Destinations / France / Reunion Island

A Fairytale Walk to Hell-Bourg’s Ancient Baths

At the heart of Salazie, the village of Hell-Bourg is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Its traditional Creole houses and lush gardens contribute to the charm of this village nestled in the mountains. However, one of its main highlights is the remains of its ancient thermal baths, around which the village originally developed.

Hell-Bourg's Ancient Baths in Salazie
Hell-Bourg’s Ancient Baths in Salazie

From Ancient Baths to Fairytale Vestiges

It’s just a short walk from the center of Hell-Bourg, down a gentle path clinging to the cliff, where you can discover the ruins of the ancient thermal baths. Don’t worry; the path is accessible to all, as it has been arranged with stairs for a leisurely stroll. After one of the most delightful walks amidst creeping vines and tropical leaves, you’ll reach a small site where stone ruins are nearly entirely covered in grass, as well as small flowers during the right season.

There’s something eerie about the place, making it one of my favorite walks to take when visiting Hell-Bourg. There’s no real difficulty, and it’s quite enchanting. Upon arrival, I had the impression that it could be an ideal meeting spot for fairies. Could one be hiding behind the mossy stones or within the tall grass?

Hell-Bourg's Ancient Baths stream
Stream by the baths’ vestiges

Very little remains of the former bath establishment, but with some imagination, you can visualize what the building looked like over a century ago. In the center, a circular stone pond welcomes you to what’s left of that 19th-century popular destination. Alongside a murmuring stream, a long wall punctuated with arched openings is the sole indicator of the main building’s presence: in this part, there used to be a meeting room, a billiard room, and a boudoir for ladies.

Another building used to shelter the actual bathrooms (and you can still see the tiled floor). As you ascend and descend a few stairs, you can only envision the past activities of the former visitors who came to enjoy the therapeutic virtues of the natural spring. Back in the day, it was renowned for its ability to alleviate issues like lumbago, partial paralysis, stomach aches, and other ailments. Now, it’s merely a somewhat magical site, gradually transitioning into a legendary element in Reunion Island‘s history.

The Ancient Baths of Salazie: A Historical Landmark

Discovered in the 1830s by locals, the thermal spring gave rise to a popular thermal establishment at the beginning of the 19th century on Reunion Island. Despite its challenging access, owing to Hell-Bourg’s central location in Salazie, the village began to be a favored destination for affluent landowners and administrators starting in the 1850s. Many of them would escape the coastal heat of Saint-Denis to enjoy the fresh mountain air, and the baths became frequented by those who could make the journey to the mountains of Salazie, hoping to alleviate their pain. It was precisely around the thermal baths that Hell-Bourg’s life began to be organized in the mid-19th century: beautiful secondary houses, a school, a hospital, and several hotels were built to welcome both inhabitants and tourists.

Unfortunately, the source gradually depleted, and eventually, several landslides, including a fatal one in 1946, brought an end to the thermal baths’ activity in the 20th century. As the visitors ceased to come, the large hotels closed and slowly faded into oblivion as well. The former “Hotel des Salazes”, initially constructed as a military hospital near the thermal baths and later transformed into a tourist hotel, now lies in ruins. Visible from the street, it is no longer accessible due to safety concerns and awaits either demolition or a miraculous rehabilitation project. The only thermal baths still active on Reunion Island are those in the cirque of Cilaos, which remain highly popular.

Hell-Bourg's Ancient Baths in Salazie - old tank
Old tank left in the ruins of Hell-Bourg’s Ancient Baths

Ancient Baths of Hell-Bourg: practical information

The path to the Ancient Baths of Salazie and beyond
To reach the Ancient Baths: the path starts at the north of Hell-Bourg village, past the municipal library. Follow the signs to the path going down the cliffs. It’s an easy walk to the vestiges.
It is worth noting that the Baths are also part of a Trailing station, and continuing past the ruins into the mountains, you can hike to the Piton d’Anchaing.

How to go to Hell-Bourg?
By car will be the easiest and most convenient to reach and get around Salazie, but you can also ask for information at the Tourist Office about potential buses. The drive to Hell-Bourg is winding. Although it is easier compared to the road to the other cirques, it can still be challenging for novice drivers. The road may be closed due to weather conditions so it is strongly recommended to check its status before driving up.

When to go to Hell-Bourg?
Any time of the year is fine but make sure you check 1) the weather forecast and 2) the state of the road to Salazie, as it can be closed in case of heavy rainfall (usually in austral summer, from November to February). Your hotel would typically be able to inform you if you have booked one.

Where to sleep in Hell-Bourg?
There are many hotels and guesthouses in the village and around. Depending on your style, you can either book at the comfortable hotel Relais des Cîmes (a very good 2-star hotel), or rent the magnificent Villa Blanche (better for groups or families traveling together as you must rent the full house). Alternatively, pick from the many other options, either a room in a guesthouse at the center of the village or a small bungalow, such as at Les Jardins d’Héva, a bit further out. This can be a good option if you’re going to Salazie for hiking and not necessarily planning to just stay in the village.

More information about the Ancient Bath’s site (in French)

Hell-Bourg's Ancient Baths remnants
Vestiges of thermal baths of Salazie, Reunion Island

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