We stopped by Óbidos on our way from Sintra to Porto. Having left Sintra a little late, we almost decided to skip it, but are very glad we didn't. A nominee for a UNESCO heritage site, this charming fortress town is full of history and a perfect prototype of a medieval city.
Half an hour’s drive from Lisbon, Sintra is the perfect getaway for anyone looking for somewhere affordable and fairly easy to get to. A UNESCO heritage site, and the centre of European Romantic Architecture, Sintra and its parks are culturally rich and aesthetically stunning. Here ingenious architecture blends into exuberant nature; the climate is always cool, and the wi-fi is pretty slow. In other words, the perfect place to get away from it all. If you live in Europe, it’s a short flight away and practically in your backyard.
The landscape in Sintra is unique unto its own. While each location is distinctly of its own time and place, with building and structures having been constructed over the Serra (the hills upon which Sintra is built) over hundreds of years, the entire settlement has an essential integrity. One where man-made structures have been harmonised with the surrounding nature.
The Moorish Castle is an unmistakably medieval castle located on an outcrop upon the Serra, where it, and all other cultural artifacts of the Sintra Cultural Landscape are built upon. The castle is very well preserved, and climbing the Moorish Castle really took us back in time, all the way to the 8th century, when it was built.
Walking its winding paths and narrow ledges instinctively take you back in time, to just after the Muslim conquest of the Iberian peninsula. Here, the architecture was built without much regard for the safety of everyday use. Pathways are built into sheer walls, and huge boulders form an integral part of the architecture.
The Pena Palace sits on a high peak of the Serra, dominating the views from the town of Sintra. An architectural work of pure Romanticism, the palace was once a monastery severely damaged in the great Lisbon earthquake in the late 18th century.
Despite this, the chapel, attributed to the early 16th Century French architect Nicolau Chanterene, remained mostly intact. In 1838, It was acquired by Prince Ferdinand II and transformed into a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family.
The initiation well of Quinta de Regaleira is one of those places that has slowly seeped into public consciousness, captivating our imaginations. The well, and indeed, all of Quinta de Regaleira, is half in the real, and half in an imagined world.
Through clever architecture tapping into a multitude of mystical beliefs throughout time and many different cultures, the place has managed to conjure up an atmosphere of enchantment.
Kasbah du Toubkal is possibly the most remote place I’ve ever lodged in. Located in the heart of the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, it is the stunning result of an extraordinary venture between Berber and European entrepreneurs.Part of the properties listed with Pure Life Experiences, Kasbah du Toubkal is not simply a centuries old castle in a stunning location in North Africa (although that in itself is already amazing), but an experience unto its own.
As a testament to the beauty and mystery of the Kasbah and the village of Imlil in which it is situated, Martin Scorsese’s shot an epic biographical film about the life of the 14th Dalai Lama in the region. For the month of November, in 1996, Kasbah was temporarily transformed into Dungkar, a Tibetan Monastery.
Secrets of the Convent of the Capuchos The Mysteries of Quinta de Regaleira Science, Romanticism and the Pena National Palace Climbing the Moorish Castle Magical Weekend Getaway in Sintra Medieval Charm in…
Beyond diving and the beaches, Sal has a few other things to offer. One of them is horse riding in the dunes, an activity that became popular among tourist in recent times.
The other activities can be accomplished by taking the Sal island tour. These are usually done in groups of 6 to 12, and are either half day or full day. Tours are €30–€45, but for a little extra, you can get a guide all to yourself.
We ended our stay in Cape Verde by winding down in Residencial Goa, in Mindelo, on São Vicente. It was the perfect end to our trip. The beaches on São Vicente aren’t as beautiful as the ones on the other islands like Sal or Boa Vista, but the island had other charms.
It was fairly uncrowded, and had a few interesting trails in the rough, rocky desert. While we were there, however, the winds were really reaching their peak after a few days of storms threatening, so we satisfied ourselves with short walks out to the hill in the backyard of our hotel.
The perfect cocktail for hot summer evenings, the Celtic Angel is a mint and citrus delight.
