After a short stay on the African island of Sâo Tomé, we flew to the country’s second island, Principe, for nine nights. Here we divided our time between two hotels, both part of the Here Be Dragons (HBD) group: Roça Sunday and Sundy Praia.
Roça Sunday was only a 15-minute drive from the tiny airport, and on arrival at 10.30am we didn’t expect our room to be ready. However, after an effusive welcome, complete with cold flannels and fruit juice, we were given a quick tour of the communal areas, bar, and restaurant, before being shown to our room.
The hotel, originally an old cacao plantation house, was built in 1921, and had been sympathetically restored keeping all the original features, including a grand wooden sweeping staircase. In 1919, a famous British astrophysicist, Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, found Roça Sunday was the perfect place to view a predicted eclipse which proved Einstein’s model of physics over Newton’s.
There are 15 rooms in total with six in the main building known as Eclipse House, and the others in the adjoining Cacao House. Our room, six, was one of three on the first floor of Eclipse House. A long internal corridor, led into the large bedroom with king size bed, desk and chair, armchair, wardrobe with safe instructions but no safe, and a wall mounted TV. There were tea and coffee making facilities, two complimentary bottles of water in glass refillable bottles and effective air conditioning. Some of the plug points were a bit wobbly but Wi-Fi- was simple and efficient.
The bathroom had an open plan shower, loo and basin and enough hooks and rails for towels, and plenty of space for toiletries.
Our large balcony overlooked the rainforest and coast and had brightly colour wooden chairs, coffee table and lounger. The terracotta floor tiles were interspersed with original white and blue Portuguese tiles with rabbits, pigs and deer on them.
Meals could be taken in either the restaurant or outdoor terrace. Whilst we found the latter fine for lunch, we were the only guests to prefer dinner in the restaurant where we found the lighting was better and the chairs more comfortable with the bonus of a quieter ambience.
The lunchtime snack menu had a selection of sandwiches, burgers, pasta etc. and we found portion sizes generous enough for two to share one dish.
The small, rather dark bar wasn’t particularly enticing with only one or two chairs and so the only alternative was to sit at the table for a pre-dinner drink. However, the staff didn’t understand the concept of a G&T aperitif and kept pestering us to order with a rather fussy, over attentive waiter, adding ‘Madam and Mister’ to every sentence – ‘would Madam and Mister like to order their food now?’
Dinner began with a ‘gift from the chef’ in the style of an amuse-bouche, something like a chorizo slice or small square of tortilla. Home-made bread and butter was available along with a choice of two starters, two mains and two desserts.
Portion sizes were extremely generous and as long as we didn’t have soup, we tended to share a starter with options like octopus salad or smoked fish. Main courses gave us chance to taste local dishes like cachupa, a rich African stew, although excellent fish featured frequently in various ways. We never made it to the puddings, but often finished with coffee and a home-made lethal fruit liqueur.
Each evening the chef, Fabio Fernandez, came round to chat about the food which was a nice touch.
Eventually on our fifth night, the staff had got used to our habit of not wanting to order until we’ve had a drink, sharing a starter, and choosing an additional drink over dessert.
Our package included breakfast, dinner and a selection of inclusive drinks. The only white wine available was the rather good Portuguese Mariana, we’d been drinking on Sao Tomé. However, on our first night we were told they’d run out, but after creating a fuss, a bottle magically appeared, whilst on another night, they ran out when we asked for an additional glass. This time, the staff rallied round and brought a bottle of Mateus Rose with our fussy waiter telling us ‘it’s a cross between white wine and red wine’. We reiterated we wanted white, with the chef, Fabio supporting us and eventually an already opened expensive bottle was left on the table, probably in despair. On our final night, the only all-inclusive gin, Gordons, had run out by 6pm.
At breakfast the large table in the dining room was set up beautifully laid with juice, fruits, cereals (but disappointingly no yoghurt), a wide variety of breads and cakes, ham and cheese, with eggs being cooked to order.
Stays at both properties included a daily experience which we took advantage of (see separate review), Unlike a similar neighboring hotel, Roça Belo Monte, there was no swimming pool and although using the beach and pool at Sundy Praia was an option, it was either a 20-minute steep hike or shuttle transfer which also took 20 minutes due to the rough, round-the-houses track. You could sit and read in what is a huge and very grand reception area, complete with telescope, and although there were tables and chairs set up in the garden directly in front of the terrace, when the Roça was full, they took these tables for use on the terrace.
All in all, 5 nights was just the right amount of time to stay and undertake all the activities on offer.