Cilaos is ensnared by scenery so mind-blowingly dramatic it's practically Alpine. One name says it all: Piton des Neiges (3070m). The iconic peak towers over the town of Cilaos, acting like a magnet to hiking fiends. But there's no obligation to overdo it: a smattering of museums, a slew of underrated vineyards and plenty of short walks mean this incredible dose of natural magnificence can also be appreciated at a more relaxed pace.
The largest settlement in any of the Cirques, Cilaos sits 1200m above sea level. Developed as a spa resort at the end of the 19th century, the town's fortunes still rest on tourism, particularly hiking and canyoning, backed up by agriculture and the bottled mineral-water industry. The area is known for the production of lentils, embroidery and, increasingly, palatable rosé and white wines.
Cilaos fills up quickly on weekends. But despite its popularity it manages to stave off changes that would detract from its appeal as an 'ecotourism' destination – there are no massive hotels or blaring discos, only low-key, small-scale operations.