Refreshing, with just a touch of sweetness, it invigorates with Crème de menthe and packs a subtle zing with a dash of lemon. It’s a simple drink to make, and a lovely twist to the classic Gin and Tonic.
In the heart of Santiago island, is Sucupira market, right in the middle of the capital’s old center. The Market paints an anthropological portrait of Cape Verde, with its colourful produce and lively, friendly vibe. The gates to the market on the Avenue Cidade de Lisboa are an entry into a labyrinth of stalls laden with all sorts of things for sale, from fresh fruits, vegetables and raw meat to local CDs and African fabrics.
The Sucupira Market is located in the area known as “The Plateau”, a section of town in the heart of Santiago’s capital. It’s called the Plateau because its XX meters above sea-level, and you can feel this in the colour of the light and the cool air that blows through the streets. The pace of life on the Plateau is bustling, but relaxed. We enjoyed chilling out in the cafe of our hotel, the Santa Maria. It was an excellent spot for people watching.
Even if you don’t have time to hike through Santo Antão’s valleys, the island is well worth driving around. With a car, you could enjoy stunning impressions of the island’s eastern landscape in a few hours. If you have a night to spare, we would also recommend driving down towards Tarrafal mid-afternoon, experiencing the sunset along the way. But honestly, even our week on the island proved to be far too short. A day could not do the sights on the island justice.
Landing on Porto Novo, we met our guide, Mar, from Nobai who was planning on taking us on a hike through the area of Xôxô. We we running on very little sleep however, due to odd flight and ferry times (flights near midnight, and ferries at dawn), and told her we’d like to take it easy. She suggested a scenic drive instead, that would allow us to see most of the things we would have encountered on our hike around Xôxô.
Having taken the “Fast Ferry” (don’t take it if you can help it) from Brava to Fogo, and then to Santiago, we had the opportunity to visit Cidade Velha, while waiting for our flight out to São Vicente. Cape Verde’s Oldest Settlement, Cidade Velha, is a UNESCO heritage site on the southern coast of Santiago, a short drive from the capital Praia. The town has a colourful and tortured history, having been both an important port for slave trading and an essential stop for Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus, as they went on quests which eventually lead to an age of European colonisation.
Now, Cidade Velha is a bustling town that thrives primarily on the tourist trade. It’s not very big, and can be experienced in half a day, which was what we did while waiting for our flight to São Vicente. There are four areas, or sites of interest, here. They are the Fort Real de São Filipe, which looks over the downtown area of Cidade Velha, the Nossa Senhora do Rosário church, the Pillory monument and the Rue des Bananas.
Tarrafal sits on the western shore of Santo Antão, about half a day’s drive across the island from the Paúl Valley. The road to Tarrafal is absolutely spectacular. In the span of six hours, we drove through lush forest into stark, dry, rock deserts. The change in landscape happened abruptly as we moved from the misty windward side of the volcano, into the dry, sunny, leeward side.
Halfway across the island, we stopped in the town of Lagoa, where we left our driver who had taken us around the eastern areas of Santo Antão. Here, we boarded a small pick-up truck, one of many that ferried Cape Verdeans and tourist alike around the hamlets along the western coast. A man tried to board our truck under the pretence of hitching a ride, but our driver took us to the police station just around the corner, where a policeman came out, yelling at the man to get off. There were a few other genuine hitch-hikers though, who needed to be dropped of at a mining village a few kilometres down the road. These we picked up.
A relatively easy and short hike to do is the waterfall hike in Paúl Valley, in the area of Ribeira das Pombas. For our last hike on Santo Antão, Mar took us to see the Ra de Neve waterfall, which flowed between two steep bluffs that crack the surface of the island. We were dropped off in the village at the mouth of the hollow it was situated in, and made our way down.
The valley floor was relatively flat, and covered with broken rocks. Beside us, the cliffs rose sharply, and it felt as if we were entering some secret, well-protected place. It was not difficult to imagine that deep into the geological past of the island, a mighty waterfall once poured from it’s mouth, and the powerful river flowed from the ridges of the island into the Atlantic ocean. Now, whether it is by design, with most of Santo Antão’s fresh water being redirected for agriculture, or by a change in climate, the waterfall is barely a stream. I suppose it could also have been the season.
