Enigmatic Cabo Verde – February 2015
Cabo Verde, the still rather unknown collection of Islands, located East of Senegal & Gambia, is something of a gem. We booked a week here the day after my mother’s wedding (frankly needing a holiday to recover from the stress of it all!) and got a fabulous deal I have to say. Before I get onto that, briefly the flights were about £400 each – it’s almost 8 hours, but is somehow crazily classed as short haul – so it’s the zone of budget airlines & airbuses, for the longest time they can just about get away with – not pleasant. I presume it will be the same with Gambia that I’m keen to try – although a friend of mine, Ms C, advises they are a little anti-gay, so needs more research.
I digress – we booked directly with the hotel – Mr G has a penchant for Melia hotels, and was keen to introduce me to them – and to all inclusive (which predictably, I am sceptical of). Anyway, Mr G is a Reward Member of Melia Hotels, and we got a week for £1,200 all inclusive – rather good value.
The hotel chosen was the Melia Dunas Beach resort – and when we arrived, it had been open for about 3 months. I went along with it, believing at that time we had booked a nice little boutique hotel – it had several a la carte restaurants, so I could move past my fear of all-inc buffet nightmares – it was looking good. When we arrived at the largest island, Sal, it became clear it was not a little boutique property – the island is largely dessert, with sprawling, super-hotels on the coast – it’s quite odd. I was glad we’d plumped for the new property however – the rest of what we saw, including the other Melia property, Tortega Beach, had a real upscale feel about them – need I say more.
So, onto Dunas Beach – the greeting was fab. Dropped off by our transfer at the impressive, central building, we were quickly picked up by buggy and shuttled to ‘our’ reception – we were ‘Level’ guests, the Melia ‘upgrade’ club, allowing you access to more luxurious areas, rooms and generally a better experience full stop. At our reception, we were given a glass of prosecco each, and with the sun shining, I was able to put my misgivings to one side a little and enjoy.
We had booked a suite – and on check in, were upgraded with their compliments to a presidential suite – they have 4, out of the 1000 rooms & apartments – so we were very excited indeed. Check in was unnecessarily protracted which was a tad annoying (sounding precious I am aware but bear with me) – there were endless explanations, maps produced, lists of opening and closing times – all thrust upon us. All of this could have and should have been communicated upon booking, to let us digest the information – as it was, it was quite bewildering.
Our room was quite lovely – we were located in the main building, several floors up, occupying a corner suite. It was vast – still to this day, it is the largest hotel room we have stayed in, with a walk in wardrobe, dining room for 10, a lounge with three four seater sofas, huge four poster bed, and balcony featuring a hot tub. The bathroom had a spa bath too – naturally. In terms of design and look, the floors were all lovely, big cream tiles, and everything was very soothing and neutral – bordering on a little bland (there were lots of the same ornament for example, occupying various shelves and such – literally available from Dunelm Mill, and several still with the prices on) – but nevertheless, thoroughly inoffensive and calming.
We were disappointed to find that room service was not available – particularly given that we had a dining room…it all began to feel a bit like having space for the sake of space. I should say, that in spite of the negatives we experienced, we would go back – and probably back to the Dunas resort – so this is not a negative ‘review’ – do bear that in mind whilst reading.
Eating & Drinking
The hotel has something like 5 restaurants – and being Level guests, allowed us to use any of the a la carte restaurants (all seating about 150 – so not small) with no extra charge (although their main seafood restaurant, Atlantis, did carry an extra charge). Atlantis served the a la carte breakfast which was very pleasant – we did try the ‘standard’ breakfast a couple of times, even daring to bring it up to the room once too. The service here – and around the hotel – was confusing. The people of Cape Verde are lovely, but it does rather feel that the giant hotel groups have simply employed everyone on the island, and left them too it – being offered orange juice for example, as the waitress begins to pour you coffee, was symptomatic of what we experienced throughout. There was one absolutely classic moment, in the champagne bar (something else you needed to pay extra for) where we asked for two Kir Royales (expecting it to be a little challenging to get across what we meant) – which resulted literally in the poor waitress having to phone a friend, and still not understand what we wanted – which was on a list of only about 6 drinks – and all were around £15 each, so a London price. We ended up leaving without our champagne cocktail!
