Where to stay
Baía do Coral Bungalow bedrooms with air conditioning are simple but
attractive and set in a pretty garden overlooking the sea and volcanic
beach. Doubles from £18. Cidade Velha, Santiago, 00 238 526 9472
Casas do Sol Basic but spacious bungalow rooms in a large hotel just
outside of town. Pool, beach access and homemade yoghurt for
breakfast. Doubles from £41. São Filipe, Fogo, 00 238 281 2024
Don Paco Hotel Free Wi-Fi and air conditioning at a well-located,
business-orientated hotel. Doubles from £62. Rua Cristiano de Sena
Barcelos, Mindelo, São Vicente, 00 238 231 9381, donpacohotel.com
Oásis Coba Tina Stay here for an unforgettable location in the crater
itself, almost within touching distance of the great volcano. Sleek,
contemporary bedrooms are spacious and comfortable. Doubles
from £30. Chã das Caldeiras, Fogo, 00 238 981 4792
Oásis Porto Grande Pleasant, well-established hotel with a swimming pool and well-equipped gym. Satellite TV and air conditioning in bedrooms. Doubles from £90. Praça Amílcar Cabral, Mindelo,
São Vicente, 00 238 232 3190, oasisatlantico.com
Hotel Oásis Praiamar Luxury accommodation on the seafront with
a huge pool and spectacular, panoramic views. Doubles from £120. Prainha, Praia, Santiago, 00 238 260 8440, oasisatlantico.com
Hotel Pedracin Village Blissful, away-from-it-all mountain location with a pretty swimming pool, resident peacocks to add colour and an excellent food offering. Popular as a base for hiking trips. Doubles from £55. Boca de Coruja, Santo Antão, 00 238 224 2020
Quinta da Montanha Boasting a dramatic mountaintop setting, this welcoming, simple hotel is particularly popular as a base for hikers. Doubles from £50. Rui Vaz, Praia, Santiago, 00 238 268 5002
Cape Verde is a collection of ten islands in north-west Africa with a population of 450,000, over half of whom live on the main island of Santiago. Time is 1 hour behind the UK. Currency is the Cape Verde escudo (CVE). Flight time from London to Santiago is around 7 hours.
In April, the average high temperature is 25C and the average low is 19C.
TAP Air Portugal flies from London Gatwick to Santiago’s Nelson Mandela International Airport with one stop in Lisbon. flytap.com TUI has direct flights from Gatwick to Sal Island. tui.co.uk
Cape Verde Tourism is the official tourist board and its website is designed to help you plan your visit, covering all the questions you may have about the islands, from where to stay and eat, and to how to immerse yourself in traditional Cape Verdean culture. turismo.cv
The Last Will and Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo by Cape Verde’s own Germano Almeida (New Directions, £11.99) tells the tale of the straight-laced and much loved businessman Señor de Silva. However, after discovering his last will and testament, the people of Cape Verde realise he was not the man they thought he was.
Where to eat
Prices are per person for three courses with a glass of beer or wine, unless otherwise stated
Babilónia Eco-conscious, rural oasis with accomplished dishes based on produce grown, raised and cooked by the village community. From £10. Lajedos, Porto Novo, Santo Antão, 00 238 227 1054
Baía do Coral Glorious views, home-grown ingredients, ocean-fresh
fish and country cooking plus a super-friendly welcome. From £12.
Cidade Velha, Santiago, 00 238 597 9751
Bar Boaventura ‘Domingas’ Ever-popular no-frills fish restaurant opposite the fish market, where the freshest catch is guaranteed. Main course from £5. Mindelo, São Vicente, 00 238 988 8815
Dokas Sophisticated and clever cuisine with an emphasis on fine local produce in a smart setting overlooking the sport-fishing boats. From £14. Mindelo, São Vicente, 00 238 231 7001
Melícia Friendly roadside café with freshly baked sweet and savoury
pastries and home cooking. From £10. Ribeira da Torre
Nice Kriola Smart restaurant with a dominating view over the waterfront and beautifully presented modern cuisine. From £20. Praça Cruz di Papa, Achada Santo António, Praia, Santiago, 00 238 262 0870
Oásis Coba Tina Excellent traditional regional food plus wine made on the lava doorstep. Booking ahead recommended. From £9. Chã das Caldeiras, Fogo, 00 238 981 4792
Praiamar Restaurant Elegant, top-class cuisine with a Cape Verde beat from chef Amílcar Lopes within the Hotel Oásis. From £20. Prainha, Praia, Santiago, 00 238 260 8440, oasisatlantico.com
Quinta da Montanha Delicious food, good wines, convivial atmosphere and live music, often from the guitar-playing host himself. From £10. Rui Vaz, Praia, Santiago, 00 238 268 5002
Tropical Club A lively courtyard restaurant with a wide menu choice. Look out for local specials such as kid with sweet potato and grouper with a rich tomato sauce. Wash it down with Fogo wine, of course. From £12. Achada Pato, São Filipe, Fogo, 00 238 281 2161
- Little biscuits popularly eaten with grogue or ponche
- Cabrito estufado
- Goat stew
- Bean and corn stew, with or without meat
- Roasted cornflour used to make milk puddings and local ice cream
- Thick chicken soup with rice, onions and carrot
- Not to be mistaken with cous cous, it’s made with steamed ground corn in a large or individual moulds. You’ll often find it sweetened with sugar or drizzled with sugarcane syrup
- Banana and cinnamon fritters dressed with honey and often served for breakfast
- A potent spirit made from distilled sugarcane
- Chicken stew made with rice and beans, it’s a speciality dish of Fogo
- Spicy sausage
- Chilli pepper sauce
- Fried eel
- Gooseneck barnacles
- Grogue with added honey, ginger and fruit
- Pudim de queijo
- Pudding made with cheese, milk, sugar and eggs
- Ricotta-like cheese, also found in Portugal and Brazil
- ‘Romeo and Juliet’
- Fresh goat’s cheese served with candied papaya, traditionally eaten at the end of meals
- Pounded corn, typical of Fogo
Food and Travel Review
When the Cape Verde football team achieved unexpected success in the 2013 African Cup of Nations, their captain was so overcome with emotion that he burst into song during a TV interview. Not just any song, either: Biografia Dum Criolo (Biography of a Creole) is a love letter to his native land that has become an unofficial national anthem.
