Bienvenue en France
Yes, I know...I haven't gone totally crazy and yes, we are still in the Indian Ocean. But today, we have been on the island of Reunion, which is just as much part of metropolitan France as Paris or Cannes.
Imagining this to be a tropical island like the others we've been visiting, it was a surprise to open the curtains this morning and to see a landscape rather similar to home. Green, rolling hills - ok, perhaps a little higher and steeper than the Cotswolds, but nevertheless, it was very different from the Reunion of our imagination.
It's a volcanic island and so the development is pretty much limited to the coastal plains, with the central rocky area remaining lush and green. Our tour today was to take us into that central area and once through the rush hour traffic, we began to climb a steep and windy road up towards the caldera.
It felt very strange to be driving through such a European setting when we are so far from home.
Up and up we drove, following a tortuously bendy road, beyond the houses and into the tamarind trees which were all leaning at the same angle, thanks to the strength of the prevailing wind.
Somewhere around 1600m we looked back to see where we'd come from - way down there was the coast and yet, we still had another 500m to climb.
Eventually we were above the tree line and into a wide open area of gorse and lichen. We were at the top! And the view?
The view was nothing short of spectacular.
The caldera is clover leaf shaped and grassy green, even though we understand the volcano is still active and erupts fairly frequently - once or twice a year, generally. But on the little green shelves and plateaus were small settlements of houses and the view reminded many of us of Peruvian villages in the Sacred Valley.
We heard the sound of a helicopter and instinctively looked up before realising, we should be looking down. Sure enough, there it was like a small dragonfly far beneath us. Our guide Vincent had explained that the houses down there were off grid, relying on solar power and that everything had to be brought in by helicopter as there was no road access either.
I am sure I took the same photographs many times over, for we just could not get over the beauty of this place. However, it was time to go, returning the same way as we'd come up...via the long and winding road.
On the way down, we made a short stop at a geranium distillery, where the essential oils from the geranium plant are bottled and sold. It was a pretty basic set up but by all accounts, a lucrative business and one of several such enterprises along the roadside here.
Sadly, no opportunities to taste the local brew with the distinctive Dodo logo, but the image wasa popular feature on the walls and in the local market, where it was to be found on all kinds of souvenirs.
No trinkets for us in the market though when there were more useful and fragrant things to buy, such as these fresh vanilla pods. Vacuum packed for us, we'll look forward to using them and the rich aroma will bring back memories of a happy day here on the island.