Set in a valley encompassed by forest-clad hills and volcanoes is the picturesque town of Cilaos. Here you can visit artist workshops, relax in thermal baths and experience the wine-making history of Réunion. Explore canyons, discover waterfalls and hike along scenic trails. The town’s beginnings date back to the 19th century, when it was a spa resort. Today Cilaos is a popular ecotourism destination located in the dramatic landscapes of Cirque de Cilaos.
Stroll around the compact town center, which has streets lined with boutiques and handicraft stores. Visit Maison de la Broderie to learn about Cilaos’ embroidery heritage and watch women expertly embroider clothing and tablecloths. Admire the fairytale-like illustrations of Réunion at Philippe Turpin’s Studio. Enjoy the town’s scenic surroundings at Mare à Joncs lake, where you can rent paddle boats.
The 10,072-feet (3,070-meter) tall shield volcano Piton des Neiges looms over the town. It forms part of Réunion National Park, a paradise for adventure sports. Join treks to mountain peaks, go climbing, visit majestic waterfalls and try canyoning. Short walks abound in Cilaos’ immediate surroundings, too. These include the walk to La Roche Merveilleuse lookout. After a busy day of activities, rejuvenate the body in the thermal waters of Thermes de Cilaos.
Delve into the town’s culinary scene at lakeside restaurants and rustic bars. Sample dishes based on locally grown lentils and inspired by French-Creole traditions. Learn about the island’s wine culture and enjoy a wine-tasting session at Maison des Vins du Chai de Cilaos.
Spread around the town’s outskirts are a handful of charming hamlets. Just a 20-minute drive away is postcard-perfect Îlet à Cordes, framed by rolling vineyards and lentil fields. Hike or drive to Bras Sec to feel a million miles from tourism.
Getting to Cilaos is an adventure in itself, via a meandering mountain road with over 400 chicanes and hairpin turns. Travel by bus from Saint-Louis, situated about 22 miles (36kilometers) south, or rent a car and stop off at viewpoints. Come and see why legend says that the name Cilaos means The Place One Never Leaves.