I cannot praise the place enough. I came here for my birthday treat and it turned out to be an excellent choice.
The food was quite simply the best we've had in Kerala, and that includes posh hotels like the Taj, smart places in Cochin and down and gutsy quick eateries in Ernakalum (we've been here for 18 months, so I feel I can write with some authority).
The room was prettily and simply decorated in white and terracotta. There were fresh flowers on the dressing table and a pristine bathroom. We fell asleep to the sound of the waves breaking on the beach right opposite us.
If you want to get away from it all, in a quiet area with no hotels around, stay here. Eat the best food in Kerala, go for walks on the beach, chat to the locals, visit the fish market and pick out your local catch for dinner, play games on the extensive roof terrace while being served endless fresh cold drinks and tea.
It's an excellent place for tired, burnt out workers looking for tranquility in genuine Keralan surroundings.
My one quibble is that because this is not a family home - the family lives elsewhere - it is not a true homestay. But what's in a label?
Kuzhupilly Beach Road, Ayampilly PO, Ayampilly PO, Kochi (Cochin) 682501, India
+91 484 2531456
A beautiful unspoiled fishing town.
Good transport links to Tunis and the south. A short shared-taxi ride to El Djem. The town is five miles south of a 'tourist compound' of huge hotels, etc. to be strictly avoided if you want to meet Tunisians and live as the locals do.
Google map: bit.ly/v6GI12
This small gem of a beach is much loved by locals, both human and penguin. Situated within a sanctuary for 3000 African Jackass penguins, the crescent of white sand is backed by dense vegetation in which the penguins nest. The sheltered bay is surrounded by huge boulders on which children love to climb and leap into the sea. Penguin couples waddle down the beach to cool off in the water and seem happy to swim among excited children, posing for photographs or playing Pied Piper as they lead curious kids into the rock crevices to explore. A fantastic family day out is on offer including a visit to the penguin breeding sanctuary or a delicious lunch at the restaurant adjacent to the free parking area where local traders sell African artifacts. An entrance fee to the beach is charged (about 50p) which helps fund the penguin conservation.
Boulders Beach, about 45 minutes drive from Cape Town, close to Simonstown.
Google map: bit.ly/ubjLTM
At Jambiani you will find miles of unspoiled beach and complete peace broken only by the sounds of the sea and the wind in the trees. You can stay right on the beach in guest houses built in the local thatched style. We stayed off-season in Jambiani guesthouse and had the whole house to ourselves. Lounging in the shady garden we watched the beach landscape change throughout the day. We swam early when the tide was up and then watched the sea recede until it was almost out of sight, observing the colours change from the grey of early morning to the shimmering turquoise of midday. The beach was largely inhabited by locals fishing from dhows and later as the beach grew in size women farming seaweed which patterned the sand. At lunchtime we ate freshly caught fish and drank local beers in small friendly beach cafes.
Leave the ramparts, white washed blue shuttered buildings and the fish stalls behind and take a stroll along the endless golden sand. Sample the delights the cake sellers proffer while watching the sun set on the wild Atlantic Ocean. Rest on a log near the dunes and drift into your own magical world as camels, Arabian horses and kite surfers fade to silhouettes against the sinking sun. Round off your day with a traditional hammam in the medina and prepare for a new dawn.
Essaouira Beach, Morocco, Africa.
We sailed there and berthed in the fishing port, but most people travel by bus or hire car.
Google map: bit.ly/vfTQll
Banda Island is part of the Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria, Uganda. Only 1km by 2km, it is owned by Dominic, an eccentric British Kenyan ("I was going to move to Paris but I thought fuck - why don't I buy an island instead") Dom has built stone huts for his guests, while settling for a modest castle for himself, with views of the lake and hammocks on the beach. The guest toilet is in a circular building in the middle of the rainforest, with a throne like toilet in the middle.
Like turning up at Glastonbury Festival after the crowds have gone home, to find a few stragglers left by a campfire, Banda Island is a place where people intend to stay for a few days but end up staying months. A typical day involves eating, lounging, hippo-spotting, making your way through the donated book selection, and sitting around a fire on the beach - all accompanied by Dominic's homemade banana gin in a plastic kettle.
