Golfing Special: Above par properties in Portugal

Welcome to the Algarve resort where Brits come to worship the god of golf and watch their house prices rise
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The Independent Online

At 1,000 acres, with two kilometres of beach, two 18-hole golf courses and a third in the pipeline, Vale do Lobo (Valley of the Wolf) on the Algarve coast 20 minutes from Faro Airport is more a small country where the official religion is worship of the great god of golf than a conventional holiday resort.

At 1,000 acres, with two kilometres of beach, two 18-hole golf courses and a third in the pipeline, Vale do Lobo (Valley of the Wolf) on the Algarve coast 20 minutes from Faro Airport is more a small country where the official religion is worship of the great god of golf than a conventional holiday resort.

It claims to be the largest luxury destination in Portugal. There are already 1,200 villas with a further 700 in the pipeline. You can shop, eat out there and the place is indeed larger than some independent countries, at nearly three times the size of the Principality of Monaco and 10 times the size of the Vatican City.

The chances aren't much bigger of meeting somebody whose first language is Portuguese at Vale do Lobo than you are in either Monte Carlo or the Vatican as half of the villa owners are British.

The latest innovation at this pinnacle of golfing is on-site weddings; you no longer have to leave the confines even to get married. A world golfing first. In what must be a unique take on the concept of a golf widow the operating company is now offering "The Wedding of your Dreams".

"Every wedding service is offered to you and your guests," enthuses the brochure. "Whether a small intimate ceremony, or grand celebration, we help plan your special day to become an event of sheer perfection." After tying the knot in the glass-walled auditorium, newly-weds are offered a trail of rose petals leading to their bedroom, a bucket of champagne, chocolate-dipped rose petals, a romantic CD and floating candles in the bath. After which, they are presumably left in peace to get on with some putting practice. Nobody has actually decided to marry there yet, says a resort spokesman but they have high hopes for the summer season.

There is a serious point here. When people decide to purchase a home in this and similar developments, they are buying into an insulated world of green rolling fairways and calm respectability free from the vulgarities of what many of them see as yob-infested Britain.

About one third of people planning to buy a property overseas say they "have had enough of life in Britain", according to a survey this spring about the stampede to sunnier climes. Frustration with daily life in this country competes with Britain's bad weather as the main motivation for buying another home in Portugal and other parts of Europe. The survey of 4,000 by the magazine A Place in the Sun found that four out of 10 are "actively thinking" of buying a property abroad.

Since 1977, Vale do Lobo has belonged to Sander van Gelder, a Dutch entrepreneur who made one fortune in the Amsterdam jewellery business and came across the place while looking for his own hide-away in the sun.

"There can be a downside to dealing with a personality like Mr Van Gelder, but he keeps the infrastructure maintained to an incredible extent," says Gerald Hanmer, 62, a retired businessman from Powis who has owned a villa with his wife Susan, 60, at the centre of the complex for eight years. For the past five it has been their main home.

"The place is pristine, it is terrific," he says. "We have a house in mid-Wales and it takes our two sons, who work in London, longer to get there than it does for them to visit us here," says Susan Hanmer.

"It is a two-and-a-half hour flight from Gatwick and 20 minutes this end. And it is far cheaper in an era of cheap airlines than a railway ticket from London to Cardiff would be," she says.

Like most of the Brits at Vale do Lobo, the Hanmers have made no serious attempt to learn to speak Portuguese. "I am hopeless at languages; I have never tried," says Mrs Hanmer.

But like most owners they have found that Mr Van Gelder's brand of benign dictatorship has provided them with a massively profitable investment.

"The house has increased in value by more than 300 per cent in the eight years they have owned it," says Mr Hanmer, although he is rather coy about the exact purchase price.

"Prices at Vale do Lobo have consistently increased above the Portuguese inflation rate," says Richard Hemmings, Real Estate Sales Director at Vale do Lobo.

He anticipates that in the next two years prices will continue to increase at least in line with Portuguese inflation rates.

"Demand for prime real estate locations is increasing and, as these locations become scarcer throughout the region, prices are likely to increase," he says.

Innovating and improving the resort is a key to its success, he argues. And the formula in more diluted form works further along the coast.

Jones Homes Portugal says that having a golf course at the foot of the garden is a huge attraction for many of its luxury apartments and villas near Lagos on the Western Algarve.

At the Parque da Floresta Golf Resort, the next phase will comprise 83 individual three-, four- and five-bedroom villas with their own swimming pools. Brazilian architect Ivan Basso has produced a range of 12 three-, four- and five-bedroom standard villa designs combining traditional materials and influences with modern design. External features include Algarvian roof tiles, stone detailing and traditional calçada pathways.

Vale do Lobo: 00 351 289 353 000, www.valedolobo.com; Boavista Resort Jones Homes Portugal: 01625 588460, www.boavistaresort.com;

Parque da Floresta: 01223 316820, www.parquedafloresta.com

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