In music, culture, people and food, the tiny, multi-faceted archipelago floating 640km off the coast of Senegal reflects a blend of historical and geographical influences distilled into a captivating rainbow-nation whole. The country is a tangled web of Portuguese, African, Brazilian and even English elements (‘chatope’, delightfully, is Creole for ‘shut up’), but the islands are a paradox: not a cape, not green, not African, not Portuguese, simply something else.
Isolated by an ocean that is both a bridge of dreams to another, richer world and a kind of prison, each generation has known poverty, sorrow and separation. Yet, despite the sadness of parting and lost love, there is joyfulness in the sweet melodies, insistent rhythms and hip-shaking beats that represent Caboverdeanidade, the essence of Cape Verde, crossroads of the Atlantic.
Music and the poetry of song underpin daily life. They beckon seductively through every doorway, round each corner, echoed in the crash of Atlantic surf and lifted on winds that circle the volcanic peaks with the mournful cry of longing (sodade), the soul of morna. The latter is the most celebrated of the many Cape Verdean musical forms, defined by languorous melodies and sensual edginess: the velvet voice of Cesária Évoria, the ‘barefoot diva’, perfectly captures the country’s soul.
As in music, so in food. The kaleidoscopic song and dance
soundtrack is mirrored in the cooking of the islands, at once uniform
and diverse, that began with 15th-century Portuguese explorers
who landed on the hitherto uninhabited, barren islands at what is
now Santiago’s ruined Cidade Velha, Cape Verde’s first Unesco
World Heritage Site. The colonists rapidly realised their strategic
importance and soon trade between Europe, Africa and America
flourished based on shipping supplies and the
slave trade. Even today on Santiago, the most African in flavour of
the islands, there are communities descended from runaway slaves.
The landscape of the ten little pieces of land scattered across the
sea ranges from dramatic volcanic peaks to incandescent beaches
and shining black ones streaked with turtle tracks, to jagged ravines
and Martian-red plains. Apart from vast salt pans, however, there
are few natural resources. Undeterred, the settlers released goats
that fed on scrub and provided meat, milk, butter and cheese.
Fresh goat’s cheese with candied papaya is deliciously ubiquitous
at the end of each meal, colloquially called ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Why? Because they simply go together.
The colonialists planted corn and cassava from Brazil along with bananas, cashews and peanuts, sweet potatoes, coconuts, chillies, breadfruit and more. As Laurens van de Post once wrote on the subject of food in Africa, ‘It was the Portuguese, with their gardeners’ souls and their capacity to endure, who led an entire continent into a new range of food’.
Cape Verde gained peaceful independence from Portugal in 1975, and its transition from third world to UN ‘middle income’ status has largely been fuelled by tourism. The country is still rather a work in progress, buffeted by the world economy as much as by the Atlantic winds, where half-finished buildings and rubble-strewn lots sit alongside high-concept design and handsome mansions.
One man in particular has an acute understanding of the complex issues that can blight unfettered development. Leão Lopes is a former minister of culture, academic and artist who has established the charming Babilónia restaurant in a tranquil corner of rural Santo Antão as a non-profit cooperative. A team of local women cook up a storm with a menu based on their own home-grown produce such as barbecued pork and duck with savoury corn. It is a model of small-scale sustainable tourism.
Cape Verde produces a sparkling array of exotic fruit: mangoes and guava, papaya, quince and green grenades of sweetsop, eaten fresh or made into jewel-like preserves. There are surprises, too, such as seasonal crops of strawberries, delicately sweet in the heat, or tartly refreshing juice from the baobab, Africa’s ‘Tree of Life’. Vegetables, as you’d expect, are also grown in abundance: carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, cabbage, green beans, cassava and yams reference a multi-cultural heritage.
