Just a drop in the Indian Ocean, floating in the warm waters somewhere between Africa and Asia, the island of Réunion is a tropical paradise of volcanoes, rainforests and rugged, yet breathtaking, coastlines. With a distinctively French flair, Réunion is an overseas department of France.
A holiday to Réunion Island will bring you face-to-face with a diverse range of landscapes, from volcanic highlands to charming coastal harbour towns and both black and white sand beaches. Its closest neighbours are Madagascar and Mauritius, and a trip to Réunion is often combined with visits to these nearby countries, although its a must-see destination in its own right. Thanks to its fascinating culture and untouched natural landscapes, it offers visitors a perfectly complete and delightfully unique travel experience. Lovers of the great outdoors could find themselves in no better destination than Réunion Island, where they’ll be spoilt for choice.
Hiking, whale watching, horse riding and diving are all popular ways to get to grips with Réunion’s incredible biodiversity, whilst beach bums will fall for the picture-perfect coastal lagoons and stretches of white sand along the west coast, particularly around the pretty town of Saint-Gilles. This tiny island’s most famous resident is the immense Piton de la Fournaise or ‘furnace peak’, one of the most active and easily accessible volcanoes on earth.
The island’s capital, Saint-Denis, sat on the northern coast, is where the majority of tours of Réunion begin and it acts as a vibrant gateway to the coastal resorts of the west coast and the tropical delights of the interior. Réunion is the holiday destination for those who dare to venture off the beaten track. Discover for yourself and you’ll be rewarded generously!
History of Réunion
Much remains unknown about the island before the 16th-century, except for vague maps and mentions of it by Arab traders in the region. It is largely believed to have been uninhabited before this time. Around 1507, Portuguese explorers discovered the volcanic island, although it remained unsettled until the early 17th-century when French colonists from nearby Mauritius began exploring the island, braving its dense tropical interior.
It was officially claimed by France in 1642, shortly followed by the establishment of settlements from 1665 onwards. During this period African, Chinese and Indian people were brought to the island by the French as workers and many were subjected to slavery until its abolition in 1848. On a trip to Réunion today, you can soak up the cosmopolitan atmosphere and melting-pot culture that is owed to the country’s diverse population. Réunion was an important stop on the East Indies Trade Route, renowned for its coffee, spice, vanilla and ornamental rose production.
As part of France, Réunion suffered invasions and conflicts during the 19th-century Napoleonic Wars and throughout history has been subject to a number of natural phenomena, notably the fierce eruptions of Piton de la Fournaise, which has erupted more than 150 times since the 17th-century. Following World War II, Réunion became an overseas department of France and today it is a member of the Eurozone.
Nature in Réunion
At just 63 kilometres long and 45 kilometres wide, Réunion holds an amazing array of unique habitats, flora and fauna for its size. It’s a haven of untouched natural beauty, from the peaks of the island’s two volcanoes to its palm-fringed beaches, calderas and canyons, which are home to lush forests and verdant plantations.
Wildlife abounds on Réunion, both in the well-preserved coral reefs of the west coast and up in the forested mountains, whilst roses and vanilla orchids, grown in abundance, fragrance the highland air with sweet aromas. Of all the impressive things to see in Réunion, its volcanoes stand out, both physically and metaphorically. The Piton des Neiges is the islands dormant volcano.
At more than 3000 metres in height, it is the tallest point on the island, allowing hikers to see Mauritius from its lofty peak on a clear day. On the other hand, the Piton de la Fournaise, is the most active volcano in the world, erupting up to once a year. It’s Réunion’s most popular attraction and a tour of Réunion is incomplete without contemplating its strength, either through admiring the crisscrossing lava flows of past eruptions or ascending the volcano along its designated hiking routes to get to the heart of the beast. Another natural wonder, best seen from above, is the Le Trou de Fer, also known as the Iron Hole.
This magical place is composed of a deep canyon and waterfalls, which all descend into the deep, moss-covered gorge below. The more adventurous travellers can kayak in the gorge itself. You cannot describe the natural beauty of Réunion without mentioning the islands abundant sea-life. Avid divers and snorkellers are sure to relish the opportunity to discover the islands diverse marine life, concentrated around the coral reefs of the west coast.
Sea turtles dolphins, parrotfish and even humpback whales are often spotted in the warm waters, but keep in mind that some of the coastal waters are inaccessible to swimmers due to the large populations of bull and tiger sharks.
Culture in Réunion
Neither France nor Africa, Réunion has a unique cultural tapestry, filled with influences from all corners of the world. Originally deserted, the island doesn’t have an indigenous population, instead, a mix of Africa, European, Malagasy and Chinese influences compose the national identity. Réunion Creole, an adapted form of French is the most widely spoken language, although French is used in official settings and you can expect to notice a French flair in most areas of the local culture during a trip to Réunion, such as in the national cuisine and architecture.
Living in such an isolated place has formed a distinct cultural landscape. Two unique musical genres, Maloya and Sega, have emerged from this island paradise and the combat-come-dance sport of Moraingy is another cultural highlight. Many professional surfers hail from Réunion’s shores thanks to its perfect surfing conditions and its a popular pastime among islanders.
The mix of cultures, traditions and religions make the island a fascinating place to visit. In Saint-Denis alone, you’ll find mosques, churches and both Hindu and Taoist temples, as well as architecture ranging from historic colonial mansions to colourful Creole huts.
Make the journey to Réunion and be rewarded by an otherworldly paradise, where nature is king and brightly coloured Creole huts adorn the verdant hillsides in a cheerful fashion. A holiday to Réunion is the chance to come face-to-face with the lavas flows of the world’s most active volcano before sipping tropical cocktails on black-sand beaches. There are very few places on earth that can offer you the same!