Our second hike took us inland, into the area of The Three Valleys. Each of the valleys offer a different experience, with different types of agriculture practiced, in each. It is a few kilometres inland from our B&B, Casa D’Mar, in Ponta do Sol. We were dropped of in Boca de Coruja, a small village just at the edge of a low terraced hill. From here, we entered the valley of Chá de Pedras, descending into a large corn field. The fields were tended to by the people who lived on them. Small, stone houses from which classic Cape Verdean morna was heard, dotted the area. The valley was alive with Cesária Évora’s clear, powerful voice.
As we walked through the village of Ribeirão, we saw a strange, headless statue carved from stone. Our guide, Mar, told us that it was sculpted by someone from the area, and that there were a couple of them to be found among the plantations of corn and cassava. This hike was a relatively easy one, with most of the route paved, or on flat dirt tracks.
The Paúl Valley on Santo Antão is absolultely, 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 crop grow in abundance.
The hiking trail winds along the valley’s terraced slopes, ascending and descending over it’s 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.
Santo Antão’s coastal route along the north of the island is one of its most popular hiking trials. Our guide Mar, knowing we wanted to take it relatively easy on our first trek of the island, took us along this route. It was a relatively easy hike, and a great introduction to what we could expect to discover in the coming days. The route joins the towns of Cruzinha da Garça, Formiguinhas, Fontainhas and continues on, all the way, to Ponta do Sol.
The hike along the ancient coast was breath-taking, with steep bluffs and rugged cliffs facing the Atlantic. Our path clung onto the winding contours of age-old lava flows and ocean rock. Occasionally, it took a detour, cutting into deep valleys occupied by charming, small, villages.
Diving in the Atlantic ocean was both very exciting and, just ever-so-slightly, nerve-wrecking. Most of our previous dive experience was confined to protected bays located in calm seas, so diving around Sal island, in the Atlantic, presented new challenges. We did our dives with Cabo Verde Diving, which was a walk away from our hotel, Dunas de Sal. The dive center itself was well appointed, and well stocked. Despite both Danijel and myself being odd sizes, they found us wet-suits that fitted perfectly. This time along, we had brought our own regulators, which we were excited to use, for the second time (after Malta, which we will write about sometime soon).
All the dives done off Sal, are boat dives. They depart not from Kite Beach, where the dive center is located, but from the pier just off the main town on Sal, Santa Maria. This is where all the boats depart and arrive, for tourists and free-diving fishermen alike.
Santa Marilha Horse Excursions began when Carlotta and Teo decided to help horses whose owners could no longer afford to take care of them. Over the last decade, their stable has slowly adopted many beautiful horses found all over the islands of Cape Verde, and beyond. Thanks to them, unwanted Cape Verdean horses now have a home and are well looked after.
Horse-riding has really caught on with visitors to the Cape Verdean islands in recent years. However, they were an integral part of the Cape Verdean economy during colonial times. Initially, horses were brought in from Europe to be traded on the islands, but eventually, to meet the booming demand for horses on the African continent, horses were bred on the islands themselves. Some descendants of these horses can still be found roaming wild on the islands.
The perfect moussaka is light and fluffy, with a golden crust, resting on thick, silky layers of roasted aubergine and minced lamb. Like most recipes originating from the Ottoman empire, it has different variations all throughout the Balkans, the Levant and Greece. If you ask anyone from these areas, ‘what makes a moussaka’, you’d get a different answer. Potatoes or aubergine? Lamb, beef, or no meat at all? Custard or béchamel?
My personal preference takes the roasted aubergine and tomatoes from Greece, and the custard and cheesy crust from the Balkans to give maximum flavour and texture.
