The cirques (natural amphitheatres) are a geological curiosity. They were formed as the inside of Piton des Neiges – the volcano that gave birth to Reunion Island, and were further shaped by erosion. The name “Cirques” was given to them because of their more or less circular shape.
About Réunion's Cirques
Réunion’s three cirques look quite different. Their only common feature are their ‘exits’: gigantic canyons slowly carved by rivers in search of an outlet towards the sea. Remote and wild, the cirques were for a long time the ultimate shelter for ‘maroon’ slaves. From the first inhabitants who were ruthlessly chased, no material traces are left except for their names, the most famous being Mafate, Cimendef and Anchaing.
Only at the beginning of the 19th century did some poor white farmers, formerly living in the “lowlands”, come to build their shacks in those unknown regions. They had to adapt to the rough climate and geographic conditions of the heights as well as they could, and developed a special way of life, which, still today, can be felt by a cosy wood fire and the natural shyness of people who are not used to visits from “moundehors” (outsiders). Even so, they are wonderfully hospitable people, and their welcome is second to none.
Salazie is exposed to the trade winds and is like a lush garden with its many waterfalls and luxuriant vegetation. This is a land where sugar cane, banana trees and vegetables thrive… the most famous vegetable being the “chouchou”. The tuber, called “patate chouchou”, can also be eaten in many different ways, and even it’s leaves are edible. The cirque’s ever more numerous restaurants seem to compete fiercely in devising new chouchou-based recipes, and each year the “Chouchou Festival” attracts many visitors. Salazie also has dozens of footpaths climbing towards the cliffs, the other cirques, or towards Plaine-des-Paimistes.
Those interested in old houses can satisfy their curiosity in the village of Hell-Bourg, which is like a living museum of traditional creole architecture. Do not miss the family pleasure of fishing freshwater trout, bred in quantities in the cirque.
Opposite Salazie, the cirque of Cilaos (from Malagasy “Tsilaosa” meaning “that one does not leave”) is not as verdant, and the prevailing tones are the darker hues of rock. The drive to Cilaos is something to remember! With it’s tunnels, it’s extravagant bends and it’s “loop”, the road is an original sight by itself.
Dominated by the majestic shape of Pitondes-Neiges (3,069 metres), the village of Cilaos is famous for its thermal waters, effective in the treatment of joints and stomach affections. The new thermal baths were opened in 1987 and offer health sessions.
Other local curiosities are the delicious lentils, Cilaos wine, and “jours” – fine embroidery of great renown. Add to that dark and deep conifer forests, countless hiking and mountain-biking trails, an ideal climate… and you may never want to leave the place! And if you like trekking, Ciloas will be your departure point for mysterious Mafate, the roadless Cirque which can only be reached by foot or by helicopter.
Mafate is the most enigmatic circa of the three. It can be seen from three different view points: Maido on the west side providing the most complete view from its altitude of 2,200 metres; Cap Noir, 1,300 metres high, with a good perspective on Riviere des Galets; and Bord-Martin at an altitude of 1,590 metres. The cirque can be accessed via six footpaths; the spectacular are Cilaos-Marla and Col mode Fourche-La Nouvelle. The first, also called “route de I’llet-I-Cordes“, is 6 kilometres long and goes across the Taiibit Pass (2,083 metres) and Ilet des Salazes hamlet, then down to Marla.