Cape Verde: Isle be back!

12 January 2011 - OK! Magazine - Marcia Moody

Looking for winter sun but don’t want to travel too far? Why not try the Cape Verde islands, just off the coast of west Africa. It’s being touted as the hot new winter sun destination of 2011, so get there quick – before everyone else does!

Cape Verde is a former Portuguese colony made up of ten major islands scattered in the Atlantic Ocean, around 500km off the coast of west Africa. Less than six hours from the UK, with only a one-hour time difference (so no jet lag) and average year-round daily temperatures of 25˚C, it’s an undiscovered holiday gem.

The diversity of the islands mean there’s something for everyone, from unspoiled beaches, towering mountains and volcanic lunar landscapes to a thriving traditional music scene. Cape Verde is a poor country, but the quality of life is ranked the highest in west Africa by the United Nations. The official language is Portuguese, but Creole is also spoken, with some English and French.

The northern windward islands are popular. Sal is the most developed, with a good sprinkling of hotels and restaurants. Although the interior may be barren desert, the beaches are unbeatable and it’s one of the world’s top five windsurfing spots. Boa Vista also has some stunning beaches, but is quieter than Sal, São Vicente is the cultural hub that’s famous for its nightlife, while Santo Antão is full of coffee and banana plantations. The leeward islands in the south include the lush Santiago, the volcanic island of Fogo, Maio, is off the tourist trail with verdant scenery and deserted beaches, while Brava is good for walking.

Rated one of the best hotels on the island of Sal is the European-run Morabeza Hotel ( The interiors are airy and simple with an abundance of wood, stone and a neutral colour palette. A huge draw is its never-ending white beach that is literally a few steps from the low-rise hotel. The 90-room (plus 30 suites) four-star hotel is the perfect place to totally relax, either by the pool or in the surf. For those who want distractions, there’s pool, billiards, archery, boules, table tennis and mini golf. You can also learn to speak Creole or try Cape Verdean dancing for free, or have an alfresco massage under an umbrella on the beach. OK! opted for the Bon Apetit meal option – daily breakfast with three dinners – which allowed us to try some of the restaurants in nearby Santa Maria.

At Morabeza we enjoyed crepes with tamarind jam for breakfast and a lovely alfresco dinner of fried cuttlefish with sweet potato chips at Les Palmiers. The Saturday barbecue buffet night is a veritable feast, with barbecued meat and fish with creole vegetables, Portuguese stew and fried maniac fruit (which looks and tastes like roast parsnip), followed by a delicious coconut tart.

Most first-time holidaymakers base themselves on either Sal or Boa Vista, as the direct flights from the UK fly to these and they are the most geared up for tourists. OK! loved Sal – it’s the most developed of the islands but is still unspoiled by mass tourism. Most of the tourist provision is in Santa Maria on the south coast. Here we dined at local restaurants such as the charming Crecheu, where we enjoyed the fresh tuna, and the slick sea-facing Odjo d’Agua, where we sampled the local wahoo fish. 

Santa Maria is safe to walk around, although vendors will try to encourage you into their shops – a firm but polite ‘no thanks’ means you’ll be left alone. Browse the Genuine Market, which sells beautifully crafted toy cars and aeroplanes made from recycled items and beach bags and jewellery.

We also took an island tour, stopping off at the bustling harbour at Palmeira and the craggy cliffs of Buracona for a dip in a swimming pool carved naturally from rocks. We then headed north to the desert of Terra Boa where we saw our first mirage. The landscape looked green with vegetation from one angle, but from another it seemed as if the horizon was flooded with blue water! After a quick stop in the capital of Espargos we headed on to the salt mines of Pedra de Lume. The shallow lakes were originally created to manufacture salt for export but are now simply a tourist attraction, so lie back and enjoy the strange sensation of floating in high-density salt water.

Singer Norah Jones took to the stage last summer on both Praia and Sal, while American rapper Akon performed in Praia at the end of last year. Hillary Clinton visited recently and praised the Cape Verdan government as: ‘A model of democracy and economic progress in Africa.’ Cheryl Baker has snapped up a beach-front apartment and a townhouse as an investment, footballer Henrik Larsen and model Amber Rose are both half Cape Verdean, while local superstar Cesária Evora has played the Hollywood Bowl and supposedly turned down a request to perform for Madonna.

OK! took a 50-minute flight to the volcanic island of Fogo. We started the day overlooking one of the stunning black-sand beaches enjoying a local breakfast of bread with goats cheese and jam before wandering around the pastel-coloured colonial houses, Portuguese squares and cobbled streets of the capital São Filipe. We then began the two-hour drive up the slopes of the volcano, winding past houses made from lava. Once we were inside the crater, we couldn’t believe that something so devoid of colour could be so beautiful – from the sparkly black lava sand crunching underfoot to the black syrupy rolls of molten lava that had stopped and turned to stone, it was like being in another world. The experience was completed with a lunch of the local stew cachupa rica and wine made from the grapes grown on the slopes of the volcano in a tiny restaurant inside the crater!

The Cape Verde Experience, which runs holidays to six out of the ten Cape Verde islands, offers a seven-night package, including return flights from London Gatwick to Cape Verde, hotel transfers, daily breakfast, three evening meals and taxes, staying in a superior land-view room at the four-star Hotel Morabeza on the island of Sal from £899pp. Price includes early booking offer, valid if holiday is booked by February 28. Quote OK! when booking. Regional departures can be quoted from Birmingham or Manchester. Call 0845 330 2071 or visit

Please note that Cesaria Evora sadly passed away on 17 December 2011.