Gorgeous view of Reunion's mountainous landscape
Home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes, snow-capped Piton de Fournaise, Réunion is a little-known gem. This rocky,French-governed island off the coast of East Africa is easily explored by. The road into the mountains provides breath taking scenery. Bike tours on rough back roads are an option for the brave and the extremely fit. Beyond the reach of cars, the untamed village Cirque de Mafate shows the island’s wildest side Just 200km West of Mauritius, Réunion is one of the very few Island destinations that allows you to experience total relaxation and extraordinary adventure in a single journey.

The island and its 4 major assets

The volcanic side

The volcanic island called Reunion Island appeared out of the ocean three million years ago. The Piton de la Fournaise, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, shapes the landscape and even gains ground on the ocean itself during certain lava flows. An astonishing lunar landscape, the floor shaped by hardened lava flows, the earth covered in orange and brown scorch marks: climbing up the Piton de la Fournaise reveals strange, stunning, but very accessible scenery. The Plaine des Sables, the Pas de Bellecombe mountain pass, craters and lava flows are just some of the magical places you will never forget. When you get to the base of the volcano, the scenery of the Savage South creates a visual spectacle, with craggy basalt cliffs, the green of lush vegetation and the deep blue of the Indian Ocean.

By the sea

Treat yourself to a blue ocean escape In Reunion Island, dive into the blue, it’s a magical encounter with whales and dolphins, is to contemplate the sunset over the ocean, is to plunge into the bottle to see rich fauna and flora, it is safe swimming in the protected lagoon and snorkel in the Marine Nature Reserve of the Ermitage. The four corners of the island, the coastline will give you surprising landscapes associated with contrasting reliefs of Reunion :To the North:The North shore will allow the leisure or sports activities with family. Southward: Few kilometers from the lagoon, a coastal equipped for picnics, and impressive “Blowers” To the East: The coastline of the windward coast is renowned for the beauty of extinct lava flows that extend to the sea West: Twenty kilometers of lagoon and a Marine Nature Reserve.

In the mountains

The jewels in the crown of Reunion Island, its volcanic peaks, craters and ramparts were included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites on 10 August 2010, endorsed by the Committee. This was a long-awaited and justified recognition for this European island in the Indian Ocean. A unique natural environment where the mountains merge with the sea, where the undulating relief of the landscape offers magnificent scenery, and where 30% of natural space has remained intact since the island’s discovery: Reunion Island confirms its status as a destination with exceptional natural assets.

Reunion Island Traditions

The name Reunion Island very much captures the essence of this place… With populations from Africa, Madagascar, Asia and Europe, this island’s success as a melting pot of cultures is a happy exception in the current political landscape. Here, the difference is a source of richness and creates an astonishing cultural diversity, which is expressed in the island’s architecture, dance and cuisine.

HISTORY

The island of Reunion is a tiny bit of France with a tropical twist, situated 500 miles (805km) east of Madagascar, deep in the heart of the Indian Ocean. Nicknamed ‘l’Ile Intense’, Reunion is a dramatic, mountainous paradise created and shaped by volcanoes. The scent of vanilla, stretches of black and white sand beaches, forest-covered peaks, rugged valleys, gushing waterfalls and an incredibly diverse and friendly population make this overseas department of France an idyllic destination. Reunion is first and foremost an alluring tropical island getaway, but its interesting mix of cultures and peoples adds another interesting element to the holiday.

The history of the island is reflected in its people. The Portuguese stumbled across the unoccupied island in 1513, but it was the French that descended in 1646 and stayed put. French exiles and colonists, Malagasy slaves, Chinese indentured labourers, Indians and Pakistanis have subsequently created a rich melting pot of culture, as well as the island’s most widely spoken language, Reunion Creole.

Reunion was hard hit by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, as it lost significance as a stopover on the East Indies trade route, and today it relies heavily on mainland France for financial support. Its main industries are the cultivation of sugarcane, rum, vanilla, geranium oil for perfumes and, not surprisingly, tourism. Although inequality and the resulting socio-economic strife is an occasional concern for locals, for the most part everybody seems to live relatively equably side-by-side on this beautiful island, with a heartening bonhomie shared between the many different racial and religious groups.

