São Vicente: Island of Art and Warm Welcomes
São Vicente, Island of Arts and Warm Welcomes
Mindelo is one of the most important cities of Cape Verde and it tells stories from different places, times and cultures, stories that were brought by courageous sailors, since the middle of the 19th Century. Porto Grande is the city harbour and connects the island with the rest of the world. It’s one of the biggest seaports in the country, as well as a crucial stage for the most important transatlantic trades of the archipelago.
That’s why Mindelo is considered the cosmopolitan heart of Cape Verde and its true cultural capital. Gathering different influences from several countries such as Portugal, England and Brazil. The multiple cultural features, especially from these countries, mixed with the African way of life, form a unique personality.
Mindelo wakes up with the sun, the sound of the waves beating softly against the shore and the promise of a very well-spent day to keep somewhere in our hearts.
The oldest architectural traces are well preserved in order to remind us of Portuguese and British influences during its construction and development in the 19th Century. São Vicente had a late settlement, only two centuries after the island of São Tiago. The old and the new merge in a typical harmony, the unique mindelense harmony.
The Amílcar Cabral central square has cheerful and bright colours and, like the rest of the city, is packed with amazing details. It has a bandstand and a charming kiosk with a pleasant esplanade, a place where locals meet to discuss everyday life or the size of their dreams. It’s also a privileged spot to play and listen to live music.
The Avenida Marginal, where you can find a replica of the Portuguese monument Torre de Belém, is located along the Laginha, the urban beach. In the background, stands Monte Cara, a hill which resembles the shape of a human face looking up at the sky. Here you can enjoy a beautiful sight from the island.
Pracinha da Igreja is where Mindelo was born. It shows us how it all started and, also, it’s where you’ll encounter Nossa Senhora da Luz, a lovely church built during the colonial times. Rua Libertadores d’África, formerly Rua de Lisboa, has cafés and traditional stores. It reminds us that around here small pleasures really count.
Not far away stands the city market. One more symbol of the colonial times that nowadays offers the best flavours of the island.
On a day spent in Mindelo, there is always time for a well-deserved rest from that kind of life that sometimes happens too fast. So do like locals usually do and take a gentle rest on the doorstep, while the sun is going down into the turquoise blue of the bay that surrounds the seaport. Embrace the city to the beat of the rhythms coming from almost everywhere. From serenades sung since past days in those streets to the rap sung by the younger generations; music lives in every street corner and, above all, deep in the soul of the island.
By night there is light, joy and…again, music! On the streets, esplanades and bars, the warm breeze makes you wish for simple emotions and sensations. Everything flows into the right place. There is the intense and traditional rhythm of the mornas and also the funaná and coladeiras movements. The night swings. It’s pure celebration until the morning comes.
Barefoot Diva´s mornas…
Cesária Évora was born in Mindelo and she owned one of the greatest voices of Cape Verde. In fact, we can say that she still sings, if we believe that songs are eternal. About the island, Cesária Évora once said: “There is no place in the world as flavourful as São Vicente". Maybe not.
As for the taste of Cesária´s mornas, she always improved them with the intensity and the rocking of her voice, as well as with a tang of a glass of grogue (traditional liquor made with water, sugar and rum) as well as with her joy and sorrow. That is why there’s a harmony with a taste of soul in the mornas we listen in Cape Verde.
Played with acoustic instruments, they express the insularity of a people that love their origins and also the romanticism and its mysteries. It’s always a pleasure to listen to them, to dance while they are being played and to feel them.
Baía das Gatas
On the north coast, east side of Mindelo, stands one of the most sought out places by locals and tourists: Baía das Gatas (“cat’s bay”). It’s where you can find a quiet cove, protected from the wind by a mural of volcanic rocks, and where the calm and crystalline sea forms a beautiful lagoon.
This is also the setting for the renowned Baía das Gatas Music Festival. Every year, in August, if possible on the first full moon of the month, the bay welcomes thousands of people, artists, world music and other forms of artistic expression.
The festival was created in 1984 by a group of local musicians with the will to make it happen and a reduced budget. It was the beginning of one of the most important events in Cape Verde. A place that gathered recognised musicians from different countries and, of course, the most highly regarded names in Cape Verdean music like Cesária Évora or Tito Paris.
Calhau, Praia Grande and São Pedro
On the east coast, you will find Calhau, a typical fishing village always willing to receive with open arms. For those who live there, it’s always a pleasure to share all the goods that nature offers them with visitors. Locals and tourists often gather on the beach, to eat baked fresh fish.
Besides a few adorable small beaches, there is a natural pool at the foot of one of the volcanic mountains that compose the view of the island. To get there, you must take a road that passes through two peaks of extinct volcanoes, the characteristic landscape of the island and responsible for part of its charm.
Two mountains further ahead, you can find Praia Grande. With an extensive beach of white sand and transparent sea water, the waves are agitated but yet perfect for practising water sports.
On the west side, about 10 km from Mindelo and near the airport that serves the island, there’s São Pedro and its enchanted cove-shaped beach, with calmer waters where you feel the desire to bathe. An arid but yet sublime landscape.
How much is a smile worth in São Vicente? Everything
Morabeza. It’s not an easy word to translate, so close it is to the land’s heart, just like the Portuguese word saudade (longing). But we can understand it and feel it too. Above all, it’s the feeling of being at peace with the world and with arms wide open. Akin to what is kind, gently welcoming those who visit the island.
People of Cape Verde are just like that, including the São Vicente sons. We can feel it by counting the many sincere smiles we receive when we arrive.