01-02 January 2019
Our host in Saint Gilles had mercifully already offered unprompted for us to check out as late as we’d like on 1 Jan. Maybe considerate of us wanting a later start on New Year’s Day and very possibly because of the roaring soiree he knew he was throwing in the driveway of our hotel on New Year’s Eve.
Either way, it was great to see in 2019 in a relaxed fashion and it was with sadness we said goodbye to the bungalow that had been a good home to us for the preceding 4 nights.
Having slept through breakfast time, our plan had adjusted to heading straight for lunch at L’Etang Sale des Bains, a black sand beach 30km down the coast.
Another odd set-up, the beach was a narrow crescent of black sand that framed the harbour. There was no waterfront to speak of, with houses up to the shore. But the local folks seemed to be enjoying the cool waters on the baking hot day and there were more than a few heads bobbing in the shallow crystal clear waters.
Town consisted of a strip of road parallel to the beach; we drove to the end and then made our way back on foot perusing menus of the few places that were open until we found one we liked and went in.
We’d chosen a traditional Creole restaurant to suit the auspicious occasion of first meal of the year, with a chicken curry to represent standard practice and a Galette (savoury pancake with creamy chicken and mushroom) for something new and exotic.
From L’Etang we had to follow the coast down to Saint Louis and then head inland and up into the mountain to get to our night in the forest at Cirque De Cilaos. This drive was only about 32km, but took about an hour and a half because of the narrow and winding roads.
Our destination was very pretty. A bit grey and much cooler, the quaint little town of Cilaos is nestled in the dormant crater of a volcano from yesteryear so has beautiful mountains cupping the town on all sides with a fluffy cloud lid closing it off from the rest of the world.
We found our accommodation with relative ease (read: we circled the block a few times) and were shown to our suite, which was in the middle of the ground floor of a double storey chalet block.
With our neighbour on the left hand side singing loudly along to his favourite French radio hits and the neighbours on the right hand side animatedly discussing in German what they were planning to make for dinner (spaghetti bolognese was winning), it was an easy call to hit the streets to see what their was to see.
Our landlady had shown us a laminated map on our desk so it was simple to find the main road in town. And with almost everything closed (being New Year’s Day) it was very easy to navigate and move around without other traffic to contend with. We completed our loop with a To Do list of return-to destinations for the next day.
Our landlady had also made a reservation for us for dinner at the only restaurant in town that was open and serving, which made that decision that much easier too. Sticking to the path of least resistance, we followed the menu’s Speciality section’s advice and had a goat masala and a lamb Creole dish, washed down with ice-cold Dodo beers. Yum!
The quest for this little break-away was to experience the forest and mountain on the ground in the form of a hike.
Being the destination’s premium tourist offering, there was even hiking trail information in our room and we had earmarked the “short” 2 hour route from Cilaos to Roche Marveilleuse as the one for us because yes, it was the shortest, but it also seemed to offer the best return in the form of a spectacular viewing deck with panoramic views of the setting with Cilaos in the valley below.
However, unable to find the start of the trail, we unintentionally ended up driving to the Roche! Being early (it was probably not even 09h30 by this point), the sky was still clear and blue and the views were brilliant.
Not wanting to forego the hiking experience completely, we did one of the smaller trails around the Roche. Called ‘Les Botanique’, it was largely wasted on us as we didn’t stop to read any of the (French only) detailed signs that explained the floral wonder of our surrounds. We also finished in half the recommended time – about 20 minutes – so thought we’d try out another.
Of course on the second one we got lost and ended up circling back on ourselves a bit… But the result was 1hr10 of hiking in total, which seemed like a valiant effort.
The clouds had already rolled in by the time we got back to Roche Marveilleuse and we thanked our lucky stars that we’d started early enough to see the magnificent view. We were also seemingly the only people going back into town, while hikers streamed onto the trails. We were grateful to have had the route to ourselves – and sorry for these adventurers who would miss what we’d seen now that the daily clouds had rolled in.
Starving from our walk, we stopped at a Boulangerie to get some take away nibbly bits, and feasted on quiche and cheese puffs and pain au chocolat while we packed up our things.
With everything in the car, we headed out on foot again to tick off the last activity; a visit to the local winery, Chai de Cilaos, which was no more than a couple of hundred metres away. But it was closed so we made do with rounding the block to the Marche Couvert (market) and bought a bottle of the local red there instead.
Bidding our landlady farewell, we drove out of town to the Cascades. While also a hiking trail, we’d had quite enough walking for the day and so took to the narrow and winding roads to get a look at the waterfalls and stop at a few of the roadside viewpoints.
The landscape is at such scale with its features so exaggerated that it doesn’t do justice to describe it in words.