Le Grout (pronounced LE-Grew) is a small Atoll situated in the Indian Ocean located west southwest of Ianoia and east of Madagascar. It was discovered by Yves-Joseph de Kerguelen-Trémarec in 1771 and Charles de Boisguehenneuc landed and claimed the island for the French crown shortly after. Until 2003, the Islands were one of the overseas departments of France. Like the other overseas departments, Le Grout was also one of the 27 regions of France (being an overseas region) and an integral part of the Republic with the same status as those situated on the European mainland. Following much debate over the last few decades, Le Grout secured their independence from France in 2003 and officially joined the Southern Union as the eighth nation in 2009.
The country is made up of 13 islands of which only 7 are inhabited, with the majority situated on the main islands of Sacoué and Estampures. Around 1.75 million people call Le Grout home of which just over half a million live in the capital city Audaux. All up, around 1.2 million inhabit the island of Sacoué.
French is the official language in Le Grout.
Despite the size of the country from its neighbours, Le Grout has several cities that would be of interest to tourists, especially those looking for hiking trails and winter sports.
- Audaux – The capital city of Le Grout, Audaux is home to the only international airport in the country. Sitting at the base of the Nicolas Allais Mountain, the city boasts a wide range of hotels and restaurants, nightlife, casinos, museums and a good base for hiking and cruises to Antarctica.
- Blaymont – The largest city in Estampures at 335,000 residents, Blaymont is famous for its excellent outdoor activities such as hiking, 4-wheel drive tracks and camping spots as it sits in the shadows of Provins and Coucy Mountains which are both over 1700 meters high. A must-do is taking a seat in one of the many restaurants and bars along the coast and watching the Coucher de soleil tôt or Early sunset as the sun disappears behind the mountains as early as 1:30pm local time. The nightlife in the city starts very early on weekends as a result!
- Portets – Despite sitting in the shadow of Audaux, Portets is known as the “City of Parks” for its huge, sprawling parks and recreation areas. Despite being home to some 135,000 residents, it has a very village-like feel to the city and most locals will argue it’s more reflective of Le Groutian culture compared to the bigger neighbour Audaux. The Main Street contains all the shops and nightlife on either side of a cobbled road that has banned traffic since 1995.
- Gretz – The location of all governments buildings in Estampures, Gretz is known as Ville Oubliée by locals (Forgotten City) due to its lack of regional airport. Government officials tend to commute to nearby Hombleux to avoid the more tourist-centric city of Blaymont. Gretz is perhaps a hidden gem however, with its famous oozing lava-flow that has been going continuously for over 60 years, and it’s amazing trails and coastal walks that are nestled in the pinch-point of four mountains.
- Bussu – A town of under 1,000 residents located on Boiry Island is a quaint little location with a quirk in which all the buildings are painted red. The reason stems from a story of a group of fishermen going missing at sea in 1790, in which the wives of the missing fishermen painted their houses red to help guide them home. The town has some fantastic bed and breakfasts and cafes and is the perfect location for some fantastic social media photos.
- Estos – A small town that has since merged with Audaux’s urban sprawl, Estos is home to the largest cemetery in Le Grout, where many dignitaries and famous Le Groutian’s were laid to rest. An entire tourist industry has formed from the ghosts and ghouls stories that have sprung up over the years.
- Lisconno Island – Located north-east of Audaux, the island has incredible hikes and views of the capital city on a clear day. The small town of Youx sits on the northern side of the island and is the launch point for many boat tours, 4WD trails and overnight camping trips.
- Niederbronn – Located between Itxassou, Estos and Grundviller, the small town of 11,000 inhabitants was considered a stop-over location for people travelling between the cities before the invention of the car. Three breweries call Niederbronn home and its pubs, bars and hotels on the main strip are where you will find many Le Groutians staying the night as homage to their forefathers travels.
Following Le Grout’s independence from France in 2003, all visitors must obtain a visa on arrival valid for up to 60 days. All visitors must hold a passport valid for 6 months or more and must possess a return ticket. Not having one or both of these requirements will see you heading straight back on the next available flight.
