Mind-blowingly stunning and the food is “très magnifique”. Is this a dream or is this the perfect holiday destination?
Madagascar, The Seychelles, Mauritius are all well-known holiday destinations in the Indian Ocean. Well, I think I’ve discovered the shiniest pearl of them all: Réunion Island. It’s surrounded by reef, its climate is tropical, its scenery is mind-blowingly stunning, the food is “très magnifique” and the people friendly and relaxed. Is this a dream or is this the perfect holiday destination?
Réunion does not disappoint. At first glance, it is like a chunk of France teleported to the tropics. But beyond the French “Ooh-La-La”, you’ll soon realise it’s a resplendent tapestry which also blends Indian, African and Chinese influences, creating its own unique experience.
For those of you who like statistics, Réunion is a French island with a population of approx. 800,000 located in the Indian Ocean, west of Madagascar and southwest of Mauritius. The island is 39 miles long; 28 miles wide; and covers 970 sq. miles. It is similar to the Island of Hawai’i as both are located above hotspots in the earth’s crust. It’s dormant volcano “Piton de la Fournaise” rises more than 8,632 ft. above sea level and most recently erupted on 2 January 2010.
Although French is the official language, Réunion Creole is the native language of a large part of the population. English is spoken by many islanders who are more than happy to show off their fluency.
The climate in Réunion is tropical, but temperature moderates with elevation. You may be experiencing a comfortable temperature at your sea level hotel location, but as soon as you move around on the island, you will inevitably climb to higher altitudes and with peaks as high as 10,000 ft., the temperature plummets significantly. So, layer up and if you’re going in the wet season, bring your waterproof clothes.
There are three major peaks on the island, Piton Maido, Piton des Neiges and Piton de la Fournaise. If you are hiring a car, beware that your destination may be further away than you think. A 40 km trip to Piton Maido takes 1.5 hour of steady, s-bend climbing, but the trade-off is that you are treated to stunning scenery in fifty shades of green on the way.
A trip to Salazie and Hellbourg along what the locals call “The Road of 100 Waterfalls” offers jaw-dropping views of cliff faces that are so sheer and imposing, you cannot help but feel insignificant before all this natural beauty. The charming village of Hellbourg is located high in the mountains with a 180 degree view of the green valley below and the majestic peak of Cirque du Salazie in the background. Due to heavy rainfall in the wet season Réunion is not short of waterfalls and water flow, which is evidenced by the extremely deep drainage channels cut out alongside the roads. If you’re hiring a car these drainage channels can be quite difficult to negotiate as roads can be extremely narrow.
So, what can you do on Réunion Island? While it has acquired fame status thanks to its multitude of hiking trails, it offers many other attractive activities that contribute to making Réunion Island a very special destination. If you are interested in discovering the bottom of the ocean and not daunted by the thought of encountering the odd shark or two, you can go diving into the deep blue sea and admire the exceptional undersea world. Fly over the island on board a helicopter, a light aircraft or get tempted by a paragliding flight that will leave you speechless. There are many ways to explore and enjoy the beauty of the island and thrill-seekers will be able to more than satisfy their hunt for an adrenaline fix.
For the inspired and curious traveller that you are, there is nothing better than tasting the very special dishes of Réunionese cuisine as made by those who can prepare these best: Réunion Islanders themselves. Don’t be shy. Just push the door of one of the many “guest tables” and family restaurants you’ll encounter. You will get a chance to taste the very best, an authentic treat of fish dishes (marlin and swordfish), tartare of tuna, fish carpaccios or sushi. Alternatively, you may want to select a different type of quality restaurant labelled Restaurateur de France, Restaurant de Tourisme or Qualité Tourisme Réunion, where a more modern and creative cuisine will be offered.
Réunion is a tropical island, but one that doesn’t fit the cliché of a sun-soaked paradise. Sure, you’ll find appealing palm-ruffled stretches of sand, but none that rivals the super-sexy beaches that are de rigueur in The Seychelles or Mauritius. All the better for you: Mega-resorts are non-existent. Open the Pandora’s Box and take your time exploring this hidden gem in the Indian Ocean.
Guaranteed, you’ll leave the island proclaiming to the world that La Réunion lé gadiamb (“Réunion is lovely”, in Creole).