As with all Indian Ocean islands, Reunion Island is commonly perceived as being a dream beach destination, but the island is so much more than that.
When the island was first discovered by European explorers in 1507 it was totally uninhabited. Portuguese explorers were the first to discover the island. Reunion was officially claimed by the French in 1642, after being used by the Portuguese as a trading post for over a century. The island has been under French control ever since. Reunion is one of France’s overseas departments, and one of the 27 regions of France. It has the same status as the regions situated inside the French mainland. Reunion’s citizens have fully adopted the customs and traditions of France. The island is a “little piece of France in the Indian Ocean”.
Reunion Island is a little different to other Indian Ocean Islands like the Seychelles, Mauritius and the Comoros. Yes it does have white sandy beaches, yes it does have crystal clear waters, and yes it does have grand resorts like the other islands mentioned above, but that is not what defines the island. Let’s look at what makes the island so unique.
Cirque de Salazie
The island is what geologists call a High Island, which means that it is an island of Volcanic Origin. The island was created more than 2million years ago when the Piton des Neiges Volcano, the island’s first volcano, emerged from the ocean. Today the Volcano is 3069m high and it has been inactive for over 50 000 years.
The volcano is surrounded by three massive crater valleys, the biggest of which is the Cirque de Salazie. The commune within the crater is called Salazie. The most popular town within Salazie among tourist is the village of Hell-Bourg. Hell-Bourg was founded as a small spa town, after the French discovered a hot spring close the location of where the village is today in 1830. The village went into a state of decline when the spring was blocked by a landslide. The boost in tourism that Reunion as experienced over the last 10 years has provided the village with a steady form of income. The colourful village has been restored which has resulted in it being named as a member of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France or “The Most Beautiful Villages in France”.
Piton de la Fournaise
Piton de la Fournaise is French for “Peak if the Furnace” the name given to Reunion Island’s volcano. This volcano is one of the most active volcanos in the world. It erupted 4 times over the last 10 year, the most recent eruption occurred in August last year.
The furnace peak is situated on the island’s east coast, 2632m above sea level. From St Denis, the island’s principal town, it’s a 2 and a half hour drive to the peak. The scenery changes dramatically almost every 200meters as you ascend to the furnace peak. From the seabed you climb up through sprawling farmland, lush forests and what can only be described as a lunar like barren landscape, before finally reaching the furnace peak. It is advisable to head up to the furnace peak early in the morning before the mist rolls. Visitors can either take in the view from the viewing deck, or the more adventurous can hike up to the very top of the peak. The hike takes around 2 – 3 hours to complete.
The lava tubes
The molten lava that flowed out of the volcano during the eruptions that occurred between 2004 and 2010 created lava tubes. The tubes, situated in the commune of Saint-Philippe, are now a part of the weird and wonderful natural heritage of the island.
These underground tunnels were formed when the outer layer of the volcano’s lava flow solidified. After the lava flow stopped, the lava inside the flow channels kept flowing, emptying out of the solidified skin, leaving these tunnels behind. The tunnels can be visited by the public, but it is highly recommended to go with a professional guide. The discovery walks take from 3 – 6 hours to complete, depending on the length of the tour that you decide on.
The West Coast
The geological landscape of the island is very diverse. The island’s northern and eastern coastlines are very rough and rigid. Large boulders and rocks cover the shoreline. The west coast is where you’ll find white sandy beaches and that idyllic island scene that we all seek during an island holiday.
The LUX* hotel group owns and operates the only 5 start hotel on the island. Located on the western coast on the longest beach on the island, LUX* Saint Gilles is a beachfront hotel that overlooks the clear blue waters of Reunion’s coral lagoon. The hotel’s Creole villas are tucked away under coconut trees in a vast tropical garden. The hotel’s pool, the largest pool on the island, and the white sandy beach in front of the hotel offers the ideal locations for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. But there is also plenty of activities on offer to keep thrill seekers happy. Guests can play tennis or volleyball, go kayaking or stand up paddle boarding in the lagoon, play golf on one of the courses nearby, or even go deep sea fishing off the coast.
Reunion Island is a mecca for adventure tourism. Activities include surfing, helicopter flips, abseiling, hiking, mountain climbing, diving, snorkelling and 4×4 just to name a few.
Reunion has some of the best surfing spots in the world, but surfing was prohibited on the island after numerous shark attacks. After the government recently installed shark nets around the popular surf spots, surfing was reintroduce. Abseiling is done down the island’s many waterfalls and old volcanic cliffs. The highest cliff drops a sheer 600 meters, abseiling down that should get your adrenalin pumping. One of the most recommended activities is the helicopter flip. The pilot takes you over the active volcano, through the tropical valleys and along the shoreline. The views are amazing, it’s the best way to finish off your adventure filled holiday on the island of Reunion.