Golf in France used to be a remote and foreign thought. Not anymore. Following the 2011 announcement that the 2018 Ryder Cup would be contested in the suburbs of Paris, French golf is suddenly de rigueur. Although France is also home to solid European Tour players and an LPGA major (the Evian Championship), its golf identity is best revealed in a tour of its unexpectedly alluring courses. Golf in France offers surprising accessibility, good value and memorable scenery—and that's before you take in the country's monumental attractions. Dreaming about a rope-side seat at the Ryder Cup this September and an ice-cold Kronenbourg at a sublime sidewalk cafe? Allez!
Île de France (Paris and surrounds)
Paris and its suburbs are blessed with a superb collection of forested Golden Age courses, among them Chantilly, Fontainebleau and the exclusive Morfontaine, ranked No. 45 among our Top 100 Courses in the World. But the one course that visitors to France absolutely must seek out was built barely 30 years ago. Home of the French Open and the venue for this September's Ryder Cup, Le Golf National's Albatros course is located in Guyancourt, near Versailles, some 50 minutes by car southwest of the City of Light. Just beware its glittery seduction. Albatros is big, bold and modern, and its daunting length (7,300 yards), stadium-style hillsides and thrilling closing stretch (which includes two island greens over the final four holes) may leave you unlucky in love.
Don't bother returning from Paris until you've toured the Eiffel Tower and Louvre. It's adventure travel of the headiest type, bucket list items that must be checked. Beyond the Big Two, Paris overwhelms with cultural enticements, from peerlessly romantic cafes to globally renowned restaurants and hotels. For the true classics, you won't go wrong with a cocktail or coffee at Les Deux Magots or Café de la Paix, or a stay at the centrally located Le Meurice, part of the Dorchester Collection that overlooks the Tuileries Garden. On the Champs-Elysees, steps from the Arc de Triomphe, Hotel Barriere Le Fouquet's Paris is ideal. Its legendary, 119-year-old brasserie enjoyed a spiffy 2017 renovation. Just steps in the other direction is the Laduree pastry shop, home to the tastiest, most melt-in-your-mouth macarons in France. And if you have extra time or an extra-rainy day, Notre Dame, the Musee d' Orsay and exploring the Marais district are must-dos.
Closer to Le Golf National, the prime attraction is the Palace of Versailles, the magnificently preserved 1680s home of Louis XIV. Highlights include the Hall of Mirrors, the Grand Trianon and thousands of acres of gardens. If hunger hits, ORE by Alain Ducasse will satisfy, and then some.
On the lodging front, the Trianon Palace Hotel in Versailles offers dozens of good reasons to never leave your hotel. This superior Waldorf Astoria property is soothing relief after dueling with nearby Le Golf National, thanks to its Guerlain Spa and Gordon Ramsey cuisine.
Back at Le Golf National, twenty minutes south of Versailles, the recently refurbished, on-site Novotel St. Quentin Golf National Hotel is the ultimate in convenience to the Ryder Cup venue.
Two hours west of Paris and home to gorgeous seaside resorts and rolling countryside dotted with apple orchards, Normandy also holds special fascination for World War II buffs. Start in the charming town of Deauville and play Golf Barriere de Deauville, a handsome, 27-hole parkland layout that dates to the 1920s. It hosted the French Open in 1931 and 1956. Golfers seeking to pay their military respects should salute the 36-hole Omaha Beach Golf Club in Port en Bessin. Each hole on the Mer ("Sea") course is named for an Allied commander. The 475-yard, par-4 sixth hole, honoring U.S. General Omar Bradley, overlooks the D-Day (June 6, 1944) landing beaches.
Museums and monuments dot the Normandy coast, one to two hours south of Deauville. The most comprehensive is the Caen Memorial Museum, which brilliantly covers the run-up to the war and the war itself with videos and exhibits. Equally impressive and moving is the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer. Perched on a bluff above Omaha Beach, its 9,387 white marble headstones, memorial and reflecting pool, chapel and Garden of the Missing are simple, sober testimonies to the ultimate sacrifice.
For lighter fare, Deauville itself is an idyllic beach town. Long ago, its light and colors made it a magnet for impressionist painters; today, it's home to quaint shops and restaurants, legendary horse racing and an impressive film festival. An apple tart dessert and a sip of apple-based Calvados brandy are musts.
Deauville boasts three Lucien Barriere Hotel properties that offer something for everyone. Hotel du Golf dates to 1929 and, though inland, is perfectly situated next to the Deauville golf course. Playing the final hole on the White nine, you could easily snag an hors d'oeuvre from the plate of an unsuspecting hotel guest. Closer to town is the Normandy, its Norman exteriors and cozy interiors best known for its scenes in the Oscar-winning 1966 French film, A Man and a Woman. The finest rooms, decor and beach access belong to the Royal Barriere Hotel.
