Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Rhum arrangé

Most of Reunion's farmland is covered in sugar cane, which is transformed into sugar ... and rum!  Particularly popular locally is rhum arrangé which literally means 'arranged rum' but can be loosely translated as 'macerated flavoured rum'. One or several ingredients such as vanilla, bananas, cinnamon, geranium, lychees, ginger are added to a bottle of white rum and left to macerate for several weeks or months (the actual length of time depends on the ingredient(s)). It's drunk as an after-dinner drink and most homes in Réunion always have a bottle or two at least; most restaurants will offer you a shot after dinner. 

A week past Sunday we were at a restaurant at St Bernard (a district of La Montagne, Saint Denis) which is located in part of an old leprosarium. I hadn't been back there recently but I remembered they had the biggest collection of rhum arrangé I've ever seen, and I wasn't disappointed when I saw it again. The photos below show just part of the collection, which apparently numbers more than 300 bottles. As well as the usual ingredients there are some more unusual ones, such as chewing-gum or grass snake!

pomander-like rhums arrangés on the bottom shelf

part of the vast collection

note the large bottle of honeycomb rhum arrangé 
in the lower middle of the photo

Cheers! Santé !

Monday, 18 June 2012

Hike from Le Belier to Hellbourg

Gros Morne at sunrise

Early one morning recently we started this hike at Le Belier, a hamlet at an altitude of 1255m next to the small town of Grand Ilet in the cirque of Salazie.

sign board at the start of the hike.

At 7am at this time of year the sun has not long risen, and we had some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains at sunrise.  

looking towards the Col de Fourche, Gros Morne to the left

The walk itself is not very difficult by Reunion standards; the total distance is 10-11 km but it took us 5 hours to complete as we often stopped to pick goyavier (strawberry guava; see pictures below)!

As we always walked on the GR R1 (Reunion's main hiking path) or its variant, the track was well-maintained.

Initially the path passes to the south of Piton du Grand Sable and Piton Lelesse (1332m).

As usual there were a couple of rivers and streams to be crossed, but nothing very difficult as there has not been any heavy rain recently.

Part of the hike passed through a forest,

but most of the time you're surrounded by bushes.


As it was early morning, there was still dew on the goyaviers.

dew-covered goyavier



looking towards the east and the cirque entrance 

Bamboo can be found in many places on the island, but they grow especially well in Salazie. It's said they can grow up to one metre per day.


hunt the signpost!

This river crossing was a little trickier than most,

walking the plank

but there was a lovely little waterfall to be seen once you'd crossed.


 We passed this small religious shrine.


During the second part of the hike it's easy to see the distinctive Piton Enchaing (1356m) to the left.

flat-topped Piton Enchaing

The end of the hike is along a paved road, and you arrive at Ilet à Vidot, a hamlet near Hellbourg

road nearing Ilet à Vidot.

Walking along the road we passed some gardens, where we saw chili peppers and chou-chou (chayote) growing.

chili peppers
chou-chou growing on a trellis

We finished the hike at an altitude of 930m, 300 metres lower than we started, although with the up-and-down type of the path we actually had an elevation gain of 530m and an elevation loss of 831m. Our lowest altitude was 784 m.

satellite map of the hike

From Ilet à Vidot you can take a bus, or pick up your car if you've left one there.

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Monday, 11 June 2012

Weekend at Plaine des Palmistes

We were lucky enough to spend last weekend at the holiday house of some friends at the Plaine des Palmistes, a small town of 4000 inhabitants in Reunion's interior at about 1000m altitude.

large cross on the hillside, Bras des Calumets

At 1100-1200m we were actually a little higher than the main village, as we were in a hamlet called Bras des Calumets (which is actually not far from the start of my recent Piton Texor hike).

tree fern frond 

The house we stayed in is surrounded by over 4500 m2 of land which is covered by lots of fruit trees and also some tea bushes.

tea flower (camellia sinensis)

Although I've had the chance to see tea cultivation in many parts of the world*, and have occasionally seen tea flowers, this was the first time I'd seen the seed pod of the tea bush.

the distinctively shaped tea seed pod

There was a period during its history when Reunion grew tea (1729-1960s), and occasionally small plantations can still be found dotted around the island, but I believe a combination of factors (cyclones and lack of profitability) put paid to it as a viable option for the island's agricultural future. 


There were a great many goyavier (strawberry guava) bushes as well, some of them obviously planted by the previous owners to make an orchard. It didn't take long to fill a pail to the brim with juicy red fruit.

Goyavier bush (strawberry guava; psidium cattleianum)

There were also some of the rarer lemon guava (goyavier blanc), not to be confused with the larger common guava.

lemon guava (psidium littorale var. littorale)

There were also many citrus trees - lemons and mandarin oranges. They prefer these higher altitudes to the coast.


sword lily/gladiolus

There were quite a few ginger lilies, but as this is not their season they were not flowering (see here for pictures of them flowering).

out-of-season Ginger lilies (hedychium gardnerianum)

Lots of brightly-coloured Torch lilies also grow in profusion in the garden.