Head northwest of Nova Sintra, on a relatively easy and well maintained cobblestone path, and you will reach the town of Rodela Baixo. From here, there is a trail to the town of Fajã de Água, one of Cape Verde’s most charming bays. The trail is a descent of moderate difficulty, through a deep valley terraced with fruit orchids.
Tamarinds, maracuja (passionfruit) and papaya were in season, and my favourite part of the trial was snacking on the freshly ripened tamarind hanging low off their trees. If you live in a city like we do, freshly ripened anything is always a treat.
New Year’s usually entail being stuck in traffic on the way to parties that end badly, listening to friends talk about resolutions you know they will never fulfill. To avoid situations like these, we pack our bags and head off to somewhere remote. This year, we entered the new year on Cape Verde, in the beautiful town of Nova Sintra, up near the rim of Brava island.
The funniest thing about New Year is that all it celebrates is the transitioning of one day into the next. Yet, no other occasion is celebrated so globally, and with such enthusiasm.
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 Verdians (or if not by Cape Verdians, than by people who have made the country truly their home).
We were fortunate to have the people at Nobai help us with our travel arrangements. Travelling between islands in Cape Verde can be a bit of a logistical nightmare, with the different options involved.
To compound the problem for us (or rather, Lucille, form Nobai, who arranged our inter-island transportation), volcanic activity from Fogo disrupted flights to and between the southern islands.
On our holiday, we met many travelers who returned to Cape Verde on a regular basis. On Brava, we stayed with a Belgian couple who came back every year, and had been doing so for over a decade. At first, we wondered why – surely, by now, they must have seen everything there was to see. However, by the end of our three weeks, it felt as if we had only scratched the surface of what the islands have to offer. Here, we provide an overview of the things to do on the Cape Verde islands that we have visited (six out of the ten islands).
Cape Verde has ten islands divided into two groups, the windward islands to the north, and the leeward islands to the south. Depending on what you like to do, each has its own unique offering. In three weeks, we only managed to cover six of the islands. Fogo had been on the list as well, but unfortunately a month prior to our visit, the volcano erupted, making visiting the island inadvisable.
February, when all the fun of the holiday season is over with the end of winter still far from sight. Only two things make it better – the lengthening of the days, and the occasional remnant of Christmas spirit after a bit of snow. To bring a bit of cheer to this most tedious of months, we’ve concocted something festive for this week’s post-modern burger, the Duck à l’Orange Burger.
This burger is basically a rich, rough-cut duck patty on a corn cake, moistened with mandarine jelly, garnished with brittle mandarine caramel, crispy duck skin and butter fried sage. The salad adds additional crunch, and the tart of the physalis ties the meaty richness of the duck with the sweetness of the mandarine caramel. We had decided to swap oranges for mandarines, as they provide a lovely extra layer of fragrance.
We had arrived late to the home port of Brava on the Kriola “Fast Ferry” (there was nothing fast about it), and were hurriedly shuttled to our pension in the little town of Nova Sintra, sitting high up on the rim of the island.
The moonlit views of Brava as we were being driven along a narrow cobblestone road, winding through the island’s lush forests, were enchanting.
Cape Verde is more than its beach resorts on the islands of Sal and Boa Vista. Its islands, with their diverse micro-climates, boast varying habitats serving many species of plants and animals.
Its unique geography is home to both endemic and imported life forms, and we experienced varying types of deserts and rain forests, going from one island to the next.
Apart from how delicious they can be, I like burgers mostly because of the way they look. Simply presented with each component on their own separate levels, burgers appeal to my tastebuds and sense of aesthetics. Its why I find Scanwiches such an addictive website. I don’t know why its so addictive, but take a look and tell me that you don’t end up spending at least the next few minutes of your life scrolling through all those endless possibilities to be found between the layers of a bun.
Anyway, in what Danijel and I hope to be the first in a series of indulgent burger eating weekends, we present the Tom Kha Gai Fish Burger. Deconstructing the popular Thai dish, we reassembled its ingredients into a luscious, creamy and flavourful burger. Personally, I don’t think it tastes too much like TKG, but it has a definite Thai bent due to the substantial amount of coconut cream, chilies and lemon-basil used.
