One of Provence’s memorable but unsung courses is the Frégate at the Dolce Resort. It was one of the first “destination” golf resorts in continental Europe.
A round begins on a secluded par 4 that challenges you to place a shot onto a plateaued green. Succeeding holes take you through a rocky canyon and across the hillsides that tumble down to the Mediterranean. There are panoramic views of the sea on 15 of the holes as the course wanders from secluded olive groves to the windy coastline.
The 7th hole gives a spectacular view of the canyon holes and the hillside vineyards, while on number 9 you turn away from the ocean and play through an olive grove. On the signature 10th hole, once you stop looking out over the Mediterranean, you are confronted by a narrow fairway that descends to a green surrounded by a rocky inlet. The next few holes wander in and out of olive groves mixing seaside and olive groves in quintessential Provençal scenery. Hole 15 passes the ruins of a stone cottage and provides a view from the green of the snow capped alpine peak known as Bec de l’Aigle.
The par 3 16th hole is a complete change of pace as it is tucked in the quiet area of the forest. After the tranquil 16th, the 17th greets you with a gorgeous view, until you realise the tee shot is a downhill forced carry onto a seemingly tiny landing area. Hitting that landing area is only a temporary relief because there is another lengthy forced carry to reach the green. The 17th is a hole you don’t forget.
After that, the 18th looks tame. But things aren’t as they seem because the hole takes enough dogleg that playing a safe shot leaves you with a difficult uphill second shot to the green on the crest of the hill. Play the dogleg too aggressively and you may find the terraced flower gardens and water hazards on the left. But the clubhouse is in sight, and you are rewarded for getting up the hill by another panoramic view of the course and Mediterranean.
Like every fine golf course, Dolce Frégate Provence is sometimes intimidating, and at the same time exhilarating. It requires your full attention on every shot, but it is neither tiresome or overbearing. You arrive at the 19th hole wondering about taking on the course again.
Dolce Hotels was recently acquired by hotel giant Wyndham which may mean changes for what was primarily a conference destination facility. Its’ location is ideal. Aix-en-Provence, and Marseille France’s oldest, and second largest cities are both nearby. Marseille is an unsung gem where you can find paleolithic cave paintings, a grand opera house, and cutting edge museums. And for the shopper it is a veritable Mediterranean bazaar.
Closer to the hotel are the medieval villages of Cadiere d’Azur with its 15th century church and gates, and the right-out-of-the movies Castellet. The fishing villages of Cassis, Bandol, and Sanary-sur-Mer are also nearby. And for a change of pace, glamorous St.Tropez, with its’ clothing optional beaches and jet set inhabitants, is a short drive up the coast.
This area is also home to one of the secrets of French wine the Bandol AOC. While the rest of Provence is awash in rose’, Bandol’s Mourvedre’s has an earthy, jammy, dark fruit side that exhibits a touch of sweetness, with hints of espresso-like bitterness. Wonderfully complex red that when blended with Grenache, Cinsaut and Syrah produces truly special red wines.
Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, the Frégate golf course is just one of the many surprises that Provence seems to prefer to keep to itself. Perhaps it is appropriate to say that Provence is like a box of chocolates, each different and all sweet.
Alan Clark is a partner in Back Tees Tours which specializes in châteaux, vineyard and golf tours to France.