Official Name: Republic of Cape Verde

Official Name: Republic of Cape Verde

Language: Portuguese is the official language; Crioulo, an Africanised Creole Portuguese, is also widely spoken.

Population: 392,000

Size: 4,038 square kilometres (1,560 sq miles) spread over 10 volcanic islands and five islets.

National Dish: Cauchupa, a mixture of maize and beans cooked for lunch one day, and served stewed the next, is a distinctively Cape Verdean dish eaten by rich and poor alike.

Best Monument: The old Portuguese fort Real de Sao, from which magnificent views can be had. Or the islands' beaches, especially the ones in the north of Sao Tiago at Tarrafal.

Most Famous Citizen: Cesaria Evora, known as the "barefoot diva" for her habit of always appearing on stage without shoes. While she has been singing since the age of 16, she was only "discovered" by the record industry in 1987, singing in a bar in Lisbon. She sings the melancholy morna, Cape Verde's version of the Portuguese saudade, a genre imbued with feelings of longing and homesickness. Since then, her eight albums, including this year's Café Atlantico, have sold over a million copies worldwide.

Best Moment in History: After the long, sometimes benignly neglectful and occasionally ruthlessly oppressive period of Portuguese rule, independence was gained in 1974. More recently the first multiparty elections were held in 1991, with the Movimento para a Democracia (MPD) winning 70 per cent of the vote.

Worst Moment in History: Ecologically, it's been downhill since 1456, when the islands were discovered by Portuguese mariners. They arrived in a lush tropical landscape of forests, hence the Verde. Subsequent human settlement has denuded the vegetation, and droughts mean that even now, most food has to be imported.

More recently, the assassination in 1973 of Amilcar Cabral, leader of the independence movement which struggled to free the islands from Portuguese rule in the 1960s and 70s.

Essential Accessory A windcheater. The islands are blown by stiff winds all year round.

What not to do: Attempt to drive at night - roads are unlit and potholed, and local drivers are not noted for their caution.