Reunion is home to one of the world’s most accessible active volcanoes, Piton de la Fournaise, and has three major cirques (amphitheatre-like craters): Cilaos, Mafate and Salazie. This rugged topography, in many cases overgrown by lush forest, provides breathtaking scenery and world-class trekking and canyoning with many waterfalls to admire along the way. The interior is home to small mountain villages and rich birdlife and the lack of commercial development is refreshing. The island’s beaches are also worth writing home about, with the black volcanic sands at Etang-Sale particularly remarkable. The beaches are lapped by the warm Indian Ocean and the abundance of underwater creatures makes snorkelling a delight. The popular St Gilles-les-Bains offers classic palm-fringed shores on a wide lagoon and Saint Leu boasts wonderful surfing.

As if all this natural splendour wasn’t enough, the unusual cultural melting pot of Reunion ensures travelers can sample delicious creole cuisine, and revel in the island’s unique music and dance offerings, while still enjoying a little taste of French sophistication.

Reunion’s small but spirited capital is Saint-Denis, a picturesque town flanked by three mountains and situated at the mouth of the Saint-Denis River. Saint-Denis is a mixture of sophisticated French-style restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and more traditional sights and sounds. Sadly, it is often sidestepped on trips to the island, used merely as a starting point due to its close proximity to the airport. However, it is well worth taking some time to explore its charms before moving on.

The chic, upmarket seafront area with its lovely promenade is known as La Barachois, and remnants of the small port that once existed can be found here including an old warehouse of the East India Company that now houses the French Administration Offices. The Grande Marche (market) is a treasure trove of Malagasy arts and crafts, fragrant spices and textiles, while smaller markets offer mouth-watering fresh tropical fruits and vegetables. A distinctly French flavour mixes with African, Chinese, and Indian, creating a rich mélange that is evident even in the cuisine. Try a delicious cari (a meat or fish stew cooked in a sauce and eaten with rice) and rougail (a spicy tomato salsa), sample some excellent Chinese food from a tiny take-away or indulge in juicy mangoes or litchis off the stalk.

Saint-Denis boasts a fascinating mix of religious architecture including mosques, Tamil and Buddhist temples, and a cathedral, illustrating the cultural diversity of the island. There are several quaint old buildings, an interesting Natural History Museum, a modern art museum named after the poet Léon Dierx, and the facades of old East India Company buildings. It is also well worth getting out of town and climbing one of the three surrounding peaks for a gorgeous view. Perhaps the most breathtaking is from Route de la Montagne (the Mountain Road), a steep track that winds up to the top of a lava cliff that drops dramatically into the sea. Once the delights of Saint-Denis have been explored, the rest of the island paradise of Reunion awaits.

Reunion Travel Health Advice
There are no real health risks associated with travel to Reunion. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for travelers arriving from countries with a risk of yellow fever transmission. Vaccinations are recommended for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. There is no chance of contracting malaria but precautions should still be taken against mosquito bites as there are occasional outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever and chikungunya.

Reunion’s medical facilities are very good. Most towns have doctors and clinics, while the principal hospital is in Saint-Denis. Tap water is usually safe for drinking. Public water sources are unsafe if labelled ‘Eau non potable’. There is a reciprocal health agreement with the UK and most EU countries, whose citizens are entitled to emergency medical treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

MONEY
Reunion is an overseas departement of France and uses the Euro as its official currency. There are plenty of banks and ATMs on the island, and most shops and hotels accept major credit cards (though many require a minimum amount for card payments). Most businesses display their prices in their windows and restaurants and hotels should have their rates visible from the exterior.

ELECTRICITY
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are standard.

LANGUAGE
French is the official language but the most widely spoken language among locals is Reunion Creole. English is taught at school level.

TIPPING
Tipping is not necessarily expected but is usually appreciated in Reunion. Some restaurants do add a service charge to the bill but if they don’t a tip of about 10 percent is appropriate for good service.

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