The Week - This week’s dream: a remote West African island idyll
July 26, 2013

With its “brooding” jungles, golden beaches and “astonishing” finger-like mountains, the African island of Principe looks like “the Lost World”, says Michelle Jana Chan in Conde Nast Traveller. And it’s almost as hard to reach: three flights are needed from London. This remoteness is what makes it “special”. But conveniently for British visitors, it lies in the same time zone as the UK, cast out in the Atlantic off the coast of Gabon. And thanks to recent investment, it now has a luxury beach resort, and will soon have more.

The island is the smaller, quieter partner in the tiny archipelagic nation of Sao Tome and Principe, “one of the poorest patches on the planet”, which won independence from Portugal in 1975. Its colonial history was “very cruel”, and its population is largely descended from slave shipped from Angola and elsewhere. Today, the grand plantation houses (called rocas) are crumbling, but “the signs of old money” can still be seen, “from elegant but chipped floor tiles to fine but rotting furniture”.

Cocoa remains the main cash crop, and the archipelago produces some of the best chocolate in the world. Another great treasure is its flora and fauna, including numerous endemic species, such as the world’s smallest ibis and largest sunbird.

The South African tech billionaire Mark Shuttleworth recently leased 10% of the island’s land and is planning a variety of new eco-resorts and organic farms. His only finished project, however, is the “small, perfect” resort of Bom Bom, perched beside a beach at the island’s northern tip. Shuttleworth says he was attracted to Principe by the character and charm of the local people -- and they are, indeed, the most “seductive” thing about the place, from traditional healers and “jumby-men” to the actors of the Cacau arts centre, whose performances are mesmerising.

Michelle Jana Chan travelled with Scott Dunn (