Holidaying on Cape Verde was a truly authentic experience. As travels to exotic places become increasingly commonplace, “Pure Life Experiences” get harder and harder to find. For me, such an experience entails the lack of differentiation between “us” as visitors, and “them”, the people whose country we are visiting.
This definition is best expressed in the services provided, particularly through the food and lodging in Cape Verde. All of the places we stayed at, and ate at, were run and owned by Cape Verdeans (or if not by Cape Verdeans, than by people who have made the country truly their home).
Cape Verdean Cuisine
The food on Cape Verde is excellent. The cuisine is a mix of African, Portuguese and French, all simply done, using the freshest produce. Cape Verde has also seen a lot of immigration in recent times, from the second or third generation immigrant Cape Verdeans returning from the United States or Europe. Many of them are trying to do something different and unique with the local fare. I would describe modern Cape Verdean cuisine as soul food with a twist.
Some of the best places we dined at were:
Ponta do Sol, Santo Antão: Café Caledas
Café Caledas is a small, locally run brasserie serving up modern Cape Verdian food. There is a seasonal menu, which changes depending on the catch of the day, and live Morna music in the evenings. Some of the recipes are really unique, and honestly, the chef would not be out of her league in any large European city. The food was delicious and original.
Nova Sintra, Brava: Café Luanda
A very cute café, run and owned by a Cape Verdean couple returned from the States. They only serve what was caught and delivered that morning. The búzio (a type of clam) was the best I had on the islands. Café Luanda is also a lovely place to relax after a rewarding hike through Brava’s cloud forests.
Lodging in Cape Verde
The Cape Verdean government has taken care to ensure that a significant percentage of the tourist dollar stays within the country. To this end, they have encouraged locally owned establishments over international five star resorts, to the great benefit of both Cape Verdeans and visitors alike. Not only is the offering a lot more diverse, the places we stayed in were all wonderfully charming with lots of personality. Apart from Sal, we lodged primarily in small, family run guest-houses. Getting to know and making friends with our hosts were some of the most satisfying aspects of this holiday.
Some of the most memorable places we can fully recommend are:
Nova Sintra, Brava: Pension O Castelo
Located in the charming town of Nova Sintra, high up on the island of Brava, Pension O Castelo is run by Eugenia Matins, a Cape Verdean American. The guest rooms are simple and comfortable, but what really made our stay here was getting to know Eugenia and her lovely staff. They truly went out of their way to make sure we all had a good time. We were there for New Year’s Eve, and Eugenia threw the best party in town. It gave us and the other guests an excellent opportunity to mingle with the local community of Nova Sintra.
Ponta do Sol, Santo Antão: Casa D’Mar
Casa D’Mar is a small B&B run by Mar and Guillame, who are also excellent guides. Mar and her staff are from the beautiful village of Fontaínhas, about an hour’s hike away. The rooms are comfortable, and they try to bring in something special to the breakfast every morning. All the furniture was made by Mar’s father, and the rooms are simple but cute and very comfortable. Most of the reviews on TripAdvisor are in French, but we’d like to point out here that both Mar and Guillame speak English fluently. We can recommend them wholeheartedly if you’re looking for someone to organise your visit to Santo Antão.
Lombo Comprido, Paúl Valley, Santo Antão: Aldeia Manga
Aldeia Manga is a beautiful eco-lodge, built high up into the side of the Paúl Valley, facing a sheer peak straight out of James Cameron’s Avatar. Being an ecolodge, one can expect bugs and other harmless crawlies. If you’re squeamish, bring an insect net. There are no mosquitoes, however. This lodge is one of the most amazing places I have ever stayed in. If you’re visiting Santo Antão, it is a must.
Mindelo, São Vicente: Pension Goa
An absolutely charming guesthouse, right by the beach and a few small volcanoes, Pension Goa is very nicely designed, with a cute common area, where dinner is served, and a courtyard for breakfasting in. The dinner, which is prepared by Rafhaële, is French styled and very good. It was the last place we stayed in, and we couldn’t think of a better way to end our trip. A true refuge.