Three visas are available and can be obtained at a counter prior to reaching customs at Audaux’s International Airport. A 15-day visa will set you back the equivalent of 30 Euro, a 30-day visa costs 37 Euro and a 60-day visa is 45 Euro.
For visitors arriving by cruise ship, your visa is supplied to you upon disembarking free of charge at either Audaux’s Passenger Terminal or by the cruise line and is only valid for 15 days.
Overstaying any terms of your visa will result in deportation and a fine of up to 10,000 Euro.
Customs & Quarantine
Carrying or using narcotic substances, from marijuana to hard drugs, is illegal whatever the quantity. The penalty can be severe especially if you are suspected of dealing. Police especially target visitors from nations who have a more lenient attitude to marijuana such as Netherlands and Gunsovolk.
Le Grout has no policy regarding the quantity of alcohol a visitor can bring to the country, although it worth noting that drinking alcohol whilst in the line for a Visa will see you pulled to the side and your time wasted with needless baggage checks before sending you to the back of the line!
Ianoian budget airline Spark Airways flies regular services to Audaux from Warnborough, Ulcombe and McCutchen with the flight from Warnborough also continuing on to Blaymont. Visitors going to Blaymont must still disembark and obtain a Visa in Audaux, but rest assured the plane won’t leave without you.
Koanian airline KoanaAr have two weekly flights from Viksida and Omfattandestad whilst South African Airways provides the only direct flight service from Africa.
Travellers wishing to reach Le Grout from Gunsovolk are spoiled for choice with all international airports servicing Le Grout with the vast majority doing quick stop-overs along the way south.
November to February is the cruising season with Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Carribean all providing various cruises ranging from a few days around the islands to a day-stop at Audaux.
Royal Carribean and Princess Cruises both offer cruises that stop at Blaymont and Audaux, whilst the latter includes a day tour of Hombleux on the “28-day Southern Union Tour”.
Unlike other Southern Union nations, the enormous mountains can make travel rather treacherous on the roads even with its well-maintained road system. The majority of roads outside of urban areas are single lane each way with overtaking sections every 10-15km. Patience is important to any visitor driving on Le Grout’s roads, even if the locals aren’t leading by example.
Flights from Audaux to Blaymont and Hombleux are frequent enough, with Spark Airways Le Grout (SALG), a subsidiary of Spark Airways, the only commercial airline flying the routes. Many smaller, charter-style companies make regular flights daily and can be a great alternative for those wishing for a more intimate experience. Safety of the charter companies is in keeping with European standards, however you can be stranded at the airport without a flight for several hours if the company decides to merge two flights to save on fuel costs and the like.
Estampures Compagnie Ferroviaire (ECF) operates the only passenger train service between Blaymont and Hombleux, making stops at various towns along the way, including the city of Gretz. Trains run every three hours but freight trains take full priority. With the majority of the line being single-line, crossing loops can mean long waits as freight trains meander up hills but safety is impeccable and provides a unique alternative and some amazing views.
Buses are plentiful in every major city and are the perfect way for a tourist to navigate urban areas. Audaux and Blaymont provide ticket machines at major bus stops and provide both French and English options. It’s important to know that you cannot buy a ticket from the bus driver, and must go into any nearby convenience store to purchase a one-off ticket should you not be near any ticket machine.
Routière Express is a national bus company providing many routes to and from major cities, making stops at smaller locations along the way. They have regular services, including every 15 minutes between Audaux and Grundviller that connects with the ferry across to Blaymont. It provides a far safer alternative for tourists seeking to explore the country without the need to drive. You can purchase tickets well in advanced either online or at any bus terminal that the company services. Don’t leave it to the last minute however, as services fill up fast.
For the visitor who insists on driving, all major car rental places can be found in Audaux with cars ranging from little city runabouts to big four-wheel drives and mini-buses.