Holidaying in Cape Verde brings the unexpected, mainly due to the relative difficulty in planning one’s movements and activities ahead of time. Armed with a West African travel guide published the same year as my first trip to the islands, most of the information was already well out of date. Small businesses had blossomed and gone bust so with our hopes of seeing any more than Santiago dashed (the cost of last minute flights between islands were prohibitively expensive), my husband and I switched our thinking from trekking adventure to beach side relaxation and chanced upon many beautiful beaches around Santiago, our favourite being Tarrafal's beach.
On advice from an English speaking hotelier in Praia - a rarity, a small minority speak French as a second language and an even smaller number speak English - we found a minibus coletivo to Tarrafal. By ‘found’, I mean that after several fruitless conversations with local shop owners requesting directions, we caught sight of a driver trying to drum up more business while his present customers waited patiently within the vehicle. He stood on a street corner shouting “Tarrafal! Tarrafal! Tarrafal!”. A couple of hours north west on a bumpy cobblestone road later, we arrived at the picturesque sleepy fishing village of Tarrafal.
After walking through the small town centre and past the local open marketplace, we were greeted by pristine, soft sun bleached white sands, clearest of blue waters and the entirely unexpected view of neighbouring island Fogo across the water. Fogo’s volcano appears to hang over the water in the distance through the clouds, not unlike a hologram. Accommodation was a breeze to organise and within an hour of
our arrival in Tarrafal, we were in the water. In the dry season you can expect temperatures of upwards of 40 degrees and the water is pleasantly cold. The fishermen sorting their nets on the town’s white sandy beach is very classically African. Other beaches in the
immediate region have volcanic black sand. It’s a scene of colours in motion; the boats are brightly painted and the fishermen are dressed
equally vividly. It’s a noisy but efficient affair - after sorting the nets and docking the boats, the beach is quickly returned to its previous spotless state. Ordinarily there are few tourists on the beach, the sun is harsh and most can only take an hour or two at a time.
An alternative to sun baking and beach swimming can be found ten minutes walk away at the Hotel King Fisher, where diving and snorkeling equipment can be hired. The director of the diving school at Hotel King Fisher is a marine biologist and master diver, offering lessons for a reasonable fee. King Bay is accessed through the hotel and is well worth the trip on its own. Perfect for snorkeling even for less than confident swimmers with an array of colourful marine life to be seen, access to the water through the hotel is free of charge for those staying in alternate accommodation.
Extra tip: Euros are the easiest currency to exchange for Cape Verdean Escudos so don’t bother with US dollars or British pounds and remember your Portuguese phrase book!
Tarrafal is located north west on the opposite end of Santiago from Praia and is accessed via one of two arterial routes (either via the coast line or over the mountain route over narrow terraces and ridges) via minivan. Minivans run from Praia twice daily roughly at 10am and 3pm, departing only when the van is full. Expect to encounter the odd chicken or two on their way to or from market within the cabin with you.
The Hotel King Fisher villas (www.king-fisher.de/index.php?lang=en) start at about £50 per night. Cheap and cheerful B&B style rooms (don't necessarily expect hot water or electricity, check beforehand) near the beach are easy to find without a booking for considerably less also.
Google map: bit.ly/udVe1f
Shabby Vilanculos has silted up creeks and dirty beaches but a short and picturesque dhow ride (or a speed boat if the wind’s wrong) will take you to the heart of the Bazaruto Archipelago nature reserve. This series of platinum sand mounds rising out of the Indian Ocean are dotted with silvery driftwood trees - like sculptures sunk into the sand. £20 gets you your own personal skipper (we got two), and a day to wander aimlessly, cartwheeling along endless deserted beaches, sliding down sand dunes and snorkelling with tiny tropical fish. When we returned to our boat our two Mozambican guides had cooked up an amazing three course meal on an open fire - we sat on the beach as the rain came down, gorging ourselves tomatoey fresh squid stew and mountains of fresh fruit.
