Leading sporting, leisure and tourism destination, La Manga Club got back into its swing on July 1 after the Covid-19 lockdown with meticulous socially distanced check in procedures.
Invited to review the Club in March, we were bowled over by the experience.
An oasis of palm trees, manicured gardens basking in streaming sunshine and verdant green courses with tranquil water features bowled us over as soon as we stepped foot in the world-renowned La Manga Club.
A haven from Britain’s howling gales, the resort, which marks its 50th anniversary in 2022, has earned its multi-award winning reputation as one of the world’s leading sports, leisure and tourism destinations.
Its passion for excellence in customer service, widely acknowledged by discerning visitors including Matt Damon, was consistently demonstrated - from the welcome at the reception of the five-star Hotel Príncipe Felipe - to waiters who genuinely regard residents and visitors as their extended family.
Just 25 and 120 kilometres from Murcia and Alicante airports respectively, La Manga Club is celebrated for so much more than its jaw-dropping golfing ancestry.
A top-class training facility for la crème de la crème of football teams including Spain and England’s national teams, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Liverpool FC, the resort boasts 28 tennis courts, a show court and main centre court for up to 1,200 spectators.
The highly acclaimed outdoor tennis centre has hosted milestone tournaments including the Davis Cup, Fed Cup and several ATP tournaments.
Satiating appetites for cricket, cycling, triathlon, rugby, netball, trekking, and water sports, the resort is a magnet for professional and aspiring sportsmen and women across the globe.
The buzz, nervous energy and high spirits of potential careers in the making were infectious as we glimpsed brief sightings of national ladies youth teams from the US and France during our two-day stay.
Living the Dream: Championship South Course
Our invitation to review the wealth of facilities included a round of golf on the hallowed championship South Course for our photographer, Steve Hare, who shares his unique experience.
“As an occasional golfer, I stood on the first tee of the famous course in trepidation, having just been explained the etiquettes of getting round the course by the excellent marshal – oh and the fact that 15 of the 18 holes have water features!
Thankfully my first adrenalin-fuelled drive went straight down the middle as the marshal watched the ball soar into the sun with an encouraging: “Good shot - well done”.
I had teed off on a course which has hosted five Spanish Open championships and been viewed by millions across the globe as golfing history was made by greats including Seve Ballesteros, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer who remodelled the course in 1992."
The additional two 18-hole championship courses comprise the North Course which is more suited to all abilities and the West Course set in a dense pine forest at the foot of the Calblanque Natural Park which spans 13 kilometres of coastline.
Planning and Forethought
At just under 6,500 metres, the South Course is long and, although mainly flat, it really tests players’ mental prowess. I had to think extremely hard what shots to play as any wayward ones were in danger of ending up in the water.
The pace of the round was reasonable, giving me a good opportunity to take in the magnificent scenery, not just of the course with its beautiful ponds, streams, lakes and fountains - but the mountains and the Mediterranean.
Parrots chirped cheekily in the palm trees - of which there are more than 3,000 in the resort. I could swear one of these green golf aficionados was telling me the line for my putt on the 6th!
Most of the greens are well guarded either by bunkers or water - with no respite from the former on the par threes – one of which was over 200 metres long.
When we arrived at the 12th the wind had whipped up and I stood on the tee looking at the lake and bunkers, thankful that I’d made time to use the practice facilities beforehand. All went well and I achieved a par.
There is also a special plaque on the 12th to commemorate how an Austrian golfer called Otto Butcher made the Guinness Book of World Records by achieving a hole in one at the grand old age of 99!
The 14th was very intriguing with a very narrow fairway to the left of a bunker - enormous at 140 meters long. However the biggest series of hurdles awaited on the most difficult and final hole!
The helpful course map made the 18th hole look more like an island of fairway pinched in between three lakes before having to cross a ravine to the green surrounded by four immense bunkers.
I could only wonder in awe at Arnold Palmer’s achievement back in 1975 when he made history on this course by famously standing knee-deep in a lake, hitting his second shoot onto the green and putting out for an eagle to win the Spanish Open.
