What does it take to lose yourself in a destination? To truly lose yourself?
To be so immersed in a place in time, that your senses elevate to a heightened state of awareness. A state in which the sky takes on an intense royal blue hue, where the sun warms your bare-arms with a warmth that fires your very soul. Where the clouds move ethereally in their time-honoured tradition; knowing only one divinely inspired task, whilst creating shapes and shadows, etched for but a moment in time.
This state must surely be Nirvana for travellers who seek to explore and discover the hidden treasures and untold secrets of our world. Something to strive for experientially, I guess, but I fear, seldom truly achieved.
Off on a Road Trip Through the Mountains
This is what I was looking for when I recently travelled around Reunion Island. Little did I know that a watershed experience awaited me at the end of a journey of countless hairpin bends.
Entering the little town of Cilaos, I felt my soul come alive as I beheld its beauty. Located in the centre of Reunion and nestled in the Cirque de Cilaos, one of three cirques on the island, I was surrounded by natural beauty, unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Flanked by the islands highest peak of the Piton des Neiges, a dormant volcano, the landscape around Cilaos was simply spectacular, almost surreal.
The mountain top town of Cilaos is known for its hot springs and is the only location on the island where grapes are cultivated, with its name derived from the Malagasy word Tsilaosa which translated, means “the place one does not abandon”. Spend any amount of time walking the beautifully manicured streets of Cilaos and you will understand just how appropriate this name is.
Notre Dame des Neiges
Dominating the town of just 5 350 inhabitants is the church of Notre Dame des Neiges. The bright white exterior welcomes you as you enter Cilaos. The current structure is a replacement of the original church, dating back to 1858. The first stone of the current building was laid in 1937. Interestingly, the pews were crafted by the first mayor of Cilaos, Irenee Accot and installed in 1942.
The church is a place of immense peace and tranquillity where time seemingly stands still and is open to the public daily. I took my time photographing the interior, all the while reflecting on the untold religious experiences so many must surely have enjoyed over the years in this basilica-inspired structure.
There is something rather spiritual about visiting this magnificent building, perhaps augured by its extraordinary setting on an island which sprang from the very depths of the Indian Ocean.
Trails for Days
In addition to its man-made beauty, Cilaos is also a great spot from which to explore the islands extensive natural beauty. Boasting over 80 kilometres of trails, this is the stuff of dreams for canyoners and thrill-seekers alike. I’m game for most things but, sadly, canyoning is not one of them. My friend Mel, who travelled with me, was definitely keen and returned with stories of adventures and waterfall descents amongst the mountainous region of Cilaos.
The myriad trails on offer in the area cater to all fitness levels, from hard-core experienced folks to day-walkers, with many easier trails leaving from town. Perhaps, like me, a stroll around town will offer you your fix.
The Tranquillity Continues
My time in Cilaos was but just a day trip, overnighting on the West Coast of the island at St Giles les Baines (think Camps Bay Atlantic Seaboard vibes). This choice of location brought about yet another experience on my exploits of this ultimate island. The peace and tranquillity I had encountered high up in Cilaos, seemed to follow me back down to Hotel Ness By D-Ocean.
Late afternoon walks along the beach instantly reminded me of home in South Africa and similar exploits in Camps Bay. The setting sun cast my fellow sunset-appreciators in hues of yellow, orange and red which made for a photographers dream. And a friendly dog, which had posing down to a fine art.
I would recommend spending a few days in Cilaos to experience all that she has to offer. There are many B&Bs and hotels in town waiting to welcome you. I even managed to get myself locked in one of these hotels while exploring. Such is the tranquillity of this place.
To come full circle to my original contemplation, I believe I indeed found myself truly immersed in the experience of the little town of Cilaos. Was it Nirvana? I’m not sure, I haven’t travelled to Nirvana as of yet.
Go and explore Reunion and tell me what you think.
Reunion Is Open
Reunion Island is open and welcoming visitors and is visa-free for South Africans. Strict protocols apply for visitors entering the island, familiarise yourself with them here. Air Austral flies direct from Johannesburg to Reunion each week, it’s just a 4-hour flight and you’re there!
For more information on activities while on the island, see more from the Reunion Island Tourism Board here http://bit.ly/LaReunion-MyLimeBoots
While on Reunion Island I was a hosted guest of the Reunion Island Tourism Board. Thank you to all for making my stay so welcoming and sharing your ultimate island with me.