Sailaway Dhow Safaris
Rua Marginal, Bairro Central, Vilanculos, Mozambique, Mozambique
+258 29 382 385
Google map: bit.ly/w1Kckm
Cape Maclear on the southern lakeshore of Lake Malawi, about a 4hr journey south of the capital Lilongwe, is a magical and mystical enclave that abounds with small secluded beaches, where most are used by local fishermen and their families to sort fish, or are used by local children as a giant paddling pool. A few are attached to backpackers lodges that become bars and clubs in the evenings where you can dance for hours to South African house music or see live performances from Malawian artists. An African beach can't get much better than sitting on white sand, under a shady tree, looking out on a sun-kissed lake, sipping a cold Kuche Kuche beer. It has an extremely chilled atmosphere you can do everything: Take trips out to do some fishing, do some watersports, have a bbq on the beach, head down to the Lake of Stars music festival (in September), or simply do nothing. I've had some amazing times and met amazing people. It is one of the most incredible places in the world, where tourists, travellers and locals mix freely and is a must-do stop-off for any traveller.
Gecko Lounge has a particularly lovely beach, and good food, accommodation etc. www.geckolounge.net/
+265 999 787 322
Google map: bit.ly/sxqZzx
Cape Mac Lodge is the higher end of the market www.capemaclodge.com/index.html
+ 265 9 621 279
P.O Box 2269 Blantyre , Malawi
Google map: bit.ly/vrZgbl
To get there fly to Lilongwe from Heathrow and then get the local minibus service down (part of the experience) followed by a ride on the back of a pick-up to Cape Maclear as the roads are too bumpy for minibuses - although of course a luxury jeep can be arranged.
I recommend the beach on the Indian Ocean side of the coral-ringed Chumbe Island, located off the coast of Zanzibar. Chumbe combines sustainable ecological living with luxury; an affordable, private haven with a conscience. As a guest on this island paradise (and there are never more than 14 people at any one time), you have your very own beach, steps away from the front door of your beautiful palm thatched eco-bungalow. The beaches surround a marine protected coral park with world-class snorkelling, as well as being home to a historic lighthouse and the protected (and nocturnal) coconut crabs. The beaches are perfect for relaxation, nature spotting and romance, far removed from those of a typical holiday resort. On our first night, we were the only guests on the island. On our final night, the staff (always attentive without being intrusive) arranged a private, secluded candlelit dinner for two on the beach as a surprise. Bliss.
Essaouira beach offers an amazing bohemian mix of experiences. Kick back and soak up the sun, or go surfing. Watch young Moroccan men play football and head-to-toe clad ladies supervise their children playing in the waves. Or ride by camel the length of the beach and gaze out at the ruined fort in the ocean that (allegedly) inspired Jimi Hendrix's 'Castles In The Sand'. When the sun gets too much head up into the (UNESCO heritage) town. Stop for fresh grilled fish by the harbour and then into the souks for mint tea and shopping, or walk the fortress ramparts and stop at the wood-carvers' workshops for aromatic Thuya wood items. Nowhere else on this planet offers such a unique beach experience.
Google map: bit.ly/sfYDBN
Tofo with its infinite sands, windowless wicker bungalows, perfectly spaced surf-waves and amazing market eateries serving up plates of enormous buttery prawns would have put Tofo in my top five travel spots even without the whale sharks.
Having de-rusted our diving skills with the extremely patient staff in Tofo Scuba's pool we joined a boat and headed off into the Indian Ocean.
First we noticed a whale tail - then five, twenty, too many to count, the most our dive leader had ever seen.
Without scuba gear we leapt into the water and spent the next hour swimming with the pod and their hangers-on - a couple of enormous but exceptionally graceful manta rays. Coming face to face with alien whale shark grimaces, swimming between their enormous bodies and sensing their utter ambivalence towards us was a euphoric and uniquely calming experience.
Nestled in the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park - a marine reserve and world heritage site since 1999.
Endless beaches with massive sand dunes fringed by a dense coastal forest.
My favourite place is to the left of the lighthouse, just to sit and watch the southern right and humpback whales breach as they makes their journey up and down along the coast of Africa. Watching the sun set with a beer in hand is another way of celebrating the area's natural beauty, peace and quiet.
The rock pools have great nudibranchs and loads of tropical fish juveniles - great for snorkelling.
Between November and February you can see turtles laying eggs and the babies hatching (leatherbacks, loggerheads amongst the species).
