Geology, the birth of a cirque
Some 300 000 years ago, the Cilaos cirque was formed by cave-ins around Piton des Neiges, the island’s highest point at 3071 m. Erosion also contributed to the rugged terrain of this exceptional location. Cilaos is not a crater, despite being the only one of the three cirques to have a circular shape. It is also the southernmost and driest of the island’s cirques.
Cilaos is the newest town on the island; it was officially incorporated in 1965 by Prefect Alfred Diefenbacher, and today it is home to 7000 inhabitants. In addition to being a Creole village, Cilaos is also a mountain resort, and in fact, its sister city is Chamonix. Some 80 km of trails depart from this town, and Cilaos also offers an excellent selection of mountain sports, including canyoning and mountain climbing.
Authentic tastes : savouring Cilaos
Cilaos lentils are both an agricultural treasure and a tourist attraction. The rocky volcanic soil on the steep slopes of Ilet à Cordes is what gives them their distinctive nutritional properties. Production of this «queen of beans», the best side dish for a traditional curry, amounts to some 70 tonnes a year. These light-brown to blond lentils, endemic to the cirque, are smaller and finer than either Puy or Madagascar lentils.
Wine from Cilaos was once said to provoke madness. Today, it is produced on some twenty acres of cultivated vineyards, grape varieties include Malbec, Chenin, and Pinot. The wines selected by the warehouse are red, rosé, and white, and as of 2004, they have vin de pays status as an indication of their quality. The vineyards of Cilaos, interestingly enough, are the highest in France, located at altitudes ranging from 600 to 1300 m, they also host the first harvests of the year, in january and february. Pruning is done during the austral winter, and the humid, sunny days of the austral summer make the grapes swell to maturity. Another peculiarity of this wine is that the grapes from each plot of land are fermented separately to preserve the different flavours of every microclimate in the cirque. Another famous and well-loved drink, fizzy Cilaos mineral water, flows from the spring known as Véronique. This water, drawn at a depth of 13 m, is the only naturally fizzy mineral water from the island.
Land of artisans : «jour de Cilaos» The tradition of embroidery and teaching needlework dates back to Angèle Mac Auliffe, daughter of Dr Jean-Marie Mac Auliffe, who introduced these techniques to Cilaos. She taught needlework to the other women in the village before succumbing to measles at the age of 26. The famous jour de Cilaos, the name given to this style of embroidery, is well-known even in England for having been chosen to decorate the royal table. Cilaos has a local lace-making association that promotes its products and teaches embroidery to the younger generations to keep this original art form alive. Since 1984, some 60 to 70 artisans work their magic at Maison de la Broderie, or the Embroidery House.
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