Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tour des Cirques: Cilaos

The last few weekends have been filled with adventures into Réunion's three cirques: Cilaos, Salazie, and Mafate.  These cirques were created by Piton des Neiges, a now extinct volcano that is the high point of the island, and Piton de la Fournaise, a currently active volcano on the south side of the island.

 Each cirque is unique and all three deserved a full weekend, or in some cases two weekends, of exploration.  We'll begin with the one that is closest to St. Pierre: Cilaos.

Cilaos is the beginning point for the most daunting hike in Réunion Island: Piton des Neiges.  The highest point in the Indian Ocean, Piton des Neiges, when not covered in clouds, is the dominating landmark in Cilaos.  The largest church in the town of Cilaos was built right under the mountain.  In the early morning, looking at the spire will allow you to look at the high peak.  Ten thousand feet high, it's hard not to constantly look up and be in awe of the dormant volcano.  On the weekend that I was there, it was covered by clouds pretty much the whole time.  I did happen to catch a glimpse of it peeking through the clouds above Notre Dame des Piton des Neiges.  

The rest of Cilaos is magnificent; it truly is a spectacular place to visit.  I have visited Cilaos more than the other cirques, mostly because of the proximity to St. Pierre.  Several images from earlier posts have been taken on hikes in the cirque, but for this particular weekend I decided that I not only wanted to hike around but also spend the night.  Réunion has great places to stay known as gites.  Gites range from very basic to almost hotel like and all are fairly reasonably priced.  The one in Cilaos that my friend Amanda and I stayed in was spectacular.  It was decorated in American Indian style, with tipis, portraits of Sitting Bull, and eagle feathers everywhere.  There was also the occasional cowboy hat perched on the staircase.  The beds were comfy, the air was cool, and the gite employees very sweet.  

Cilaos is known for fresh water.  They bottle it in a plant outside of town.  They also grow grapes for the only wine made on the island, as well as Cilaos lentils.  An embroidery "factory" creates some of the most beautiful artwork on the island, and a spa using natural water is a wonderful respite for the weary hiker coming down from Piton des Neiges. The weekend was a success and both Amanda and I had a great time wandering around the town and hiking in the surrounding mountains.  

possibly asylum  

Cilaos water plant

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