Road maintenance on main arterials throughout the country is very good, although trips “off the beaten path” on local roads can be a mixed bag. Expect great big engineering works with modern safety features preventing rockslides one moment, and then sheer drops with no barriers the next. Driving at night is best avoided due to the twists and turns and don’t expect any patience from locals looking to go home after a busy day. Don’t be surprised if you see trucks overtaking on the wrong side of the road and be prepared to hit the brakes. Thankfully, most locals know not to do these dangerous manoeuvres on blind corners. Extreme changeable weather conditions is a part of life in Le Grout, so be prepared for treacherous rain and sleet, even if you set-off on your journey with clear skies.
Despite the dangers of driving, hundreds of locals die on the roads each year, a fact hammered home when the vast majority happen outside built-up areas.
Le Groutians are very accommodating and most will pick up hitchhikers travelling from one city to another, but asking a ride within a city like Audaux will be met with blank stares. Don’t expect many to speak anything other than French and certainly don’t expect them to go out of their way to get you to your destination.
If travelling to another city, asking people at petrol stations on the outskirts of a city is your best bet, and usually offering to pay for any food or beverages is a great option to sway their decision.
With the exception of Audaux, most cities within Le Grout are very hilly, bordering on mountainous and don’t make for good sightseeing on bicycles. Audaux has several bike rental companies located on the seafront and near the cruise ship terminal and provides the flattest area to cycle and admire the sights. Despite this, there are no cycle paths anywhere around the city, and whilst technically not illegal, it is frowned upon if you cycle through any pedestrian malls. Avoid heavy-use main roads and stick to quiet back streets whilst exploring.
Walking is by far the best way to explore cities if not travelling long distances. All major cities in the country have a wide footpaths near any shopping districts, and traffic is light-enough to easily cross the road without needing to use crossing locations. Bare in mind that whilst jaywalking is not illegal in Le Grout, you must still give way to traffic and you’ll receive a good talking to from Police and road users if you step out in front of traffic.
French is the official language of Le Grout with the government and large corporations using French in everyday business. English fluency is rare, so attempts by foreigners to learn and speak French are liked and encouraged by locals.
Tourist workers and some government officials will have a reasonable command of English.
Le Grout is considered by many as “the edge of the world” with nothing beyond the islands apart from Antarctica.
Hiking and camping in Le Grout is no easy business, strong walking boots which support your ankles are recommended as the terrain can be craggy lava rock or springy moss with sheer cliffs not far away! Likewise, you’ll need to be prepared for strong bursts of sideways rain and sleet, especially in winter during the middle of the year, and particularly in the mountains. Don’t stray into unknown terrain without proper equipment, read up more on hiking when planning any trips and be sure to notify authorities of your planned route.
Whale watching and fishing trips are also very popular, although the seas can get very rough all year round, so prepare accordingly, especially if you suffer from sea-sickness.
For the more extreme adventurers, off-roading and white-water rafting can provide the thrills you need with many excellent locations located outside most cities provided by tour groups.
For the urban explorers, all cities and towns have a quaint, old-town feel with all city centres taking up a very small area characterized by eclectic and colourful houses, with good shopping, dining, and drinking.
The Year in Le Grout
The best weather in Le Grout is during summer in late November to Late February. Temperatures sit around 15-20 degrees Celsius although wind-chill can bring that down a few degrees. The winter months can see temperatures drop to below zero at night and no more than 3 or 4 degrees Celsius during the day.
Le Grout follows all major Christian holidays such as Easter and Christmas with the 5th of November being Journée des montagnes or Mountains Day. Outside of major cities, Le Grout also observes Sunday as a day of rest. Expect shops to be closed apart from major supermarkets, and severely reduced bus services.
Le Grout’s unit of currency is the Franc, abbreviated to LGF or just F.
