Do you want to know the best island for a trip that will please everyone? That will unite mountain and beach lovers, adventurers and fine diners, the ‘I want all new & exciting’ and the ‘I want a some comforts of home’? Look no further, because today I am taking you to such a location.
Bienvenue to La Reunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean! A destination of such marvelous beauty, throwing adventure and rum punch at you on every corner that I am a bit ashamed to admit I discovered it pretty much my accident. But then again a lot of great places where discovered by accident, so here we go…
My dad was visiting me in Cape Town and for New Year’s we wanted to go on a trip. After Namibia the year prior we wanted something different and the choice quickly fell to Botswana. Unfortunately, Botswana like many other Southern African countries offers steep prices for foreigners, my dad, und a huge discount for locals, me. That didn’t seem fair especially as we were booking the same trip through the same travel agent and we decided to look elsewhere.
I don’t know how exactly I managed to stumble about La Réunion. I think it was a mix of ‘Seychelles, nah too romantic to go with dad’, ‘Madagascar, nah too rugged for him’ and ‘Mauritius, nah too many golf courses, I will never see him again’ and then ‘oh wait, what is that other fleck on the map close by?’. With the hope of getting a decent bottle of champagne for New Year’s (indeed we did) as it is a French overseas department, we booked our flights. Good champagne was all the reason we really needed at this point, especially as the one in Namibia had been horrendous.
one. Take a punch
If champagne is not your choice of drink – wait, who even are you?? – fear not, because while it is easy enough to get a decent French bottle at the supermarket, the national drink is rum punch. Every establishment will have their own punch a la maison you can’t go wrong with. Or go to at cafeteria style restaurant where you will share your table with some locals and drink your way through several flavors of punch, left to their own devices on the tables for you to try.
two. Le volcan
Reunion’s main attraction after its punches is the Piton a la Fournaise, le volcan. There is a second, even higher one, the Piton des Neiges, but that one has neither snow nor lava and so it is really not very exciting as le volcan, which is one of the most active volcanos in the world. The most recent eruption in August has currently ended all hiking activities that usually take place on it, but has reignited another hobby of locals and tourists alike: night time viewing of the eruptions.
If you are not into hiking a very alive and kicking mountain take at least a drive over the Plaines des Sables moon landscape leading to the Pas de Bellecombe, the closest viewing platform.
But all over the island you will literally driver over cold lava fields – or should I say cold-ish, considering that it is still quite warm ten meters into the ground. While the drive gets eery and desolate at times there is always a bit of green making its way through the black ground.
three. Cirque du Soleil
Next to its two volcanos, La Reunion offers three calderas, Cirque de Salazie, the Cirque de Cilaos and the Cirque de Mafate, for hiking and stunning vistas. They are more or less remote, depending on what you want with Mafate being the most isolated, you will need to come by foot or helicopter.
Cirque de Salazie is actually the opposite of a cirque du Soleil as it holds several world records of the most rainfall. Staying in the little village of Hell-Bourg for some mist and lush vegetation can be quite romantic though.
Cirque de Cilaos is probably the best developed of the three in terms of tourism infrastructure as it was developed as a spa destination at the end of the 19th century. Mind you, the breathtaking rugged mountain scenery hasn’t been overrun and you can still get your Dora the Explorer on.
four. Don’t go chasing waterfalls.
You don’t have to go chasing waterfalls in Reunion because they are everywhere. You won’t need much luck to spot some impressive ones from the road when there was lots of rainfall and otherwise a little hike will do to get you to more hidden ones. Best to be enjoyed in a bikini or from high up in the air.
five. View from above
If all that hiking sounds too challenging, take a ride in a helicopter instead to enjoy all those wonders the island has to offer from above. While a helicopter ride is always a splurge, it is so very worth it here, because you will be able to get up close to the cirques, the waterfalls and even when le volcan is quiet, it is a sight to behold from the air.
six. Finding paradise
If all that natural beauty you will randomly find while driving over the island isn’t enough then head to paradise. Jardin d’Eden is a botanical garden like no other and the perfect place to get lost for a couple of hours and let your inner micro picture nerd come out to play.
seven. Dish up
The food of Reunion is a beautiful mix of French and Creole, really making for the best of two worlds as you get to enjoy amazing curries and mop it all up with the best French baguette. Add to this the freshest fish and seafood and a side of vanilla and rougail (a sort spicy relish) with everything and you got yourself a feast. I still remember the best meal of my life – vegetarians move on to number eight please – a seared tuna steak topped with seared foie gras.
To learn more about vanilla and its farming on the island visit the Vanilla Bourbon plantation. Needless to say, there is a shop where you can and should stock up.
eight. Picture perfect
While the island is predominately Christian, almost every town has a Hindu temple and a mosque as well adding quite literally to a colorful landscape.
And then there is the most famous of all churches, Our Lady of the Lavas. This church was miraculously spared during an eruption in 1977 when the lava stopped at its entrance and went around instead of destroying it. Whether you believe in divine intervention or simply good old luck, the sight of the cold lava flow molded around the church is worth a visit.
nine. Beach bum
Now you may ask me – but what about the beaches? And so I will give you the bad news first: Reunion is not famed for its beaches. But the good news is that this is all relative. While it cannot compare to beaches of the Seychelles or Mauritius, they still have sand and the water is warm and honestly, a view like this is not so bad is it?
ten. Around the world.
I wanted to write about the people of La Reunion and how I love the fact that it is a beautiful rainbow nation. But then I realized that such descriptions of a multicultural society can easily be bit of a euphemism. A nice word for a nation that is usually born out of a dark past of colonization and in Réunion’s case also slavery. So really, what do I know about rainbow nations, me, the privileged girl from Germany who just admitted to eating seared foie gras and loving it?
So I want to treat lightly when I say, Reunion has a rich history, blending African, Chinese, Indian, French and more. All of these people’s history and traditions can still be seen and experienced today – take a trip around the island and you take a little trip around the world and that is quite wonderful.