At Château des Vigiers in the Périgord, they've got their priorities right: the golf's just an excuse for a gourmet feast, says Mary Novakovich

"Are you sure you've never played golf before?" My instructor, Vincent Trojani, was amazed as I managed to hit the ball 100 yards.

"Are you sure you've never played golf before?" My instructor, Vincent Trojani, was amazed as I managed to hit the ball 100 yards.

"Only crazy golf about 30 years ago," I replied. But my mother has been playing golf for decades, so maybe athletic skill is genetic. Then again, it might have had something to do with the several glasses of wine that were brutally forced down my neck at lunch. "Château des Vigiers wine improves your game," I was told, almost seriously, by Philip Petersson, son of the château's owner, Lars. Or perhaps it was just because I had chosen what has to be one of the most heavenly places in which to learn to play golf. It is far away from the arcane rules and often rigid structures of the British golf scene, in south-west France's Périgord region.

Lars Petersson, a Swedish businessman who ended up in France via Switzerland and London, bought the 16th-century Château des Vigiers, in 1989, almost on a whim. Frustrated by the golf on offer, Lars ended up building the sort of golf resort at which he would actually want to play; one that combined the gentle, rolling Dordogne hills, its own vineyard, orchards, a kitchen designed by Michel Roux in one of its two restaurants, and an ambiance not often found in the more ostentatious four-star resorts.

Luxury there is in spades, but with it comes tranquillity, geniality, a lack of pretension, and that French attitude that doesn't allow a mere sport to get in the way of a good lunch. For lunch had to be savoured before I was allowed to put a club in my hands. Le Chai, the château's brasserie, is housed in an old wine-making building. It has a delightful terrace at which to sample périgourdine cuisine. All my favourites - foie gras, confit de canard, gésiers (gizzards) - were washed down with the château's robust contribution to the Bergerac appéllation.

Slightly wobbly, and wondering if I would know which end of a five-iron to hold, I was ready to meet Vincent, the resident golf pro and, as it turned out, champion cep-hunter - a skill he put to good use every autumn in the woods beside the seventh hole.

Vincent was the perfect instructor: patient, encouraging, affable, and prone to making the occasional dry joke. And Vigiers was ideal for the novice, with plenty of practice areas and a six-hole course, so beginners aren't unnerved by experienced golfers impatiently queuing up while they attempt their 20th shot out of the bunker.

He started me off on the putting green, which, of course, is harder than you think. Don't use your wrists, for a start. Oops, got that one wrong. We abruptly left putting to go on to bigger, more powerful clubs. (Confusingly, the smaller the number of club, the further your shot is meant to go.) This is where the 100-yard shot came in. Vincent whistled. "You play a lot of sport?" he asked. I tried not to laugh. A bit of walking and cycling and, once upon a time, some serious badminton. Hence the overuse of the wrists while putting.

I had another lesson the next day before Vincent expected me to play a real, live game of golf, albeit on the nursery six-hole course.

As with most sports, this is when you discover that all those wonderful practice shots can come to nothing when on the course. Still, in spite of my dodgy putting - including the classic getting-cocky-20in-from-hole-and-overshooting scenario - and some wildly off-course drives, I managed to shoot 14 over par. Apparently, that's quite impressive for a beginner. But, as Vincent pointed out, many people get the hang of golf quite quickly. It's getting on to the next level that is the difficult part.

He expects to see me at Vigiers next year with an improved game. If only. But the likelihood of my returning to Vigiers is a strong one because, unlike many golf resorts, the estate knows that there is much more to life than hitting an annoyingly small ball. Only around four out of 10 of the guests are there for the golf; the rest make use of, among other things, the tennis courts, the pool, the fitness centre, and the new Maria Galland health and beauty spa.

Knowing how seriously the French take their beauty treatments, I jumped at the chance to have a deep moisturising facial in the more than capable hands of Pascale, the beautician. Just the thing after sweltering around the golf course.

If you can bear to tear yourself away from the 400-acre estate, Bergerac is only half an hour away by car. It has a charming old town and offers boat trips along the river Dordogne. An hour away is St-Emilion, home of numerous châteaux producing superb wine and offering guided tours. One of these, Château Franc-Mayne, has a spectacular underground quarry. The stone from it was used to build much of nearby Bordeaux, and the caverns thus created are now used to store the oak barrels holding the latest batch of grand cru classé. The château also runs a sumptuous B&B - useful if you've been a little enthusiastic in your wine-tasting.

Although the surrounding area is crammed with glorious sights (including Sarlat, Domme, Les Eyzies, Lascaux), ensure that you're back at Vigiers for dinner at Les Fresques, the château's gastronomic restaurant.The reward for a hard day's golfing/sightseeing/ loafing has to be a plate of flash-fried foie gras accompanied by a glass of the estate's saussignac. Although I normally loathe sweet wine, something miraculous happens when it's combined with goose liver. And as you sit back and luxuriate in the douceur de vivre of Vigiers, you can't help feeling grateful that the Peterssons made that fortuitous visit to the Dordogne back in 1989.

Château des Vigiers, 24240 Monestier, Dordogne, France (00 33 5 53 61 50 00;

Mary Novakovich travelled as a guest of French Golf Holidays (01277 824100;, which offers numerous packages to the Château des Vigiers. A three-night B&B stay, including Ryanair flights from Stansted to Bergerac, car hire, golf lesson and two rounds of golf, costs £499 per person, based on two sharing. A five-night offer for £865 per person includes two gastronomic dinners, three brasserie dinners, three bottles of wine per person,unlimited golf and two lessons, and flights and car hire.

Château Franc-Mayne (00 33 5 57 24 62 61; offers 90-minute tours for €6 (£4), and B&B from €138 (£99) double