The landscape seems spread on like icing. There’s something so calming about the absence of geography here on Sal, Cape Verde’s sandiest island, from the oft-tended lawns and glassy swimming pools to the deep muscovado beach and the infinite Atlantic. The long, low, neutral architecture mimics this at Robinson’s 25th property, launched on the German hotelier’s 50th anniversary. The adults-only vibe is chill; the beguilingly fit staffers (called “robins”) are chill. “No stress,” they’ll respond when you look up from your beach lounger and ask, “Is it Friday?” With WiFi at the mercy of this remote African nation, the only way you’re really sure is when your fellow patrons arrive for the weekly Friday night gala, when everyone dresses smarter, gets tipsier and raves harder.
Imagine Tenerife in the ’60s and you’ll get the far-flung, free-spirited feel of Sal, a volcanic vestige of barely 20,000 people. A 20-minute airport transfer on the island’s only road lands you at this south-facing chunk of prime, private beachfront with an endless horizon and a view to Santa Maria village, an easy walk away. Almost consistently sunny, with temperatures hovering around the upper 20s, the quiet bay cools off with healthy winds between October and April – a tailored app keeps track of the conditions. Teak loungers equipped with tiki sunshades and windscreens pivot for clear views to sunrise and sunset. Ditto the flotilla of beanbag chairs spilling out from the beach bar.
That wind, though… it’s a boon to surfers, who come for the satisfying swell, and pleasure-sailors, for the fleet of tip-top Topcats. By noon the sky is rainbow-coloured from kite-surfers, who migrate round the island’s east side for the even more powerful breezes. Twice weekly, a van from the resort’s partner Tui departs for a half-day catamaran cruise from the Palmeira, Sal’s vibrant fishing port. Stocked with snacks, beer and the local spirit grogue (for a punch-in-the-face caipirinha), it stops at a prime snorkelling bay overlooked by Sleeping Lion peak.
Will you forego stylish extravagances for pristine bathrooms, handy light switches and USB ports by the bed? We forgave Robinson that peculiar Mitteleuropean practice of pushing together twin beds with separate duvets – it’s not for everyone, but it suits friend-groups bunking together. Suites get an extra loo and soaker tub, plus a handsome German sofa to put up a third wheel. Introverts can take sundowners on the sea-view terrace, or prepare their own pod-coffee. Just beware the Do Not Disturb sign: it will blow away unless you deftly wedge it in your closed door, and maids can be persistent. The waves and breeze any noise from your fellow guests, unless they happen to be standing right outside.
Designers have cracked the fly-and-flop atmosphere with a sweep of low-rise guesthouses hugging patchwork gardens and a 40-metre relaxation pool. Past the surf-chic lobby is a quiet “plaza” with a boutique, hair salon, cocktail bar and coffee house stocked with Acapulco chairs. Boardwalks meander out to the beach, but there’s more if you seek it out. Above the vast main restaurant, a full gym and fitness studio open up to the shore. A second pool, where novice divers earn their stripes, backs onto a spa and sauna complex with a “non-naked” option. The main bar stretches out in the other direction; come for an evening soak and the circulating wait staff will hand you a champagne cocktail during the nightly live-music extravaganza.
Look for the watersports Mecca beside the beach bar. Skilled staff will train you up on anything (GPS-equipped paddleboards, kite-surfers, hydrofoils and catamarans), with carbon boards reserved for the truly proficient. Stay elsewhere if you prefer to Jetski – nobody needs that sound pollution here.
Robinson have imported it all, along with 90 per cent of staffers. So rather than overgrown lobster, tiger prawns and the native barnacle-like cracas grilled by a local chef, you’ll have grilled meats, potatoes, pickled veg, pan-Asian stirfrys and inoffensive whitefish. Three all-inclusive meals and afternoon snacks at the main restaurant feed you almost constantly from 7.30am until 9.30pm, when you’ll find yourself trawling the acreage of patisserie. But for some variation and a hint of spice, book into Pousada, a mood-lit tapas bar that opens every evening for Portuguese-inflected gambas, ceviche, tortilla and grilled peppers. Guests tend to rush the dinner buffet as doors open at the stroke of 7.30. You’ll find your table of choice if you race them there, or put off your arrival until 9.30. Wine flows through lunch and dinner. For anything else, nip to the adjacent main bar. Cocktails come included, except down at the beach bar.
You’ll want for nothing at breakfast. The region comes into its own at the tropical-fruit bar and juice machine with fresh orange on tap. The spread of house-baked breads makes you grateful for the European influence. But neither continent gets much of a homage at the coffee bar, furnished with a pair of DIY push-button machines and a jug of whole milk.
For guaranteed sunshine and moderate winds, come in April or October, on the cusp of the seasons. Either way, ask for a room in one of the far corners, away from the main bar – the DJ spins until 1am most nights.
Ellen was a guest of Robinson Club Cabo Verde, Sal, Cape Verde. Rooms at the resort start at £584 per week per person.
By Ellen Himelfarb