Have you ever heard of Príncipe Island? Top marks if you have. If you haven’t – you’re in good company – not only is it Africa’s second smallest island, but it’s actually one of the top 10 least visited places in the world.
This tiny island that’s part of the independent country of São Tomé and Príncipe is situated in the Gulf of Guinea, off the west coast of Africa. I visited the historic plantation hotel Roça Belo Monte which was a former working cacao plantation.
Location: The hotel is in the north east tip of Príncipe island which we got to by plane (STP Airways) from São Tomé island. The hotel itself was a short 5 minute drive from the tiny airport.
Check-in: The A* hospitality started as soon as we stepped foot on the island. Manager Jacques was waiting for us at the airport (a lovely surprise!) with a beaming smile and two bottles of water at the ready. We jumped into the hotel jeep and were told the hotel was only 5 minutes drive away – enough time to get the lowdown on the local area and a brief history of the property. After driving under a grand archway that reminded me of a medieval castle entrance, we arrived at the property, set beside lush gardens.
Check-in was lightning fast and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful – they assisted us with our bags and even offered to do our laundry – now that’s what I call good service!
Welcome drinks/surprises: We were given colourful welcome juices in sugar frosted champagne flutes, had a handwritten note on the bed and a fresh fruit platter waiting in the bedroom. We were also treated to a beautiful late breakfast on the patio. In addition to this, the manager Jacques said he had a ‘couple of surprises’ in store for us…that was an understatement (but I’ll get on to that later…)
First impressions of the room: A room fit for a King (and Queen…and the whole royal family)! The impeccable attention to detail was the thing that first struck me. Not only in terms of decorations but the way the building was designed to ensure you take advantage of the panoramic views (there were windows on three separate walls in the bedroom).
What I loved: The room itself was spacious, light and beautifully decorated with colonial-style furniture with a modern twist. The island is famous for its endemic flowers and the hotel highlights this with colourful tropical flowers in every room. The living room area had a selection of travel magazines on the table and the gorgeous leather bedside tables reminded me of stacked vintage suitcases. (I wanted a pair to take home!)
There were plenty of windows with old-fashioned shutters and I particularly loved that there was a chair beside the window that overlooked the lush misty rainforests and the Bay of Santa Rita, Praia Das Burras and Bom Bom Islet. I spent a good few moments there daydreaming, writing in my notebook and letting the world pass me by in complete tranquility…
You can really tell when a hotel’s staff do everything they can to make their guests feel special. Jacques the general manager and Matthew the activities manager went out of their way to ensure we had an action-packed couple of days. Not only were they informative about the island’s history but they LISTENED and acted upon snippets of information they discovered. During the car journey to the hotel, I told Jacques about a particular obsession – BILTONG (for those who have never heard of it – it’s basically dried meat jerky that originates from South Africa). I also said I was a big gin fan…
Just before sunset, Jacques asked us to meet at 4.30pm so we could drive to the lookout point (a couple of minutes drive from the hotel). It was then that I discovered the ultimate surprise…
A member of the hotel restaurant team had set up a table with 3 different types of gin (and tonic…and even cucumber!)
As if that wasn’t wonderful enough – we looked to our right and there was another table with a mystery cloth…as the cloth was taken away…there was a surprise bowl of biltong! Matthew (the activities manager) had brought some over with him from South Africa and had given us a portion of his own supply as a surprise.
So as I drank my gin and tonic, chomped my biltong, watched the sunset, spotted a monkey playing in the tree and looked down on a beach famous for being in the Bacardi adverts…I thought to myself…life is beautiful!
Minibar/In-room drinks facilities: There was a selection of glasses and a coffee machine with pods. On top of this we were treated to fresh fruit when we arrived.
The Bed: I’ve always loved four poster beds! I think it’s something about feeling like a Princess, which I certainly did. The king sized bed had 4 pillows, decorative cushions and cream and royal blue fabric. There was a complimentary turndown service and the wonderful staff even left water by the bed and put the air-conditioning on to the perfect temperature. I slept well but the only thing that could have been improved was the fact it was two twin beds rather than one double. I tend to move a lot in my sleep so it meant falling down the gap – oops!
The Bathroom: One word – wow. The bathroom really impressed me – it was so spacious and acted as a wet room with an open shower in the corner and a free-standing bath. There was a good selection of designer toiletries and plenty of towels. I also loved the little terrace area outside the bathroom with a splash pool – although we were so busy exploring the island we didn’t get a chance to try it out.
WiFi: Free WiFi throughout the hotel. I was given the password on arrival and it worked well in the bedroom as well as the restaurant.
Restaurant: The most beautiful breakfast spot I’ve ever started my day with. A covered patio area overlooking the rainforest with monkeys, birds and colourful butterflies like none I’ve ever seen before.
The breakfast consisted of fresh coffee, juice, a fruit platter, meat and cheese platter, freshly baked bread, banana cake and eggs on request.
The staff really go above and beyond here – catering to every request or dietary requirement. Lunch and dinner typically consisted of two choices (meat or seafood) followed by ice cream/a cake for dessert. The seafood was out of this world – so tasty, and freshly-caught that same day.
I particularly loved the banana cake which had caramelized bananas on top and a sweet syrup.
Napkin folding goes to a whole new level at this hotel!
Other Notable Hotel Amenities: There’s a swimming pool on the premises surrounded by sun loungers and the hotel is currently in the process of building a museum on site.
Matthew the activities manager is the go-to expert for diving or any activities on the island. We went to the famous Banana Beach and went snorkeling and spent a day out with Matthew exploring the island (Santo Antonio – the smallest capital city in the world, the Claudio Corrallo chocolate plantation and Roca Sundy).
My favourite experience of the trip was late night turtle watching. We strolled along the beach with red torches (the white lights of normal torches can disturb/distress the turtles), and carefully avoided the giant black crabs ‘dancing’ and darting out from under stones. The turtles come up to the beach during nesting season, and if they decide there’s a spot they might like to lay eggs, they dig for a while then go into a trance and lay eggs for 2+ hours. We didn’t see any eggs being laid but we were so lucky to see a turtle making her way back into the sea. An incredible sight to witness.
The hotel itself is luxuriously decorated throughout with plenty of places to relax – from the gardens to the library area and benches around the perimeter of the property.
To sum it up: If you want to go somewhere that’s 100% off the beaten track where you’ll get treated like royalty….this is it! At the time we visited, we were the only guests in the hotel so were very lucky to have the staff’s full attention. We couldn’t have felt more pampered – from the delicious meals 3 times a day (the staff even offered to bring our lunch to the beach if we wanted to stay there an afternoon) to the great activities and of course…the gin and biltong! Unfortunately because of the weather, we didn’t get a chance to go quad biking but apparently the forest excursions via quad bike with Matthew are a lot of fun!
Thanks to Jacques and the team for a fabulous stay!
You can see my Snapstory here which features a whistle-stop island tour with Matthew as well as a walk round the room.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Roca Belo Monte but as always, all opinions are my own.
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