The Paúl Valley on Santo Antão is absolutely, hands down, the most stunning place I have ever been to. The valley seemed right out of Gabriel García Márquez’s magic realism novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. The greenest valley among all the islands of Cape Verde, it is dedicated primarily to agriculture. Here, mangoes, passionfruit, bananas, sugarcane and many other crops grow in abundance.
The hiking trail winds along the valley’s terraced slopes, ascending and descending over its many ridges. The start of our hike, at Pé d’Eucalipto, was about sea-level, gradually climbing up to one of the valley’s highest peaks, before descending again.
Its undulating nature afforded us many different viewpoints of this beautiful area. I suppose what makes this hike such a great one is that the views are constantly changing, with new surprises around each bend and ridge.
At the highest point of our hike, we were rewarded with swooping vistas looking into the entire valley. The Paúl Valley is at once wild and domesticated. The huge variety of produce grown prevents it from suffering the fate of most agricultural landscapes, which tend to specialise in only one or two types of crop.
As we descended from the peak, we heard the bleating of little goat kids and encountered a small tribe of them in a stone shed. They were playful and didn’t mind us hanging around making photos of them.
For lunch, we stopped at Rosa’s home, in a cosy stone house typical of the Paúl Valley area. This was a much needed break for our knees. The home-cooked meal of chicken (and they only have the free range sort here), and various root vegetables, prepared by Rosa’s daughter, Joana, was also very much welcomed. The view from the sheltered balcony where we lunched, was right out of a storybook.
Lush vegetation surrounded us, and a little stream ran alongside our hiking trail, pooling beside potato patches and cutting into rocky outcrops.
We descended all the way to the valley floor, into the area of Boca de Figueiral, where we encountered more livestock. Mar, our guide, stopped to chat with the man who was tending to a cow and its calf. He told her that the calf was born just last night, and lifted it in his arms for a photograph. We continued along the valley floor, which was absolutely stunning, walking alongside the river towards our pick-up point. The area was bustling with activity, with children bathing in little stone reservoirs, women doing the laundry and men hauling cement and other construction material in sacks balanced on their heads!
By mid-afternoon, we were in the town of Cha de Manuel dos Santos, where our pick-up awaited, to take us to the beautiful ecolodge, Aldeia Manga. Possibly one of the most uniquely situated properties in the entire world, Aldeia Manga is right in the heart of the Paúl Valley, in the small village of Lombo Comprido. The drive to the lodge was picturesque, passing by small white stone houses with thatched roofs.
After some time, it became apparent why we were riding in a four-wheel drive. About a kilometre away from the lodge, the cobblestone road turned into a dirt track and veered steeply upwards. It made me think of how much skill it must take to navigate the roads of the Paúl Valley.
I was completely gobsmacked when I saw the lodge for the first time. To be honest, for every day I was there, I couldn’t believe such a place could, and does, exist. The lodge comprises of 6 separate guest-houses, accessed from the central garden, which also features a swimming pond. The garden itself is lovely, both wild and tame at the same time, featuring all sorts of flowering plants, both native and foreign to Cape Verde. But the best thing about Aldeia Manga is the view from the garden, which faces a steep ridge stretching out into the clouds. On the first day we were there, a layer of mist covered the entire valley, and a layer of thick fog clustered at the peak of the ridge, making it seem as if it went on forever, into the sky.