Sunday, 13 May 2012

48 hours in Cilaos & Ilet à Cordes

This was my first trip back to Cilaos since I went there to climb the Piton des Neiges in November 2007 (see here).

Cilaos is one of Réunion Island's three cirques, or volcanic calderas. The other two are Salazie and Mafate. While Cilaos is accessible by road, the road in question is quite hair-raising with about several hundred bends (most of them hairpin), narrow passages and precipitous drops. The name 'Cilaos' is said to come from the old Malagasy word 'Tsilaosa' which means "the place one never leaves".

Palmiste Rouge is a large village on the way to Cilaos, with just under 1000 inhabitants

As we were staying in Ilet à Cordes we stopped off first in Cilaos, the  cirque's eponymous main town.

on the main street of Cilaos

I found things had not changed much since my last visit!

in Cilaos

The town is at an altitude of about 1200m and has just over 6000 inhabitants, making it the most populated of the three cirques.

sculpture on a roundabout

Cilaos is well-known for its thermal water, lentils, wine and embroidery.

Cilaos church

billboard for Bourbon ('dodo') beer

The village of Ilet à Cordes is a 11km drive further on from the town of Cilaos and is in the north-west part of the cirque

view of Cilaos from the Cilaos <> Ilet à Cordes road

Ilet à Cordes from the Cilaos <> Ilet à Cordes road

looking south to the coast

central plateau of Cilaos (seen from Cilaos <> Ilet à Cordes road)

close-up of Cilaos church from road

field - what an angle!

It's located on a plateau and has about 430 inhabitants and 140 houses. Like most of the cirque, agriculture is important and lentils are grown.

field, Ilet à Cordes

Gite Grondin

There are a number of gîtes, and we were staying in one called Gîte Grondin, also known as Gîte de l'Ilet.

sign outside Gîte Grondin

annexe of the gîte

The village takes its name from the cordes (ropes) that escaped slaves used to access the plateau in the 18th century and thus avoid detection by slave hunters.

the gîte is opposite one of the few shops in the village

From the village it's possible to see La Fenêtre des Makes, which is a viewpoint over Cilaos located in the commune of St Louis.

La Fenêtre des Makes (1574m)

The cauldron-like nature of a cirque means you are mostly surrounded by high cliff walls.

cliff wall, Ilet à Cordes 

Cilaos from Ilet à Cordes

looking east from Ilet à Cordes

As the weather was good we could see the Trois Salazes quite easily. They are three pointed outcrops on the ridge that separates Cilaos from Mafate.

Trois Salazes

looking down from the plateau Ilet à Cordes stands on

After a hearty evening meal...

some of the punchs on offer before dinner

... our first night spent in the gîte and a hearty breakfast... 

choice of jam at breakfast

...we set out back to Cilaos town the next day, where we left our cars near the small hospital, and went on a walk called the Bras de Benjoin, which took us to a picnic area near another village in the cirque, Bras Sec.

"It is strongly recommended the footpath be avoided in wet weather"

Despite the warning sign and the fact the walk can be quite steep, it's also fairly short - it only took us only 40 minutes to do in either direction. There's a small river (the Bras de Benjoin) to ford half-way.

river crossing point

The picnic area is known as Vieux puits Maillot ("Maillot's old well"). No well was in sight, but all the usual picnic area amenities were.

picnic area

picnic area

The next day it was already time for us to leave,  but on our way back to Cilaos we stopped at Ravine Fleur Jaunes which is a popular spot for rock-climbing and canyoning. As luck would have it we were able to see some canyoning underway.

I'll be back at Cilaos at the end of the month for some serious hiking!

Useful/interesting links:

Bras de Benjoin walk description (in French, on commune of Cilaos website)
Bras de Benjoin walk description (in French, mi aime a website)
Bras de Benjoin walk description (in French, on
Highlining between the Trois Salazes
Michelin guide article about the wine of Cilaos.
Cilaos on
Cilaos on Trip Advisor

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