We entered Aqaba 3 days ahead of schedule, escaping a dust storm that made visiting Wadi Rum impossible. Being out of doors was impractical because the dust was so thick – thankfully it didn’t matter because we were lodged in the beautiful Kempinski hotel.
Jordan’s “Desert Castles” are a group of early-Islamic buildings located east of Amman in various locations throughout the desert. Visiting them is easy, and for us, constituted a one day excursion out of Amman.
Although there are 9 of them located in a loop in close vicinity of each other, it is not possible to see all, and our guide recommended us Qasr Kharana and Qasr Amra.
Despite Jordan being such a popular tourist destination, we were unable to find an itinerary for the length of time we had available, which we thought would have been comprehensive enough. Therefore, we’re going to put the one we made up here for future travellers.
This itinerary covers just over two weeks (15 days actually) and will take you through all of Jordan’s major attractions. Links throughout the post link to the pages on this site describing the locations in greater detail.
Canyoning through Wadi Mujib was incredible. At the beginning of the trail, we donned life jackets and walked down the flimsy aluminium ramps and stairs, not knowing what to expect. Wading down the shallows into the gorge, we felt like we’d entered a Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean Ride, except without the same safety precautions and the potential to slip up badly.
Deeper in, when we could no longer walk on the river bed, there were ropes pinned in a zig-zag pattern through the gorge. These you grabbed onto and pulled yourself forward with, further into the canyon while floating on your life-vest.
As a kid, I always wondered if there actually was a way to walk on water, one devoid of miraculous explanations.
My first introduction to the Dead Sea was a few pictures in the travel supplement of the local newspaper, depicting people floating on it effortlessly. Imagine, to not sink in water! It became and obsession and I nagged my parents to take me there. They never did, and my dreams of floating on a body of water, however remarkable, soon faded as I got older.
Dana valley was my favourite destination in Jordan. Our experience of the reserve stretched from Dana Guesthouse to Feynan Ecolodge, connected by a breath-taking 16 kilometre trek with diverse, magnificent flora and fauna over a multi-climate landscape.
At the top of the valley, where Dana Guesthouse was perched over a cliff overlooking the breath-taking views, we were treated to a cool Mediterranean climate. Down in the valley floor though, we walked through tricking streams in Saharan temperatures.
The Valley of the Moon, it is called. One can see why, with its unearthly, monumental rock formations rising out steeply beside us as we make our way through Wadi Rum on the back of a pick-up truck. Once at the bottom of the ocean, it is now dry, its floor covered in peculiar red pebbles, its cliffs topped with soft sandstone melting like candle wax over the harder granite that form their lower levels.
When it storms, our guide told us, the waters pour out from the heavens and cascade in a thousand waterfalls over all the cliffs.
Jerash is a beautiful, sprawling complex of colonnaded streets, monumental arches, plazas, baths and theatres. One of the best preserved Roman sites in the world, it is often over-shadowed by Petra and given a miss by the time pressed traveler for Jordan’s other attractions.
This is a pity, as Jerash truly holds its own in the network of Roman cities; as it did in antiquity, so it does today.
Petra is one of the most intriguing Wonders I have visited. The combination of architecture fused with nature is a powerful one that has always captured my imagination and made me wonder at the power of nature and the mastery of man over it.
Entering Petra through the siq – a narrow passage created through tectonic forces and worn smooth by water – is stepping through time. This passage holds the scars of nature and the works of man across hundreds and thousands of millennia. It is breath-taking.
Amman is a young city, we are told, as our driver and guide drove us into the center from Queen Alia airport. Its history is as long as the history of human civilization, but the city itself is as young as the Kingdom of Jordan.
It radiates from the Raghadan Flagpole which hoists the country’s flag, so many limestone buildings in varying shades of white glistening under the desert sun, undulating over nineteen hills, from the center to suburbia. Built with limestone from the surrounding hills, altogether, it looks as if it were sculpted from the very ground beneath.
What to see, where to eat and sleep, and how to tip and bargain.