In the heart of France, along the Loire and its tributaries in the Massif Central, the countryside is as undulating as it is generous. Some fine golf courses have been making the most of it for a few years now, or even longer… You can play without running, enjoy the courses like you would the food at the fine restaurants in the area, and take the time to enjoy life to the full.
Since 2008, Sporting Club de Vichy has been celebrating its second century. One hundred and fifteen years ago, Arnaud Massy, assisted by Jean-Baptiste Bomboudiac, who was to become Vichy’s first pro, created this urban course on the edge of the racecourse and the banks of the Allier. Now out of the doldrums of the 2000s, the club is enjoying a new lease of life, buoyed by its sporting spirit. With holes lined with oak, beech, fir, willow, hornbeam and catalpa trees, the course is an arboretum created by Philippe de Vilmorin, the nurseryman who, when the golf course was created, used the land to adapt exotic species imported from overseas. Since the club was taken over by its members, the SCV has reviewed its watering system and redesigned the par 3 7th with a water feature in front of the green, while the Allier’s oxbows still snake across some of the fairways, like the one on the 18th. The restoration of the river banks has enhanced the course, giving a clear view of Vichy, where there will always be time to enjoy the waters after the round.
In the Loire, when you think of Les Verts, you don’t necessarily think of golf! And with good reason… In 1985, nine years after the success of the Stéphanois, the Domaine de Champlong was in its infancy on the outskirts of Roanne. Thirty years later, the course was finally extended to 18 holes, with a brand new layout around the eponymous château. Robert Berthet’s original layout, which grew out of a water reservoir on the Loire, was modified by Hugues Lambert and transformed by Olivier Dongradi, and after three years of work was adapted to modern requirements. Starting from a blank sheet of paper, the architect has created a
links, water hazards and 3 wooded holes, all in a very natural environment. Approximately 130,000 m3 of earth was transported to the site to create mounds and slopes around and on the greens. Sandwiched between the driving range and hole 1, 9 holes of pitch & putt add a little extra soul to this club where the Brasserie 9.18 table rivals the course in interest.
The Golf des Étangs, which began life in 1991, has now found a new lease of life in the heart of the Loire. A welcome breath of fresh air with the arrival in 2019 of new managers already involved in regional economic life. On the course, the changes are appreciated as much as at the table, once seated on the terrace with a view of the Forez mountains. On this 42-hectare course, an initial design by Olivier Van der Vynckt, water is present, as the name of the club suggests. It can be seen on 17 holes, with a stream in front of the tees, a brook running alongside a fairway, a pond behind a green and a few more significant obstacles on holes 5, 7, 8, 15, 17 and 18. Only hole 13 escapes the red stakes… On this flat course, which is perfectly playable on foot, there’s plenty to enjoy, to score and to have fun.
Lace, lentils, verbena, the rocks of Aiguilhe and Corneille, not forgetting the shells of the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela – that’s Le Puy-en-Velay in a nutshell. The 9-hole golf course, created in 1989 by Tito Lassalle, the former Nîmes-Campagne pro, has been handed over to Théo Thomas, his pro, by the town. This “links course in the mountains” stands on its own at the gateway to the “Lourdes of the Massif Central”. In almost 35 years, the vegetation has grown, the strong winds are still part of the game, and only the sea is a little far away! As you swing along, the views of the Velay and Ardèche mountains, and the statue of Notre-Dame de France perched on its volcanic rock, could disturb the player, but in these lands of pilgrimage, at the cost of some fine recoveries, so many pars have been saved… As if by a miracle!
Where to stay ?
At the very heart of the Domaine de Champlong, which in addition to the golf course boasts a 4-star hotel, two restaurants, an art gallery and a wellness area. “Infinite passion” is the slogan shared by everyone involved in the estate.
Leading the way is Olivier BOIZET, who worked his way up from the stoves of the prestigious TROISGROS house, and has been at the helm of the Château’s gastronomic restaurant, La Table l’Essensiel, for 30 years, as well as overseeing the 9°18 brasserie in the golf clubhouse. A lover of taste and respectful of products, he cooks the way he likes to eat. His imagination knows no bounds, only the seasons constrain him in all relativity. At the Château, the 12 spice-named rooms, tastefully decorated by Véronique Boizet, overlook the grounds of the Domaine.
In the early hours of the morning, it’s not unusual to spot a deer in the garden. The charm of the beams, the beautiful fabrics, the pleasure of quality bedding, everything comes together to make your stay a pleasant one… After the game and a good meal, the Spa area is there for you to relax and let go between the swimming pool, the sauna, the hammam, the jacuzzi, the ice fountain and the treatment rooms where expert hands reconcile you with life, or at least with your swing!