One hour west of Deauville lies Rouen, the perfect halfway stopping point to Paris. Monet memorialized its famous Gothic cathedral in a series of paintings. More infamous is the spot in the old town that discreetly recognizes where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431. More festive is the surrounding open-air market and enticing shops.
A final side trip—and a must for art lovers—is the one-hour drive southeast of Rouen to Giverny, where you can take in the genius of Claude Monet at his house and gardens. If you're impressed by the best of the Impressionists, you'll encounter much of Monet's subject matter, from water lilies and the Japanese footbridge that spanned his pond, to the rowboat he puttered around in.
Famous for Bordeaux and its remarkable wine-producing districts, and, to the south, for its fashionable seaside resort of Biarritz, this region rolls out many first-rate courses that often mix wooded terrain with native sand dunes, including Seignosse, Moliets and Chiberta, a favorite of Jose Maria Olazabal. Perhaps the courses that best celebrate the local product are Golf du Medoc Resort's Chateaux, designed by Bill Coore, or its Rod Whitman design, the Vines, where painted wine bottles serve as the 150-yard markers. A new star on the horizon, pending maturity, is three-year-old Grand Saint-Emilionnais, from Renaissance Design, near Bordeaux.
History fans will warm to Biarritz Le Phare, a par-69 track in the heart of town that dates to 1888, as well as to Chantaco, a Harry Colt design near the Spanish border that is home to the Lacoste family—Catherine, still the only amateur ever to win the U.S. Women's Open (in 1967), and her father, René, the legendary French tennis star of the 1920s, whose nickname, "the Crocodile," led to the creation of one of the greatest logos in the annals of sports apparel.
Bordeaux and superior wine-tasting are practically synonymous. Not all of the Big 5—Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Latour—are available for tours and tastings, but many other acclaimed vintners will show and sell their fabulous reds, including Chateau Guadet, in the utterly captivating ancient town of St. Emilion, and Chateau du Tertre, in Arsac, north of Bordeaux.
Biarritz bursts with Basque coast colors and flavors, from its surfing beaches and all-encompassing Les Halles market to its remarkable Hôtel du Palais. Overlooking the Bay of Biscay, the hotel was constructed as a villa by Napoleon III in 1855, and its royal heritage shines throughout.
River cruises are an ideal way to take in the attractions of Bordeaux and beyond. Floating in luxury along the Gironde Estuary, formed by the confluence of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, is a kick-back celebration of the good life. Industry leader Kalos Golf employs the AmaWaterways ship AmaDolce as a gateway to golf, wine-tasting, truffle-hunting and exploring medieval castles.
Better known to locals as the Cote d'Azur, the French Riviera is renowned for its celebrity visitors, especially during May, when the Cannes Film Festival turns the region into the Hollywood of Europe. The Riviera is also home to a variety of Tour-quality courses, both modern and classic. Monte Carlo Golf Club, where Monaco's royalty plays, dates to 1911. The hilly, mountaintop design overlooking the Mediterranean has played host to many PGA European Tour events, as has Cannes Mougins, where winners have included Seve Ballesteros and Ian Woosnam. Among the most challenging courses in France is Royal Mougins, with its sloping greens and multiple water hazards.
By consensus, the best test of golf in and around Provence is the Chateau course at Terre Blanche Hotel Spa & Golf Resort, a Dave Thomas creation that plays through limestone outcroppings and oak forests, followed closely by Barbaroux, a 1988 Pete and P.B. Dye design set amid the vineyards and red poppy fields.
Monte Carlo has attracted the rich, famous and tax-averse since the 1860s. Technically linked to the principality of Monaco, this hilltop venue is home to the grand Hotel de Paris, a casino straight out of a James Bond flick; a legendary Formula One race, a mild year-round climate; and stunning panoramas of the Mediterranean.
Nearby Nice is a cultural and aesthetic haven, with superb beaches and museums, among them ones devoted to former resident Henri Matisse and also to Marc Chagall. The standout hotel is the palatial Negresco, on the Promenade des Anglais, which dates to 1913. Check out the Baccarat crystal chandelier in the aptly named Royal Lounge. It was commissioned by Russia's Czar Nicholas II, but he never took delivery, due to his overthrow. Not far away, a splendid market, Cours Saleya, reflects the best of French hues and gastronomy in an open-air setting. For a unique whiff of the countryside, a worthy excursion is to Grasse, the world capital for perfume. Not far from Grasse is the picturesque medieval village of Eze, with its Michelin two-starred hotel restaurant, La Chevre d'Or.