in the multitude of excellent cafes noted for their seafood, will encompass the most attractive landmarks.
For the dedicated golfers, though, home is a 36-hole complex, Real Novo Sancti Petri Golf Club, a five minute stroll from the four-star Iberostar Royal Andalus which adjoins eight kilometres of sandy beach on the edge of the Atlantic. And in late October, there was absolutely no pain plunging into the high rollers.
The course architect, undertaking his first project in Spain in 1990, was Severiano Ballesteros. Initially he created 27 holes and a further nine were added in 2000. "It has its own personality and demands intelligence and skill," he said. "The wind is one of its greatest risks and you need dexterity to deal with it." So you have been warned by the late, great man himself, but as the weather in the south of Spain differs somewhat from that on Ireland's coast, the problem seldom arises.
Besides two courses which are ideal for holiday golf with a par of 72, the complex provides a par three course, three driving ranges, six short game areas, video swing analysis, Trackman, Ping club fitting - and PGA teaching professionals. If you are a multi-talented sports person, there are 11 tennis courts and a recently laid croquet lawn. Nearby, you can hire racing bikes and get in some early training for the 2018 Vuelta!
The hotel itself is modern and spacious, of exceptional design, with all the facilities that a tourist would demand, allied to quality cuisine.
Noted in the Spa brochure is an item, 'Gold Therapy', which provides "maximum glamour and sophistication. Wrap your skin in a subtle nutrient-rich veil of gold while gentle pressure is applied with bags of energy stone. Accompanied by the sensory experience of a Baobab of cranial capillary massage".
I'm still wondering if any of the lads were tempted.
Adhamhnan was a guest of Killester Travel in Spain. He flew by Ryanair to Seville and travelled to Chiclana by coach.
He stayed at the four-star Iberostar Royal Andalus in Chiclana and was also a guest of the Iberostar Real Novo Sancti Petri Golf Club.
Iberostar Royal Andalus in Chiclana and the Iberostar Real Novo Sancti Petri Golf Club
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