The latest addition to the Champlong site is the RJ4 Golf Academy, designed by Raphaël JACQUELIN, where you can take part in beginners’ or advanced courses or lessons. You can also discover the world of art by visiting the “Olympe & Salomé” Gallery, housed in the magnificently redecorated former outbuildings of the Château.
Close to the Golf des Étangs, the Domaine et Château de Valinches exudes charm, at the foot of the medieval village of Marols.
Set in 15 hectares of parkland, the château – the oldest of which dates back to the 13th century – with its glazed stone turrets and 30 rooms of impeccable comfort overlooking the Haut-Forez countryside, guarantees a peaceful stay. At the table, the chef favours local produce and adapts his menu every month. As of this year, the Clos Potager supplies the restaurant with its own supply of vegetables and berries. The estate’s grounds are perfectly suited to the well-being and relaxation of its guests.
Totally dedicated to health, fitness and beauty, the Vy Resort Thermal Célestins Spa & Hotel***** is much more than just a place to stay. Located in the town centre, in the heart of the Parc Napoléon III, on the banks of the Allier, opposite the golf course, this top-of-the-range establishment has retained the charm of the Art Deco style, combining the comfort and refinement of a modern 5-star hotel. It is linked by a covered walkway to the largest Thermal Spa in Europe, covering 7,500 m², with services and facilities worthy of the name… In this magical setting, everything is designed to ensure guests relax and feel good. Exceptional suites with contemporary, soft, uncluttered decor by the artist Lise-Laure Batifol, luxury space complemented by top-of-the-range facilities, a chic, soothing atmosphere conducive to relaxation and personalised services to meet every need. These are just some of the criteria that will make you succumb to the charm of this unique place with its very “palace” feel. Access to the swimming pool is free for residents. At the Vy Resort Célestins Thermal Spa, you’ll enjoy personalised treatments at the Vichy Laboratories Institute, the only one of its kind in the world, as well as well-being massages, high-tech treatments and “Signature” treatments using Vichy thermal water… in a luxurious, soothing and idyllic setting. The restaurants offer dietetic or traditional menus with balanced, tasty cuisine, as well as a refined bar with a jazzy soundtrack.
In a country where corks are legion, the Côte Roannaise vineyards are not necessarily the best known or the most popular…
But it’s worth discovering it on a hillside some twenty kilometres from Roanne, in rolling countryside of varied species, around villages with a rich heritage rooted in the roots of the Loire. Bordered by the Nationale 7 – a motorway that no one under the age of 50 has ever seen! – The 215 hectares of the appellation are planted on a granite base on the higher slopes and more acidic siliceous formations on the plain, as close as possible to the river and its alluvial deposits. On these soils, so dear to Pierre Troisgros, who was inspired by their complexity, the predominant grape variety is red Gamay, producing easy-drinking, straightforward wines. Their ruby colour combined with aromas of small fruits easily seduce the palate. As for the whites, Chardonnay and Viognier dominate the production classified as Pays d’Urfé wines. As in all French wine-growing regions, you can visit the cellars and taste the wines along the wine trail. Winegrower bed and breakfasts are a welcome way to enjoy these grape varieties long after the sun has set… and forget about the car for a night in the arms of Bacchus!
In the Roannais, gastronomy shines in the firmament, the stars illuminate the region just as the flavours sublimated by a plethora of chefs delight our taste buds. All honour to the Lord!
