This week’s dream
Savoring the island life of São Tomé and Príncipe
“A warm Santomean welcome is just as appealing as a day in the sun on the beach,” said Jo Tinsley in Lonely Planet Traveller. I was rewarded with plenty of both during a recent holiday in São Tomé and Príncipe, a small island nation off Central Africa’s western coast. In this land of plenty, where rain forests flourish, flying fish seem to leap into the boats, and exotic fruits overflow from roadside stalls, Santomeans have understandably developed a culture rooted in slow, simple pleasures. The island motto “Léve, léve” means “Easy, easy,” and after a couple of days of unhurried meals and disarmingly friendly conversations with local strangers, it’s sure to become your motto too.
Many of Príncipe’s beaches feel untouched. At beautiful and empty Praia Banana, turquoise water laps against basalt boulders and a coconut is tossed about by the waves. “It’s all a bit much for one palm, which has crashed out from the sheer bliss of it all.” Further east, on Praia dos Burros, teenagers play cards on upturned boats and a smiling fisherman greets me warmly in a local creole. Later, I learn from chef João Carlos Silva that Santomean cooking is slow and easy, too. The national dish, calulu—a soup of smoked fish, breadfruit, and okra—is a six-hour project. “Happiness transforms everything that we do,” Silva says. “Even the flavor of our food.”
On São Tomé, the larger of the nation’s two main islands, I follow a trail made springy by fallen palm fronds, passing squabbling parrots and dangling snakes. The rain forest is reclaiming the ruins of a 500-year-old church built by Portuguese settlers, the island’s first inhabitants. The old Portuguese cocoa plantations are falling into ruin, too, leaving the Pico Cão Grande, a 2,192-foot spire of volcanic stone, to dominate the landscape. Seeking a perfect view one day, I reach a lookout just as golden light breaks through the mist. “Other than the odd chirrup of a weaver bird, the only sound is the soft tread of flip-flops, as a man ambles home along the road. ‘Tudo bem?’ he asks—am I well? ‘Léve, léve,’ I reply, and he grins.”
At the Principé hotel Roça Belo Monte (belomontehotel.com), doubles start at $398.