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sHARKS swim exactly how you'd imagine them to. Their fins stand firm, cutting through the water. Now and then you catch a glimpse of their sleek, grey bodies gliding below the surface through a break in the waves.

We were watching lemon sharks on the island of Sal, Cape Verde. They were congregating in the shallow, warmer water to find fish to eat.

For two euros we rented some rubber shoes and made our way slowly across the treacherously rocky beach into the water to see them up close. They wouldn't bite and would swim away if we approached them, we were told.

They larked around as if no-one was watching, twisting and turning as they hunted for fish underwater.

Sal is one of 10 islands that make up Cape Verde, off the coast of west Africa.

When we arrived at the Melia Llana Beach Hotel we were told 'no stress' - a mantra I'd heard before in the Caribbean.

The hotel sweeps down to a long, straight, sandy beach on the southwest corner of the island. Pools and bars mark the way towards the beach.

A wind blew more or less constantly during our stay in Cape Verde. It provided deceptive relief from the equatorial sun, which is powerful even in the winter months.

But the stiff perma-breeze makes Cape Verde perfect for watersports.

We drove to the eastern side of the island and, as we approached the beach, dozens of kites of different colours soared above the dunes.

It's not something you can turn up and expect to master straight away, but our instructors told us that the wind is strong enough that if you learn to kite-surf in Cape Verde, you can do it anywhere.

You are also very likely to avoid the nightmare of a watersports holiday with no wind.

Back at the hotel, we were guests of The Level, which gave us access to a separate pool and lounge further down towards the beach than the other guests.

My room was tastefully furnished in a modern style. The double bed was up on a mezzanine level, so high it almost gave me vertigo!

Little luxuries and touches abounded, such as a handwritten welcome note from the manager, Jose Luis Cuevas.

The hotel also has a gym, spa and several restaurants, including Italian and sushi.

As night draws in, the lights of nightclub Bikini Beach light up.

As an alternative, you can also head into the nearby town of Santa Maria, which was full of people partying and drinking on Saturday night.

Sal means 'salt' in Portuguese and salt mining was the main industry of the island before tourism.

We went to visit an abandoned salt mine. It was a huge crater in the desert with two lakes in the middle.

The water was so salty you could float in it unaided - perfect for that 'lying back reading a book' pose that is popular in Asia's Dead Sea.

The islands became independent from Portugal in 1975 and are home to about half a million people.

The official language of the country is Portuguese but Cape Verdeans speak a Portuguese Creole. Other Portuguese influence survives in their currency, the escudo (although they readily accept euros) and the Catholic Church.

All too soon it was time to leave Cape Verde and head back to the UK.

The islands will continue to invest in tourism, making the most of their stable politics, friendly people, warm climate and sea winds.

One of our guides predicted to me that the neighbouring island of Boa Vista will also become more important for tourism as time passes and more people discover what Cape Verde has to offer.

My advice is to get there now and beat the crowds.

NEED TO KNOW | ROB GRANT stayed at the Melia Llana Beach Hotel as a guest of the owners. Rooms are priced from PS207 on an all-inclusive basis. Prices vary depending on the time of year. Book via | Melia Llana is flanked on Sal by sister hotels Melia Tortuga and Melia Dunas.

| Fly with Thomas Cook, Thomson Airways or Tap Portugal from Heathrow or Manchester, with prices starting from PS400 return.

The wind is strong enough that if you learn to kite-surf in Cape Verde, you can do it anywhere


Taking a dip at the salt mine lake

Lemon sharks

Melia Llana Beach Hotel

Cape Verde is a popular spot for kite-surfers

The oldest church on Sal

Sal island, Cape Verde, Africa
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 29, 2017
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