Cilaos: worth the road trip
A return road trip to Cilaos on Reunion Island includes no fewer than 840 bends, many of them pretty tight. However, the scenery along the way, the views from the town and the people you meet make it all worthwhile.
Antoine Lozza, a local tour guide, explains that people today have it very easy. “Many years ago slaves used to have to carry rich people up to Cilaos,” he says. This would take up to 12 hours, and the number of slaves needed would depend on the weight of the person they had to carry.
If you are driving yourself to Cilaos, it is very important to hoot when cornering tight bends, to warn oncoming vehicles to slow down. The pink public buses also go all the way up to Cilaos, but having an English-speaking guide like Antoine makes the experience much more educational.
Sights to see in Cilaos include:
The Notre-Dame-des-Neiges church
This church was built between 1937 and 1939. Its soothing chimes can be heard from several miles away, and it is open for visits during the day.
The Cilaos waterfront
Pedal boating is one of the family-friendly activities offered at the waterfront in Cilaos.
Various curio and fresh produce shops
Local rum, wine, vegetables and fashion accessories can be found in the streets of this quaint village.
The Vin de Cilaos winery
The winery is well worth a visit. Here we watched a 10-minute video about the history of winemaking in Cilaos, which was in French, but translated by Antoine. There was then an opportunity to taste the four main wines produced in the area.
We popped further up the mountain into Le Tapacola, a restaurant that is run by Mickaël and Raymonda Gonthier, a warm and wonderful couple. Mickaël looks like a second-row rugby player, and he certainly has a strong arm when it comes to pouring punch! His loud and proud approach to everything was very energising, and his stature fits in well with the surrounding mountain peaks – imposing, yet welcoming. “You speak English?” he asked, picking up a bottle of punch. “Let me have some more of this and then I will also be able to do that, okay?”
In addition to running their restaurant, Mickaël and Raymonda farm lentils, which are sold in Cilaos. They have two guest rooms and love meeting visitors from around the world.
Lunch at Le Vieux Cep in Cilaos, which looks like a holiday resort in the French Alps, was very good. Superb views, quality food and warm hospitality were all part of the experience.
Walking through the forest after lunch, Antoine explained an interesting use of the shrub called bois de jolie coeur (“sweetheart”): “You see, when the men have to walk to the village on the weekend to dance and meet women, they get very sweaty. So they take this and they rub it on their skin, so that when they dance near the women, they smell good ... so that’s why it gets its name – it’s like the cologne of the forest.”
Many excellent adventure activities are available in Cilaos, including hiking, mountain biking, BMX biking, canyoning, kayaking and much more. Pop in to the Reunion Tourism office in Cilaos for more details, or phone ahead to make arrangements: 0820 203220.
Below is an interactive map, showing the way to Cilaos, from the Reunion Island capital of Saint-Denis.