The Troisgros house has been delighting gourmets for almost a century. Although Jean-Baptiste Troisgros, accompanied by his wife Marie, was the forerunner in Roanne from the 1930s onwards with his “sincere and true” cuisine, as he himself defined it, fame, stars, macaroons and accolades only came with the advent of the Troisgros brothers, Jean and Pierre, who took over the family business in 1957. Before that, the brothers, who were born in the kitchen, had to learn the hard way. Pierre learned to work with cream at the Hôtel du Golf in Étretat, while Jean worked in the kitchens of the best Parisian restaurants, in the company of his friend Paul Bocuse. In 1968, the brothers were awarded three stars by the famous Michelin man. In 1983, Jean passed away too soon. At the age of 56, he suffered a heart attack while playing tennis in Vittel. After touring the world’s great restaurants, Michel replaced his uncle in an efficient family tandem that lasted 13 years. After changing the menu, abandoning the systematic “salmon escalope with sorrel” in favour of more original flavours inspired by his frequent trips to Japan and by his Italian-born wife, Michel left Roanne in 2017. He opened a new establishment in the countryside, bigger and more functional, centred around a hundred-year-old oak tree – the emblem of the park – and barrels scattered between the tables, Le Bois sans feuilles in Ouches, a stone’s throw from the Champlong golf course. The enthusiasm of the clientele remains, the stars are still there, and people flock to the restaurant. In 2020, Pierre will join his brother in chef’s paradise, while César and Léo, Michel and Marie-Pierre’s children, will try their hand at bistronomic delights, while waiting to perpetuate the Troisgros spirit with a fourth generation of culinary talent at the flagship’s pianos. In the meantime, the family has extended its reputation to other restaurants in France, such as Le Central in Roanne and La Colline du Colombier in Iguerande (71), and abroad with Koumir in Moscow…
Around Roanne, there are fifteen or so restaurants that are well worth a visit. Often easier to get to, they are also more affordable and just as enjoyable. They’re all well worth a visit, and it’s best to make a reservation – the enthusiasm is infectious!
There’s more to Vichy than a glass of water. The Parc des Sources – the brainchild of Napoleon I and completed under the Second Empire – with its wrought-iron gallery built to protect spa-goers from the vagaries of the sky, is still visited with the same pleasure and curiosity as it was in the 19th century.
Between the casinos, cabarets, bandstand, town houses and fine hotels, the evolution of the architecture is tangible on the dapper façades. Between the Napoleon III chalets on rue Alquié, the Art Nouveau metal structures of the Hall des Sources, the rococo villas on boulevard de Russie or rue de Belgique, the emblematic Art Deco church of Notre-Dame des Malades, the pedestrian streets and covered passageways, there’s plenty to get lost in, as well as to travel back in time, simply by looking up…
On the shores of the Lac d’Allier, renovated in 1963 between the Bellerive and Europe bridges, sport takes centre stage with the water sports activities of the Yacht Club, the Spa des Célestins, bike rides along the banks, the racecourse and the multi-sports park, the Sporting tennis courts – host to the famous Galéa Cup until 1991 – and of course the golf course, which faces the densely populated urban area, where it’s great to stroll both day and night, when the terraces come alive and the water stops filling the glasses… of Vichy!
In the north of the Loire department, where the river can sometimes be fierce, Château de la Roche is emblematic of the Loire Gorges, a regional pride that owes its salvation only to the doggedness of its defenders. Built in the second half of the 13th century, this stronghold on a rocky outcrop overlooks the river and served as a lookout post, feudal toll point and fishing rights. With each successive inheritance, the castle was embellished and the surface area of the land increased. The fiefdom was prosperous until the 17th century. Abandoned in the 18th century, the château was looted during the French Revolution and flooded during the historic flood of 1790.
Since the construction of the Villerest dam in 1982, it has been surrounded by water, becoming a romantic island of bucolic charm in the morning mists of the Loire. With its turrets and dungeons restored in the time of Viollet-le-Duc, the château now has a tourist and educational vocation, with dramatised tours that take us back in time. Actors playing the roles of the château’s owners at the beginning of the 20th century take us on a journey through the life of a Loire château during the Belle Époque. An interactive show punctuated with surprises during an entertaining 45-minute immersion. Bookings for dramatised tours can only be made online at www.lechateaudelaroche.fr There are no self-guided tours of the château.
Although it adjoins the golf course, the Vichy racecourse is 33 years its senior. The first horse races on the banks of the Allier date back to 1875, a time when Baron de Veauce, a friend of the Duc de Morny, was trying to pass on to the people of Vichy his passion for horse breeds and the excitement of racing. During the Belle Époque, many patrons of the arts came to Vichy to spend money at horse-racing meetings. After the war, the Société des Courses de Vichy modernised the structures, built a large grandstand, installed electricity along the lices, allowing races to be run at night, and increased the number of days to around forty per year. During the winter of 2020, the video transmission system – which was a little outdated – was switched to digital, a means of better relaying the races to PMU centres throughout France. Concentrated from May to September, the 2023 racing season, combining trotting, galloping and jumps for all tastes, reaches its climax in mid-July with three Quinté + gallop races in a row, on 18, 19 – Grand Prix de Vichy – and 20 July. August is also a busy month. This year, the season will end on Tuesday 26 September with a gallop meeting. For those with an appetite for betting, the gourmet restaurant Le V and the brasserie de l’Etrier await you, as does the Bodega bar for drinking in the trifecta!