You can also watch dolphins on their daily feeding route along the coast.
What more can I say? It has to be seen to be believed :)
An idyllic stretch of white sand beach spilling into the crystal clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean accessible either along the beach from Nungwi at low tide or a long haul clamber down from the main access road that drives through the island. By day you stretch out on the deserted sands and watch the fishermen casually push off in their dhows. You can cool off and swim in the beautiful blue shallows before relaxing with a cold beer as the amazing sun sets over the Indian Ocean - creating silhouettes of the fleets of fishing dhows on the horizon - you can even clamber onto an old one laid to rest on the beach. By night you can eat fresh king fish with coconut rice on the cooled swathes of sands before swinging in a hammock, looking up and almost touching the stars as they spread across and light the remote blackness around you. Idyllic, isolated and immense.
Kendwa, near Nungwhi - north west coast of Zanzibar.
Google map: bit.ly/rQcysW
Fringed with pristine deserted beaches of pure white sand and surrounded by the sparkling Indian Ocean, Quilalea Island is a hidden gem. This 35 hectare island, set within a national park, offers the ultimate in seclusion and privacy.
Close to the magnificent stretches of beach you can reach some of the best coral reefs in the world that provide a habitat for an abundant array of marine life. Feeding and nesting grounds for the population of sea turtles, dugong, dolphins, sharks and whales can be found here.
It is the 'undiscovered' nature of this island’s beaches that makes it so special. Snorkel the island’s shores, kayak the mangroves or relax in a hammock beneath the giant baobabs on the island beaches. Quilalea is a tiny untouched paradise. Difficult to reach, this is the ultimate African beach retreat for pioneers looking for an offbeat getaway.
The only place to stay on the island is at the newly refurbished lodges at ‘Azura’, a luxury ‘eco’ boutique retreat which has all the facilities you need, while being a perfect beach hideaway.
The quaint city of Pemba is the access point with an international airport, for the Quirimbas Archipelago in Cabo Delgado Province, Northern Mozambique. From here you travel by light aircraft, helicopter or speedboat to the island.
+27 (0)767 050599
River no. 2 beach, Sierra Leone.
Some 16km out of Freetown’s dust and noise is a piece of unexpected paradise. River no 2 beach, the film location for the 70s Bounty ad, is a tranquil bay mostly frequented by NGO workers on their days off. Along the sandy bay are perfectly positioned beach chairs, tables and parasols facing the Atlantic, where the occasional passing canoe catches your eye. With temperatures at around 29 degrees, December and January are ideal months to go. Don’t expect any frills, the only facilities are a latrine in a shed. But the piece de resistance has to be the hut in the trees where they’ll cook your food – or better still, serve up specialities from their menu including huge prawn kebabs on spicy couscous. You won’t be hassled by the beach sellers offering their ornaments and jewellery but do buy one of their deliciously fresh coconuts to finish off your lunch.
16km outside of the capital, Freetown. Drive there (4X4 recommended) or local taxi.
Google map: bit.ly/uBoicH
Boulders is home to the adorable yet bizarre African 'Jackass' penguin. Just a walk down the road from Simonstown, near Cape Town, Boulders is wonderful for picnicing, surfing and building sandcastles. I first visited this bay when I was about eight years old with my family and some friends. It was nice to be so at-one with nature, yet still have a family holiday. The boulders the beach is named after are also great fun for climbing and jumping off into the warm ocean. The only thing I would be wary of is checking around your car before you leave, just incase one of the penguins has fallen asleep in the shade!
Recommended for anyone looking for a flavour of the older Boracay before it developed into a more tourist-y focused Asian resort. Situated just to the back of Station 3, Melinda's is a selection of authentic Filipino nipa cottages set in a delightful tropical garden. Each cottage has its own verandah and hammock where you can relax after a hard day sipping the San Miguel beers on the famous White Beach. Run by the very hospitable German, Horst - one of the original Boracay adventurers of the 1980s - this is an ideal spot to find a little peace in an increasingly busy tourist environment. Very reasonable prices, too.
Cafe and bar with a stupendous view of the beach. Great tapas, hearty lunches and snacks, comprehensive wine list.
Five of us ate for £77 including three bottles of wine.
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