Torch lilies (Kniphofia)

Usnea lichen grows well at this altitude too. It's very sensitive to air pollution, and under bad conditions it may grow no more than a few millimetres, if at all. Where the air is unpolluted, it can grow very long, like in the photo.

long strands of Usnea lichen


big toad

Hydrangea (aka hortensia) 

I've always been fascinated by the water-repellent leaves of the taro plants (see here for a better photo of this 'lotus effect'). Our friends have planted several in their kitchen garden. A Reunion Creole proverb says "Comme (goutte d') eau sur feuille de songe", literally "like (a drop) of water on a taro leaf", meaning "it doesn't bother me".

Taro (colocasia esculenta)

slug on toadstool

Useful links:

Plaine des Palmistes on
Plaine des Palmistes on Lonely Planet's website.
Plaine des Palmistes in the Michelin guide.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Hiking to and from Ilet à Cordes

As promised in my last post about Cilaos, here I was three weeks later back in the cirque, but this time for two days of some (fairly) serious hiking!

We started at just under 600m altitude, about 1.8 km up the road from Pavillon, a place where the main road to Cilaos crosses the Grand Bras de Cilaos river by a metal bridge; there's also a gîte here. (Another path leads from behind the gîte, but because it involves many river crossings it's best avoided if there's been rain).

our path only involved one river crossing

We only had one river crossing during the hike, and we reached it after about 30 minutes walking.

interesting shapes beside the river

Cilaos always has amazing scenery

The path we were hiking along is known as the Reposoir path; reposoir is a word which normally means resting-place but can also mean a temporary altar. I don't know which is applicable here, although resting place seems more likely. It's also known as the Burel path.

old dead 'chokas' (green aloe; furcraea foetida)

the path is quite overgrown

After a gentle start during the first half of the hike, the path becomes a lot steeper during the second half. Most of the 800m gained in altitude is during the second 3 km.

looking towards La Fenêtre des Makes

looking back down at the river behind

this spider had a good eating supply

Almost at Ilet à Cordes

path leading up to Ilet à Cordes seen from La Fenêtre des Makes

Finally we reached the plateau on which Ilet à Cordes is perched.

looking back towards the coast from Ilet à Cordes

The village gets its name from the fact that during the 18th century escaped slaves used ropes ('cordes' in French) to access the plateau and escape from slave hunters. Today most inhabitants make a living from agriculture.

fields of onions

Lentils have been cultivated since 1835 and represent more than 60% of the crops in the village.

lentils and bananas!

Sign on arrival in the village at the end of the hike

satellite map of our Sentier du Reposoir hike

On arrival we wandered around the village admiring people's gardens and some of the wild plants.

Air potato (dioscorea bulbifera) is a species of yam

unripe strawberry guava ('goyavier'/psidium cattleyanum)

As Reunion has so many micro-climates you often see plants in one place on the island that you don't necessarily get to see elsewhere.

Giant granadilla fruit (passiflora quadrangularis)

Giant granadilla flower

Loquats, known locally as 'bibasses' (eriobotrya japonica)

After a picnic lunch we took a 6km round trip hike to the Bras de St Paul.

Bras de St Paul

satellite map showing walk from gîte to Bras de St Paul and back

On the way back we stopped off to see the village chapel, Notre-Dame de Sacré Coeur, which was built by all the villagers in 1906. Next to it stands the village elementary school which was originally built in 1920.

Notre-Dame de Sacré Coeur chapel

We spent the night at the same gîte as for our last trip (Gîte Grondin) and set off the next morning at 8am to hike to Cilaos town. 

signboard when leaving Ilet à Cordes via La Chapelle

This hiking path is known as the Sentier de la Chapelle. I didn't take any photos of the first part of the hike as it was down a narrow, sandy path with a precipitous drop and I needed both my hands and all my wits about me! 

looking back at the path we'd just come down from Ilet à Cordes

Starting at just under 1400m altitude we descended about 800m over 3km until we arrived at the river Bras Rouge. 

riverbed, Bras Rouge

We could see the remains of an old bridge, probably swept away by a cyclone.

A little further there's a junction which gives you the possibility of going to a place called La Chapelle (a rock formation), and half our group took this option, while I was part of the group who carried on straight to Cilaos.

path junction with La Chapelle

path up to Cilaos
This second part of the hike, while steep in some parts, was not quite so nerve-wracking as the first part!

looking back at Ilet à Cordes from Cilaos

looking back at the path we'd just hiked

signboard on arrival in Cilaos

Satellite map showing hike from Ilet à Cordes to Cilaos

Useful links:
  • The ONF website (National Forests Office) is in French, but has up-to-date maps you can download showing trails that are open (ouvert, in green) and closed (fermé, in red). Always check it before hiking anywhere.
  • The Runweb site has English information about hiking in Reunion.
  • Video (in French) of La Chapelle hike
  • Wikitravel