Cape Verde: The Cape escape

THEY say when god was happy with creation he dusted his hands and created Cape Verde. So I spent a week on the idyllic island of Sal to check out his handy work and I certainly wasn’t disappointed…

When I said I was going to Cape Verde most people's reaction was 'where?' but this archipelago of 10 majestic and diverse islands, marooned just five and a half hours away in the Atlantic Ocean, are developing at a rapid rate and will soon be on everyone’s must-visit list. Situated off the coast of West Africa, around 300 miles from Senegal, the beautiful former Portuguese colony enjoys year-round sunshine, a temperature that rarely dips below 25c and hardly any rainfall.

 

I left a bitterly cold Gatwick airport early one morning at the end of November and after a pleasant flight and speedy transfer to the resort, I was soon dipping my toes into the warm Atlantic and soaking up the balmy late afternoon sun.

 

I stayed at the brand new Melia Tortuga Beach Resort & Spa on Ponta Preta beach, Santa Maria, on the most popular island of Sal. It is a five-star hotel that only opened in May but is already blowing guests away with its level of service, decor and comfort.

 

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There are two main pools, the Yhi Spa, four bars and three restaurants (soon to be four), and it is situated right on the beach front, making this a perfect place to relax and enjoy the Cape Verde experience. There can be no better way than by watching one of the amazing sunsets with a drink in hand at the O'Grille beach bar. Rated number 18 in the best 50 beach bars in the world list compiled by CNN, it really is a slice of paradise.

 

The big attraction of the island of Sal is its glorious beaches and there is no shortage of them, with powder white sand blown in from the Sahara that seems to go on forever. The best can be found at Ponta Preta and Santa Maria - think Caribbean standard but a lot closer to home.

 

Santa Maria is the cosmopolitan island's most popular little town. The cobbled streets are lined with brightly coloured shops, bars and restaurants and lots of quaint little squares where locals and tourists alike are able to sit and watch the world go by. Music is woven into the fabric of life here and you feel the African influence, as well as Brazilian beats, from the rhythms and songs that pour out of every bar in the town.

 

The food in most of the restaurants would hold its own in a larger international city, with fresh fish from local waters including tuna and prawns a particularly tasty favourite. For a really memorable meal I visited the Odjo d'Agua Hotel which has a beautiful setting right on the sea front. Tucking into a succulent steak while waves lapped up against the rocks next to me was Al Fresco dining at its best. Odjo d'Agua really is a culinary delight and has all the ingredients for a perfect meal.

 

The locals, who generally speak good English, are friendly and welcoming and remain true to their saying: 'whilst we may be broke in our pockets, we are millionaires in our hearts.'

 

If you can drag yourself away from the island's jaw-dropping beaches for long enough, a visit to the semi-functioning salt mine at Pedra de Lume is a must. Situated within the walls of the remains of an extinct volcano, the crater lake is 40 times saltier than the sea which makes the buoyancy of the water remarkable.

 

The feeling of weightlessness as I floated around gazing at the bright blue sky was incredible. The salt is also supposed to make you look 10 years younger, although I am still waiting for the effectiveness of that to show through!

 

A large number of tourists come to Sal for the watersports and it’s hardly surprising with its turquoise water proving a fantastic playground for enthusiasts.

 

Sal is considered to be among the best five windsurfing locations in the world and recently hosted the World Kitesurfing Championships. Under water the marine life is as varied as it is remarkable with many different species of tropical fish, dolphins and turtles calling the ocean around Sal home. Add to this a shipwreck just waiting to be explored, and it really is a scuba diver's paradise.

 

The island's breathtaking beaches and crystal clear waters rival any that a Caribbean equivalent could offer and with half the flight time, just a one hour time difference, and without the mass tourism of its more well known counterpart, Cape Verde feels like a secret paradise that is longing to be discovered.

 

I challenge anyone to spend time on these heavenly islands and not adopt the locals' mantra of 'no stress'.

 

 

 

-The Cape Verde Experience can offer seven nights all-inclusive at the Meli� Tortuga Beach & Spa from �799 per person inclusive of flights and airport transfers. Please note this price is subject to availability. For bookings call 0845 330 2071 or visit www.capeverde.co.uk. The Cape Verde Experience is part of Serenity Holidays, a privately owned, independent tour operator. Serenity Holidays have been arranging travel and holidays to West Africa since the late 1980s and pride themselves on their extensive knowledge of this part of the world.