Cruising into paradise

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The beaches of S�o Tom� are magical.

Príncipe

Our first island of discovery will be Príncipe, the smaller of the two islands at a mere 142km².

Approaching our anchorage golden beaches line the shore and black basaltic rocks poke up through lush, green forests. As per expedition style the Zodiacs do the ship to shore transfer and the landing is on a small private jetty belonging to the luxurious Bom Bom Resort.

SA billionaire Mark Shuttleworth has spent millions buying up properties here, and this resort was the first he purchased.

Palm trees, green lawn, sparkling swimming pool and fancy chalets are part of the deal.

The options for the day are many as the expedition package includes a few choices. There will be a Nature Walk up the hill surrounded by equatorial forest with tall bombax trees and swinging lianas. Endemic birds can be seen flitting among the foliage and squawking, screeching flocks of African Grey parrots are often seen flying overhead. The path leads down onto the long crescent-shaped golden beach and a swim is now in order in the sheltered bay.

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The famed Boca do Inferno, a blow-hole in the volcanic basalt rocks on the shore.

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Another option is to hop onto a rickety vehicle and take a trip into San Antoniao, claimed to be the smallest capital city in the world. There are hardly any cars so it’s easy to wander through the almost deserted town with old buildings, in softly faded pastel colours in the colonial Portuguese style of architecture with shutters and arches.

A third option could be a drive along a potholed and bumpy road that takes you to Sundy, an old Roça, (cocoa plantation) once home to the Portuguese royal family. In the overgrown grounds is a monument commemorating the place where Sir Arthur Eddington proved Einstein’s theory of relativity in 1919.

Take a walk around the old homestead; windows, doors and timber had been brought from Portugal for the construction of the house, even the wonderfully patterned tiles had to be imported and cupboards in the dining room are full of blue and white crockery.

The house is sometimes used for visiting dignitaries. You can walk around the photogenic derelict buildings with the remains of the impressive stables and some of the dilapidated sheds with old steam engines gathering rust. Giggling children, chickens and lazy dogs complete the picture.

You could of course simply remain at the lovely resort and treat yourself to lunch then laze on the beach under the coconut palms.

São Tomé

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São Tomé is only a short overnight sail away and here there are several options to choose from.

One will take you through the small settlement of Trinadade and into the mountains towards an abandoned coffee plantation. Stop on the way to admire the view of the town way below, and then walk to the São Nicolãu waterfall along a rough cobbled road. Banks of cascading maidenhair fern interspersed with other fern species, jumbled with purple flowers and sweet red, wild raspberries.

Pop into the once prolific coffee plantation of Monte Café; tramp around the derelict old buildings, see the wooden cocoa pans with small, side sliding doors and descend narrow wooden steps to the large cocoa drying shed. The 1914 Technologia inscription gives away its age. It must have been a grand roça in its day as it employed thousands of people and spread over a large area.

Carry on for lunch at Bombain, a small, well maintained hotel and restaurant high in the cooler mountains. There will be time to wander through another overgrown garden filled with exotic plants including the world’s largest begonia.

You could also go down the south-east coast to the fishing village of São João dos Angolares and stop on the way at the cocoa factory on the 2 600-hectare plantation Água Izé, once the primary cocoa producer in the country.

The tour continues south along the scenic route to the famous Boca do Inferno, a blow-hole in the volcanic basalt rocks on the shore, where you stop to sip fresh green coconut water. The final stop is at the plantation of São João where an imaginative island style lunch is served on the wooden veranda of the main house overlooking the lush green cocoa plantation.

One of the highlights in the town of São Tomé is a visit to Claudio Corallo’s hallowed chocolate sanctuary, where gentle classical music plays in the background.

For serious chocoholics this is fabulous as you can taste many different varieties of their special chocolate. You will hear about the ancient, but very superior varieties of cocoa pod grown on Principé, transported to São Tomé and made by this Italian family.

Art and craft galleries can be part of the tour and the museum now housed in the Fort of San Sebastian is well worth a visit. The fort was built in 1576 by the Portuguese. A lighthouse is perched on the sea-facing battlement.

Dancers and musicians will end the day visit with a strange performance with its origins deep in a mixture of West African cultures brought by the slaves.

Cape Times


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