I was content with my score (no, I’m not revealing it!) and enjoyed every aspect of the course surviving the “Great Lake Palmer”.
For those keen to get into the swing of the game, the resort offers a practice centre which is among the best in Europe, a golf academy and a pitch and putt designed by Spain’s own Seve Ballesteros.”
Well being Boost
An exhilarating day of sport - or a lazy one by the lovely open air pool from where you can watch the highs and lows of the North Course’s 18th hole - is rewarded by a visit to the elegant Romanesque-style Wellness Centre.
A raft of fabulous facilities include a spa with 13 treatment rooms, saunas, steam rooms, jacuzzis, a, gym and a 25-metre indoor pool - my best ever swimming experience with idyllic mountain views.
A menu of extensive pampers to revitalise and rejuvenate include exclusive red carpet treatments along with beauty services and massages for men and women.
Aligned with its ethos for excellence, the Wellness Centre also incorporates a High Performance Sports Centre which is acknowledged as an international benchmark for sports medicine and injury prevention.
Comprising 560 hectares, La Manga Club is three times the size of Monaco - a feat for even the most zealous walkers to get around - which is why shuttle buses ferry guests from one facility to another.
With the exception of seasoned athletes, those keen to enjoy the stunning sea views (the resort is located on the Costa Calida) definitely need the shuttle to La Cala where one of the resort’s 15 plus restaurants is located on a cliff top.
Open from July 1, La Cala restaurant serves authentic Mediterranean cuisine including fresh seafood along with traditional local dishes including caldero ‘cauldron’ - a typical regional fish stew delicacy.
Cosmopolitan dining experiences across the resort include Spanish, Indian, Italian and Thai cuisine. We savoured the tasting menu at the Asia restaurant - just a five minute walk from the hotel, which exceeded expectations. Starting with a tasty steamed prawn wanton, we progressed to a deliciously light noodle salad with shrimps, squid and mussels.
The ‘menu degustacion’ dishes also included Mee Singapore stir-fried rice noodles with prawns, ginger and sweet pepper, Rendang Sapi - a scrumptious Indonesian-style beef stew - and Pad Krapow Gai, gorgeous chicken strips sauteed with ingredients including oyster sauce.
A refreshing Sorbete de limon completed the immensely enjoyable gastronomic experience.
Breakfast is served in the Amapola Restaurant where signatures dishes for evening diners include grilled turbot on oxtail, foie gras and pistachio and cilantro vinaigrette. Afternoon tea lovers can enjoy a traditional experience at the Piano Bar.
The Hotel Príncipe Felipe comprises 192 rooms with magnificent views over the North and South courses, as well as an outdoor pool, restaurants, bars and several meeting, conference and events rooms. Our Royal Executive room was spacious and elegant with a wonderful view.
Plans are in the pipeline for a refurbishment of the hotel after the Hesperia Investment Group - whose hotels and resorts are located in over 30 resorts in Spain and Venezuela - acquired a majority stake in La Manga Club in 2019.
Stars of Stage and Screen
The raft of celebrities who have graced the resort over the years - too many to name - include John Malkovich, Rudolph Nureyev, Juliet Binoche and Robbie Williams.
Villa owners at the resort - where the sun shines over 300 days every year - include Kenny Dalglish, Nigel Mansell and Gordon Strachan.
The resort’s Miradores apartments were also the backdrop for part of the iconic movie Dracula in which Christopher Lee took the lead role and members of staff played extras.
Our experience was frighteningly fantastic from start to finish, I am now taking golf lessons after caddying on one of the most sensational courses of all time!
Address: Urb. La Manga Club, 30389 Cartagena, Murcia
Restaurant information and reservations: Tel. +34 968 33 1260ot+34 el
Flights: Airlines serving Alicante and Murcia from UK airports include Jet 2, British Airways, Ryan Air and Easyjet.
This article first appeared in the Yorkshire Times and the Lancashire Times.