Be careful using credit cards at taxis, petrol stations, newsstands and small outlets. Their owners aren’t so careful about checking employees and technicians who perform maintenance on card machines, so many people have their cards compromised and then over several days have money siphoned off their cards. A safer option is to use cash for small expenses (so you don’t need to carry too much – just make sure you only withdraw from bank ATMs) and to go to bigger stores with multiple machines since their managers use to enforce security and checking protocols to prevent scammers from compromising card machines (petrol station franchises being a sad exception). If you choose to use your credit card, keep an eye on your statement.
There are plenty of bargains to be had for the shopper though, especially winter jackets and boots. Clothes in general are a good buy and most souvenir shops sell hand-crafted goods such as jewellery and small ornaments.
Haggling is common in street markets but don’t bother to do the same in any shop as you’ll more than likely leave empty-handed.
Despite the remoteness and size of Le Grout, prices are similar to Ianoia or Gunsovolk. Day-to-day items such as a can of soda or a chocolate bar will set you back around 2.15 Euro whilst a steak meal at a restaurant will cost around 21 Euro.
Le Grout is fairly safe but be prepared, you must respect these practices:
- Don’t walk around alone at night in unknown or large cities.
- Be careful of open displays of goods (carried or worn) attractive to thieves.
Most crime in Le Grout is related to and within family or peer group, and linked with violence and substance use. Other most reported crimes are vandalism, corruption, bribery. In some sections of some towns and cities late at night usually around clubs, assault and armed robbery have occurred.
The major attraction of Le Grout is the stunning scenery, with impressive walks on cliffs and, obviously, the active volcano near Gretz. Be aware that in some high altitude areas, especially near the volcano, mid-day fog may really hamper orientation making it easy to get lost; also, temperatures may drop significantly. In foggy weather, do not stray from well-marked paths! Carry layered clothing. Even with winter gear on, in high altitude locations, you can become ill from the effects of cold temperatures.
In Case of Emergency
112 is the number to dial to reach emergency services which can be dialed by any mobile phone, even if not connected to a GSM network.
Police have a large presence around tourist locations in major cities to deter pickpockets, but some small towns do not have a police force or fire station and only limited ambulance services and if any emergency service is needed can take upwards to two hours to arrive depending on which town you are in.
Le Groutians adhere to a strong set of values. They cherish their culture, history and of course French cuisine, which is considered an art. Once gained acquaintance, the locals become warm, sincere and welcoming.
Communication, like in many parts of Europe and the Southern Union, tends to be direct, and small-talk is widely ignored unless there is an absolutely necessity for it. It’s very uncommon for strangers to communicate with one another, especially on public transportation. Avoid asking about someone’s age, salary and other personal questions as it is considered quite rude, especially if you are not very close to them.
When dining out with a Le Groutian, it is customary to have a toast after you have sat down and all the guests have arrived. It is usually done by the eldest person at the table but can be done by anyone. Do not interrupt the person giving the speech and if you are giving a toast, be sure to raise and lower your glass to each individual at the table following your speech where you welcome and thank everyone for coming.
Despite the country developing substantially since joining the Southern Union, Le Grout is not a rich country and unemployment is still very high. Avoid discussing politics and certainly don’t talk about Whaling in a negative light; Le Groutians are one of only a handful of nations around the world that still hunt whales with locals employed in the whaling industry.
If you are invited to somebody’s home, bring them a small gift as a form of respect. Take some biscuits for coffee, some cake or desserts, and you’ll be warmly and genuinely received. A gift should be of high quality. Never ask your hosts to give you a tour of their home. It’s considered rude manners, even if it is not your intention.
Le Grout’s international calling code is +156. Payphones are available everywhere and are free to use if calling domestically. International calls can set you back as much as 2 Euro a minute.
4G coverage is only readily available in cities and major towns, with giant chunks of the country not getting any reception at all. Orange has the largest network in the country, although Bouygues Telecom arrived in the country in late 2012.
WiFi is free at a lot of major chains such as McDonald’s and Starbucks, but outside of major cities WiFi is patchy at best. Most hotels have WiFi internet at a cost and internet cafes are still prevalent throughout the country.