Island-hopping and trekking in the Cape Verde Islands: a funky fusion of African hospitality, Latin American music, Caribbean-style beaches and Portuguese heritage
During my childhood, the daring exploits of Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest captivated me. Imagine my excitement then when, at the climax of a holiday in the Cape Verde Islands, I came face to face with the Sheriff of Nottingham. But first the prologue…
“Once when I looked at a map of the world I found that our islands had been left off,” said Carlos our guide. Situated four hundred miles off the coast of West Africa, in the Atlantic, this enticing archipelago of ten islands is still largely unknown except by yachtsmen. The architecture in many of the more significant towns reveals their Portuguese heritage, but increasingly the people look to Africa and Brazil for their inspirations.
We had come to the Cape Verde Islands for two weeks on a competitively priced flight-only deal with Thomson Holidays (www.thomson.co.uk) acquiring visas easily on arrival. After a five hour flight and with no time changes, the beaches of Santa Maria on the island of Sal offer the perfect escape for those seeking winter sun and windsurfing. We stayed at the comfortable, good value Les Alizes which is on the main street. Nearby, the stylish beachfront Hotel Morabeza has a tempting happy hour, giving an opportunity to try the local cocktails such as caipirinhas.
Nevertheless, with two airlines TACV (www.tacv.com) and Halycon Airways (www.flyhalcyonair.com) providing a comprehensive schedule to the other islands, there is the temptation to travel further afield. Our plan was to island-hop.
Fogo Island was a total contrast to Sal. Dominated by an active volcano, Sao Felipe, the capital, has many examples of the sobrados - former homes of the rich Portuguese slave owners. We stayed in Casa Renate, a beautifully restored house (CVE 3,500 double with breakfast) taking our meals, such as fish in coconut sauce, at the owner’s popular terraced restaurant, Le Bistro. Typically, a meal for two with beer would cost CVE 1,500. The Cape Verde escudo is tied to the euro at approximately CVE 110 = 1 euro. Renate was a fount of local knowledge and organised transport to the National Park where it is possible to walk in the crater of the volcano. Here we enjoyed the peace of this moonscape and were amazed by the range of vegetation that flourished in this bleakly attractive environment.
Sao Vicente Island
The historic town of Mindelo, on Sao Vicente, is not only the hub of the transatlantic yachting fraternity but also of the Cape Verde music scene. We stayed in the chic Casa Café Mindelo, a converted sobrado, with a window on the marina and the surrounding mountains (CVE 6,600 double with breakfast). Another compelling attraction was that it has a charming bar, with its own bakery serving scrumptious carrot and chocolate cakes, as well as, of course, live music. Clube Nautica, in the old customs house, is an atmospheric hangout where it is possible to pick up sailors’ stories, together with hearty meals of chicken in spicy sauce (2800 CVE for two including drinks).
Santo Antao Island
Soon after the reliable Armas ferry from Sao Vicente docked on Santo Antao after a one hour voyage, we were transferred by aluguer, a collective taxi, to the small coastal village of Ponta Do Sol. There we took up residence in the friendly, colourful Hotel Por de Sol Arte (CVE 4,300 double with breakfast).
Carlos, a guide recommended by the guesthouse, led us from a point high in the mountains on a memorable stroll down the gorge of the Ribeira do Paul. Lush vegetation in the form of sugar cane plantations, fields of guava and papaya stretched all the way to the ocean. One notable stop on our descent was at Sandro’s Café (tel: 00238 223 19 41), an Aladdin’s cave of mementoes, which specialises in the local 40% proof grogue. This was no endurance expedition but an undiluted pleasure and well worth the CVE 5,000 for the guide.
Carlos recommended other walks that we could do on our own, including a four hour coastal hike from Cruzinha da Garca, a remote village, back to Ponta Do Sol. This was a more demanding trek but equally rewarding - a spiral of mule tracks zigzagged along gaunt cliffs overlooking breakers pounding the black volcanic sands below. The track passed through remote hamlets clinging precariously to steep hillsides. Santo Antao is a walking and hiking paradise which, with its green landscapes, justifies the Cape Verde name.
An air of magic hovers over the island and each night the locals gathered for an impromptu music session on the terrace of our guesthouse beneath our balcony. Carlos had said, “Everyone here plays an instrument.” Now I am inclined to believe him.
There are a number of restaurant options in the village but our favourite was O Velhero, sited on the jetty, which specialises in sea bass and shell fish (CVE 2,500 for two including wine and beer).
The Sheriff of Nottingham
It was in Ponta Do Sol that, for the first time, we came face to face with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Contrary to my childhood fantasies our meeting did not culminate in a duel but in the unmasking of the actor, Keith Allen, “Better known,” as he said, “as Lily Allen’s dad.” Like us he had come to Santo Antao and Sao Vicente from Sal seeking to discover different facets of this intriguing country and was clearly not disappointed.
The Cape Verde Islands deserve to be put on the map of every adventurous traveller. As well as being welcoming and safe, they are endlessly diverse. What cannot always be guaranteed is an encounter with the Sheriff of Nottingham.