Looking for a tropical island destination that has some nice things to offer besides sand and palm trees? Then Ile de la Réunion is exactly what you need. This French overeas territory is located between Madagascar and Mauritius. Because it is a French department, it is part of the European Union. So (if you live in a EU country) you can just travel with your ID.
Boucan - Canot
We stayed at hotel Le Saint Alexis, located on the famous beach of the island Boucan-Canot. This beach is protected by shark nets, so swimming is safe (though it didn’t make me feel comfortable). In some places there are very high waves that make it less attractive for swimmers, but all the better for surfers.
The hotel was built in colonial style and is the oldest 5 star hotel on the island. We noticed during our visit that it could use some updating - maybe a nice paint job or some new curtains. Nevertheless, it remains a wonderful place. The beach bar serves delicious cocktails with a beautiful view of the ocean.
History in a nutshell
Reunion has had a turbulent history.
- It was discovered by the Portuguese in the 16th century,
- By the 17th century it became a property of France and was given the name Bourbon, in honor of the king.
- The first inhabitants, from Madagascar, arrived in 1646, and the first settlers followed in 1663.
- In the 18th century, France sold the island to the East Indian Company.
- Agriculture began and included coffee.
- In 1793, the island is named Reunion.
- In the 19th century, Napoleon renamed the island 'Bonaparte'.
- British troops occupied it from 1810 to 1815, and in 1820 the first sugar cane plantations appeared.
- In 1841, they discover a way to artificially fertilize vanilla and they became the largest supplier in the world.
- Slavery is abolished in 1848, and people from India are attracted to work on the island.
- In 1880, the first Chinese arrive.
- From 1895 they grow geranium and ylang-ylang for the perfume industry.
- During World War I Reunion sends 14,000 soldiers to Europe, of which 3,000 die.
- In WWII the island is cut off from the rest of the world and there is famine.
- In 1946 it became a French overseas territory.
All this is why the population is such a melting pot of nationalities and races.
10 things to do
The island is only 2500 km² so you can drive around in a day. During this tour you can make some nice stops.
1. Kelonia, turtle sanctuary
Kélonia is a turtle sanctuary where every year 25,000 eggs are hatched. The turtles are released when they are big enough.
2. Les Souffleurs
Near Saint-Pierre you can find Les Souffleurs. The seawater sprays meters high by the enormous power when it reaches the rocky beach.
3. Grand Asne
Grand Asne is a beautiful beach near Saint-Joseph. A small portion of the water is defined in order to swim. Elsewhere it is much too dangerous to enter the water. However, it is a perfect beach for a drink and to enjoy the view. This short film from Reunionvirtueltv gives a good impression.
4. Le Jardin Vocanique
Near Cap Méchant you find Le Jardin Volcanique. This lunar landscape is the result of the eruptions of Piton de la Fournaise, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. We were there a year after the last eruption and smoldering remnants were everywhere. It takes nature about eight years to recover and occasionally trees and plants start to grow again on the lava. You see everywhere boulders with signs indicating how high the lava reached during various eruptions.
The village of Piton-Saint-Rose was completely destroyed on Easter Sunday in 1977 by a volcanic eruption. The lava flowed up to the entrance of Notre-Dames de Laves and came to a stop in front of the altar. Here you also find a statue of the Virgin Mary that was originally placed by a farmer to protect his vanilla plantations. Several volcanic eruptions destroyed the environment, but the statue remained intact. It became a real pilgrim place.
6. De East River Suspension Bridge
East River Suspension Bridge was built in 1862 and withstood several cyclones and landslides. The bridge was in use until 1979. Take a walk across the bridge and enjoy the view.
7. La Chapelle Pointue
La Chapelle Pointue is is a historic, photogenic chapel.
8. Les Cascades de Trois-Bassins
Cascades Les Trois-Bassins is definitely worth a stop. After a long walk through a river, you come to a beautiful spot with spectacular waterfalls. Make sure you have sturdy, waterproof shoes for barefoot walking is very painful.
The capital, Saint-Denis, has a nice promenade on the waterfront with, among others, the statue of Roland Garros, who was born here.
10. Les Cirques
The main attraction of the island are Les Cirques. These cirques are bizarre geological natural wonders. They are massive cavities, each with a diameter of approximately 10 kilometers. They were created by the collapse of volcanoes.
- The cirque of Cilaos, at the center of the island, is accessible from the south shore by a road with 400 curves.
- The Cirque de Salazie is accessible from Saint-André and is much greener and rockier.
- The Cirque de Mafate is inaccessible by road.
The sports enthusiasts among us can enjoy their stay here with challenging hikes to the summit. However, we opted for a helicopter flight. The last morning of our stay we had to be ready at 6 a.m., but, unfortunately, it was too foggy to fly. Incredibly sad, but also a good excuse to visit this beautiful island again.
What to eat in Réunion?
The people of Réunion know something about good food. The kitchen has a French base, with many Creole, Malagasy, Chinese and Indian influences. One of the specialties they serve in almost every restaurant is a salad palmier. The main ingredient in this salad is palm heart. They are also fond of (very spicy) chillies, which you will find in many dishes. The worst-rougail you must try once. Of course there is also a lot of fish on the menu (like swordfish, tuna, marlin, ...). Most dishes are served with rice and a sauce of beans, peas or lentils. The favorite fruits of the Reunionnais are lychee, mango and pineapple. They like a good glass of wine, but as the food is rather spicy a beer fits better. The local Bourbon tastes delicious.
Since we missed the most spectacular attraction of Ile de la Réunion, we can only say: ‘Réunion, on revient’ (we’ll be back).*
Have you ever been to Ile de la Réunion? Share your experiences below.