Montecastillo Hotel and Golf Resort has come of age.
Like many things that start out well, its further development has been positive and productive. At present, it is one of the best facilities in Spain, providing a championship course geared to both professionals and fair to middling players, and a resort that caters to golfers and non-players alike with quiet excellence.
The setting is stunning. Located a few kilometres east of Jerez de la Frontera, Montecastillo is in the country far from the buzz of city life. Even during Volvo Masters week, the surroundings maintain a serenity rarely seen in Andalucia.
Valderrama has it, but the commodity is rare, for in this part of the world, people are uninhibited and give voice to their pleasure in living. Oliver Günter (Public Relations) agrees that this is a place where people come to wind down, to enjoy wide expanses of green area not only on, but also off the course itself.
Assisting guests in their shedding of stress, a sparkling new fitness centre opened recently. Designed with the finesse that has become characteristic of Montecastillo, the centre is much more than token gesture to relaxation. From the heated indoor pool overlooking the course, to physiotherapy for sports injuries, to laser treatments, hydrotherapy, anti-stress treatments and full medical consultations relating to all specialist care and recuperation, the new centre is state-of-the-art in facilities.
A fully equipped gymnasium as well as steam and dry saunas are under the same roof.
Prior to all this luxuriating, take up the clubs and play a round; then enjoy the post-golf pampering. Designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 1992, Montecastillo is a pleasantly undulating course with marvellous fairways and ferocious roughs. Employ all within your power to stay out of them. If you can't manage that, do either a lot of praying or cursing depending on your state of grace.
Not only can you pick up lots of strokes (I have spent what seemed like entire days in these roughs and have trotted around following the best players in the world, adding to their scores by doing so), but also because of the particular variety of grass, losing balls is incredibly easy. Last but not least, getting back to the sumptuous paradise of the fairways demands considerable talent.
Among several outstanding holes, is the 10th which presents a formidable second shot with the lake coaxing you into its depths on one side of the fairway and olive trees beckoning on the other. (Two-hundred and forty new olives were planted at Montecastillo last year, adding both beauty and difficulty to the course.)
Nicklaus designed several holes with raised tees - he said that he liked to see what he was getting. Of these, the spectacular 18 th is the most dramatic of them. It is set 30-some yards above a stupendous sweep of fairway beckoning players up to the 19th hole.
Pin positions determine how good a time putters have on the greens. During my last visit, pins were placed as they had been during the Volvo Masters, providing the 'AVE' group competition players with considerable challenge. Lakes and numerous impeccably kept bunkers add to interest.
Home to the Volvo Masters for the past four years and for at least the next two, the Andalucia Open and Turespaña Masters have been played here on more than one occasion. Montecastillo is also host to smaller tournaments, many of which held their finals here in 2000. 'Puegot', 'Ford', 'Honda' and 'BMW' have all taken advantage of the various golf packages available.
Among popular packages are those running from one-night packages (convenient for players coming down from Madrid, Barcelona, etc. for a weekend game, priced at approximately 140 Euros), to seven night stays. The latter includes welcome cocktails, accommodation, buffet breakfasts (these are superb), two dinners, a visit to a local wine cellar and six Green fees. (March and April are excluded from this offer.) Green fee per person to hotel clients is 39.1 Euros; for the general public it is 60.1 Euros.
Adjacent to the hotel and course is 'Las Villas'. These town houses provide alternative accommodation and the privacy of a lounge. During the high season (here, high season is May, October and special dates), a double room with lounge is 240.40 Euros.
There is much that demands to be seen within a short distance of the golf club. Before venturing outside however, be sure to visit the club bar. The outside terrace is comfortable and unpretentious, a place to spend an hour or two at ease, while the bar inside the castle, dating from early last century, has an indisputably Andalucian identity.
Jerez is part of what is known as the 'sherry triangle' and Montecastillo's golf bar reflects the relationship. Sherry barrels and a succulent selection of Spanish 'tapas' establish a welcoming atmosphere; the friendly bar staff adds to it. If sherry leaves you cold, be comforted by the fact that Jerez has a soft spot for Munich and honoured the city during one of its famous harvest festivals. German beer has been flowing here ever since.
Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda are the three points of the aforementioned sherry triangle. All are easily accessible from Montecastillo. A truly cosmopolitan city, Jerez has links with England going back to the first barrels of wine (how better to form a lasting relationship?), and most of its people speak English.
'Fiesta' is the city's middle name and its night life is memorable. Nearby, El Puerto boasts wide sandy beaches and a cornucopia of shellfish restaurants along the famous Ribera de Marisco. Slightly to the north, Sanlúcar is a town of venerable monuments, horse-racing on the beach in August and fish houses along the Bajo de Guia. It is situated on the Guadalquivir river directly across from Spain's treasure natural preserve, Coto Doñana.
In short, Montecastillo's location is favourable for those who love a good game, fine Spanish wines and delicious food. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can bestow upon the hotel and its grounds is this: it is a five-star hotel that manages to behave as if it were home.
Montecastillo Crta.de Arcos
Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz,
Tel: 956 151200
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