A takeaway reporter gets closer to the truth behind the once famous resort, which was closed last month
Caring about the environment is one thing, going to the same resort every year and walking along the same stretch of sand has to be another. But the fact that one of the 20 wealthiest men in the world chose to spend his holidays at one of the most isolated resorts in Europe suggests that he was undoubtedly mad for it.
Charlie Chaplin spent every one of his 365 days in the northern Portuguese Alps for the last 21 years at the Waterville Golf Club, above the Montepulciano valley. Until his death, in 1977, the Moosehead-O’Brien was the only fully-staffed golf club in Europe.
How close were we to an elusive post-shrunken-tragedy God of the Snails? I heard gossip from the family that Chaplin probably had an “infinite circle” of people working for him, with just one or two, usually relatives, staying close to him.
Apparently the club can be reached only by jet plane if the destination is on the other side of the world or through a small spit between two islets in the depths of the Atlantic. It’s just over the northern tip of Morocco, about 75 miles north of Lisbon.
The Andorran government, looking for long-term development, now owns the golf club, which has just been shut down. Thanks to all the requests from journalists, I was given a tour. I got to see three bedrooms with a separate breakfast room. There are also nine cottages, each housing six to eight people, and the fenced area has a swimming pool and fenced area for sports activities. The place is quite out of the way, along a little lane, but the scenery is spectacular. At the end of the day, just a few feet from the pink sand dunes, you see the Canaries, the white elephant of the Iberian Peninsula.
“This is now a place for the development of young families who have never had the chance to enjoy a holiday like this,” said Julian Silvestri, Waterville’s president and general manager. “We want to see the development of a viable touristic industry, run by local people, when the British budget economy collapses.”
When it is opened to the public next summer, it will have six courses, with daily walking routes for young families. It also intends to develop sports, including tennis, golf, golf, basketball, and yoga.
The club was started in 1898 by Kenneth Hunt and his brother Peter and Mr and Mrs Frank Case, a local farmer and chemist who was apparently a serious horseman who was highly interested in the game of golf.
Using some of his own land, he built the course from clay mud. This was probably good for the tyres of the buggy Mr Case drove around it in, but less than ideal for scoring. Many years ago, his daughter married into the Hunt family and it is hard to imagine that they were not planning a bigger clubhouse and a golf course at some time.
Plenty of famous Britons have played at Waterville: cricket’s Geoffrey Boycott, chairman of the Environmental Commission, has played there; Max Basler of the Bobby Moore football team has been to Waterville; Hollywood actor Donald Sutherland and his wife, author Melissa Mathison, have spent their summers there.
Ronnie Douglas, Britain’s last surviving World War I veteran, was a regular visitor. During the summer he would head to Palm Beach, Florida, for holidays.
Rev Dr Phillip Wolpert of Cheltenham Priory and Thomas Friel, a Scottish churchman, have both travelled to Waterville in an effort to convert the banlieues into places of leisure.