There were plenty of upsides to the hotel however – the private beach (with security) was blissful, and the beach bars had a great aspect out over the Atlantic, to watch the sunset – very special indeed. They had a shop selling fashion, homewear & beauty, along with some convenience bits – which had some interesting local pieces, if somewhat overpriced (note to Melia, no one appreciates paying £30 for sun tan lotion…) – one evening, the amusingly eccentric team of the Shop put on a fashion show up the main boulevard of the resort – which was great fun. That evening, the ‘Level’ area by the beach turned into a disco, which was a little strange but good fun nevertheless once/if you let yourself enjoy it, with the staff leading the dancing, and various team members performing traditional dances. As I said before, they were almost without exception, a friendly, outgoing team that certainly carried the spirit of the island – but sadly had not been trained to fulfil the expectations of their clientele. I was a little unrelenting in my criticism of this at the time, as they would have had plenty of pre-opening time for training and role plays etc, and the excuse of being new just doesn’t wash with me – nor other hoteliers I suspect, as the real difficulty comes from maintaining standards, once your ‘dream team’ moves on after 12-24 months, with no let up in trade.
We spent most of our time at the hotel, enjoying the facilities on offer. We had plumped for the luxury end of what they offered – but there are also a lot of more economical options in the vast complex, and I would highly recommend it for families.
Out & About
We ventured out just once, into the main town of the island, which was quite an experience – we watched on as the local women scaled fresh fish on the pier, amid a cacophony of noise, with children & dogs running around our feet. It was quite a spectacle – and looking up from the pier, we were blown away by the miles and miles of golden – empty – beaches that stretched before us.
We took a tour around the town, a pied, which was interesting – I have to say, I didn’t feel particularly safe. The shop keepers are quite aggressive in their attempts to sell you, almost invariably, a wooden turtle, and whilst I appreciate some people enjoy this it’s not really my thing! Mr G had terrible sunburn, so we were on the hunt for a pharmacy – actually quite a challenge – and for reasons still unknown, Mr G asked a local chap where one was. The chap then decided to walk us to the pharmacy…and predictably, ended up in him asking for money for showing us where the pharmacy was, which soon descended into him trying to barter his services for some of my jewellery – all a little uncomfortable.
We decided to take a stroll up the beach instead of getting a taxi back. If you follow in our footsteps, don’t follow us on this one! As the coastline extends out, the beach actually goes on for miles – and miles. We were probably walking for about 3 to 4 hours, made infinitely worse, by Mr G getting sand in his swim shorts, and proceeding to waddle all the way back (accompanied by manly moans of course).
In sum, there was lots good about the Melia Dunas resort, an about the island as a whole – the beaches are extraordinary. I should imagine they get very busy in the height of the season, but as with Madeira (more so in fact) it’s a great destination for year round sun. As I said, we would return to Cape Verde – and probably to the Melia Dunas resort – and hopefully they will have settled the staff down, and have a better idea of what they are doing.
Who is it for?
Really I would struggle a little to recommend it to couples – I’m just not sure whether super-big, chain hotels are what travelling as a couple is about – even if said chains try very hard to make the experience more individual. I can however, see the great appeal of Cape Verde for families wanting something exotic, with an upfront price tag, and glorious beaches – it would be fun for a group of friends too.
One final thought – the currents in the sea here are incredibly extreme. Cape Verde is a global player in the wind-surfing / water-sports world, and the currents and tides that go with are frankly frightening – we actually felt in serious danger at one point, and both came out of the sea bruised and breathless – there are no life guards to be seen. So do take care.