TORRETTES, France -- The Terre Blanche Hotel Spa Golf Resort is more than a golf resort.
It's part art gallery, part international golf training ground, part vacation enclave, part culinary destination and more. In other words, it's nearly heaven.
Terre Blanche wasn't ranked the no. 1 golf resort in continental Europe by Golf World (a UK publication) simply because of its two fine tournament courses, Le Chateau and Le Riou . A complete package of luxurious amenities is what's so impressive.
Terre Blanche opened in 2004 as a resort run by Four Seasons before becoming an independent property in 2012. With so much surrounding beauty in the hills of the Provence region in the south of France, it's hard not to fall for the charms of Terre Blanche. Actor Sean Connery did when he originally bought the land that eventually became the resort.
A central location within an hour of the famed French Riviera, Monaco and Cannes makes Terre Blanche a logical detour to those who visit Paris for the 2018 Ryder Cup. Before or after golf's biggest party, this is where you should unwind.
Terre Blanche: The resort
Terre Blanche reminds me a lot of The Boulders , the five-star resort outside Scottsdale, Ariz. After checking in at each place, guests are whisked away by golf cart to secluded villas built in harmony with the natural surroundings. My suite at Terre Blanche featured a front room and separate bedroom, both connected to a terrace overlooking the countryside.
Statues, sculptures, paintings and pictures decorate the public spaces. Each was pulled from the personal collection of resort owner Dietmar Hopp, a German billionaire who was one of the original founders of SAP. Outside the spa is a mesmerizing piece where a shape of a man merges with a shape of a woman as it spins within a fountain. Inside the spa is a lap pool and hot tub set amid two-story columns. It's a gorgeous facility, home to separate sauna and steam rooms for men and women and open to every guest.
All of this is great and wonderful, but wait until you taste the food and drink the wine. The brilliance of French cuisine cannot be ignored. The resort treats every dish it cooks like it's your last. The breads and cheeses before and after the main courses are exquisite. The seafood and steak I ordered each night were equally succulent.
Le Faventia, a Michelin-starred restaurant, adds extra flavors and perfect presentation to the mix. Le Gaudina next door is more casual but no less elegant, especially when dining on the patio at dusk or savor every bite at the breakfast buffet. Les Caroubiers, located inside the golf course clubhouse with a verandah overlooking the 18th hole of the Le Riou Course, offers the staples of golf course dining -- burgers, club sandwiches, etc. -- but better.
The golf at Terre Blanche
Whether you want to play for fun or prepare for a tournament, Terre Blanche is the place in France.
Architect Dave Thomas, famous for The Belfry, a three-time Ryder Cup venue, designed both the Le Chateau Course and the Le Riou Course. They offer plenty of eye candy in the form of man-made water features that complement idyllic hills and the surrounding forest.
Where they differ are shot values and terrain. Le Chateau, a three-year host of the French Riviera Masters, an event on the European Senior Tour, plays longer and tougher. There always seems to be a tree, a bunker or a pond serving as an obstacle at every turn. The waterfall on the par-3 second and the pond on the par-5 sixth add scenery and difficulty on each hole.
Le Riou fit my eye, and my game, better. It gallantly gallops up and down more interesting terrain. Because it's 700 yards shorter, it is more engaging for all skill levels. It's also more exclusive, since only resort guests and members can play it. Each nine ends memorably -- a waterfall framing the par-4 ninth hole and a glorious risk-reward par 5 at the 18th. If you only have time for one round, sorry, I can't help you make that difficult decision.
The practice facilities are one-of-a-kind. The French national team trains at the Albatros Golf Performance Center, where a two-tiered driving range has 64 hitting stations, along with closed training tees, an indoor putting green, two outdoor putting greens, two chipping greens and a grassy driving range with a bunker area. A second pro shop sells TaylorMade gear and repairs clubs.
These aspiring players also get spoiled with access to a Leadbetter Academy and the technology of Biomecaswing, a studio that has attracted pros from around the world, including Matt Kuchar, Mike Weir and Ian Woosnam. The tools in Biomecaswing, founded by Jean-Jacques Rivet, can analyze the biomechanics of the body, helping players identify weaknesses they can shore up through physical fitness in the adjacent workout room. If your game needs a wellness checkup, come here.
If your life needs a wellness checkup, too, come to Terre Blanche. It's not only the top golf resort in France or continental Europe, for that matter. It's one of the best in the world.