The excellent bread is a Portuguese inheritance: in the pretty town of São Filipe on Fogo, where the cobbled streets dotted with old colonial houses tumble down to the Atlantic swells, the smell of freshly baked bread wafts enticingly out of a tiny, ancient, wood-fired bakery. Maria Augusta, as venerable as her surrounds, has been making hot buttered rolls, sweet cheese pastries, ‘sand’ cakes and honey biscuits for as long as anyone, including herself, can remember. After a day on the beach, nothing tastes so good.
In the Cape Verdean kitchen everything starts with onions, tomatoes and garlic, especially the little, pungent island bulbs. There is a similar repertoire with multiple variations as well as unique island dishes: cachupa stew with barley in São Vicente; beans, scrambled egg and fresh coriander in Santo Antão; or the magnificent, multi-layered cozido de piexe, fish stew thickened West African-style with coconut flesh and milk plus beans, rice and quails’ eggs, traditionally served for Ash Wednesday on Santiago.
The Portuguese also took their coffee seriously and the plantations have had over 300 years to adapt to the dry, arid climate of volcanic Fogo and Santo Antão, producing a brew that is distinctively aromatic with the flavour of hibiscus flowers and the mellow smoothness of a beautiful bossa nova.
Winemaking on Fogo is equally old. One of the world’s most extraordinary wineries, Chã Vinho do Fogo, is located within the vast Stygian crater of Chã das Caldeiras, hemmed in by massive rocky walls and dominated by the formidable, thrillingly active cone of Pico do Fogo. It seems a miracle: unsupported vines somehow cling to the monochromatic lava and ash slopes interspersed with pomegranate, apple and quince trees growing courageously in a world of complete, magical silence.
Sugarcane arrived in Cape Verde via Africa and it is the sweetening agent for many confections made with the likes of coconut, banana, pumpkin and papaya. It is also the basis for eye-watering grogue (from the English sea-faring word), widely regarded as a natural elixir. In the hidden Conradian canyons of Santo Antão, cane is cultivated in precipitous terraces and distilled in wooden presses powered by oxen. It takes practice (and dedication) to discern the variations, although rough village brews or large brands that contain additives are best avoided. Look for the pure artisan brand of Mestres das Ribeiras. Ponche, made with the addition of honey, ginger and fruit, softens the unfettered rawness but is also dangerously drinkable.
There is a Creole expression that two inseparable people are like corn and beans; always planted together. Corn, practical and omnipresent in particular, is the breath and body of Cape Verdean agriculture but both are essential components of cachupa, the slow-cooked stew that contains other ingredients according to the whim and pocket of the cook; leftovers are fried up into a chewy succulent mass with an egg for breakfast. It is a dish that symbolises home for the large, proud Cape Verdean diaspora.
Ever-popular ground corn cuscus is steamed in somewhat startling breast-shaped moulds, then drenched with sugarcane syrup. Corn puddings and breads are traditionally made with flour or meal from the indigenous but increasingly rare white corn. Locals insist that compared to the ready-prepared imported corn, it is considerably firmer and has a subtle, finer taste, but the latter is conveniently available in every mini-mercado.
The fish markets are a dizzy daily carnival, the catch landed from small inshore boats. It’s a raucous scene dominated by terrifyingly rambunctious fishwives who take no prisoners save the tuna, greater amberjack, wahoo, grouper, octopus, moray eel and mackerel shimmering on sacrificial slabs. In one corner of the apparent mayhem of Mindelo’s market, a pop-up kitchen serves a constant crowd clamouring for cachupa, chicken soup in old margarine containers, spicy fish broth, plates of rice and beans and enamel mugs of coffee. Bring your own spoon.
A substantial fish soup-cum-stew is made throughout the islands, packed with a variety of fish and vegetables and finished with fresh coriander. Twinkly and gracious, Lily Freitas, the ‘Queen Mother of Carnival’ who leads her ‘Africa’ crew in São Vicente to regular victory, includes fish heads for depth of flavour before serving the team a huge, moist, spicy cake shaped like the African continent.
A bright, new nation on the rise, Cape Verde boasts youthful zest and creative ideas, even if they are not always subject to the tyranny of time. Two chefs, in particular, who have returned to the islands have brought a sophisticated swing to traditional dishes. At the Oásis Praiamar in Praia, Amílcar Lopes has a whip- smart modern menu, and his refined version of cachupa is a triumph: he even made it into the Guinness Book of Records with a cachupa that weighed six tonnes and fed 30,000 people. Another talented homecoming boy Amílcar Tavares, at Dokas in Mindelo, is also a strong advocate for local produce, which he uses in dishes such as an inspired lobster carpaccio.
Although mackerel is available year-round, it is most plentiful in early summer, when the Kavala Fresk (mackerel festival) is held in the lively, slightly piratical city of Mindelo. Everywhere fish sizzles on rickety chargrills and restaurants compete with new recipes. For many, however, the gold standard remains the Bar Bonaventura ‘Domingas’, where it is served in a simple marinade of oil, vinegar, garlic and parsley. At the ‘feastival’ the raucous party goes on all night. The samba bands, parade and prodigious amounts of grogue add spirit in every sense. The sadness that life brings is for tomorrow. Tonight is for celebration. It’s a Cape Verde way of life.
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