The “Bourbon Island” as it was originally called, is a wildly tropical island off Madagascar and only about 150miles off Mauritius in the southwest Indian Ocean. It was first spotted by the Arabs around the 10th century but presented no interest to them given its difficult access. It was eventually the Europeans who settled on it from the 15th century when it soon became a trading post of the East India Company, from 1642.
From that point onwards, sugar cane plantationshave shaped the face of Ile Bourbon.
Exceptionally dramatic nature scenery
Reunion Island owes its success and splendour as much to the inside of the island as it does to the surrounding marine wealth.
Inland, the “Pitons, cirques and remparts’ of Reunion Island site was raised as a Natural UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in August 2010.
This spot is in the core zone of La Réunion National Park, the 9th largest French national park. It covers 40% of the island (more than 100,000 ha) and contains more than 300 endemic plant species, original wildlife and an active volcano.
The Piton des Neiges (3069m) is an extinct volcano whose peak may be coloured for short periods by frost, or very exceptionally, snow. For the most adventurous, climbing is permitted with an instructor on part of the cliff.
The least adventurous will explore the Piton de la Fournaise (2632m), a permanently active volcano, whose crater can be crossed on foot, by following the marks painted over the safe route.
In the centre of the island, rare landscapes can be viewed from the “Les Hauts” mountain. The steep Salazie and Cilaos calderas boast numerous, spectacular waterfalls.
Hikers seem to particularly appreciate the Mafate cirque, a deep basin surrounded by ridges around the peak.
To the east, the rainforest of Bébour-Bélouve is the perfect spot to admire the canyons of Takamaka and the Trou de Fer, an enormous shaft several meters deep, whose vertical walls pour impressive cataracts into the heart of the rainforest.
Canyoning is restricted to experienced people only. Beginners can opt for the easier, playful Trou Blanc’s course.
For the most hardy, the island can be crossed completely in 8 or 10 days, ideally between April and November and with the possibility of stopping in cabins or lodges. Supervised paragliding is the best ways of discovering the island’s spectacular landscapes.
The National Marine Nature Reserve and aquatic sports
The National Marine Nature Reserve incorporates 80% of the island’s coral reefs.
Swimming and recreational activities are allowed in certain areas of the reserve.
Diving is a great way to explore the coral reef where a magical world is revealed: clown fish, sea anemone, soldier fish, scorpion fish and groupers, and the ‘ballet of whales’ from June until September.
To explore the depths without getting wet, the boats of Saint-Gilles-les-Bains are specially designed for observation and provide outingsover the most beautiful underwater scenery of the west coast.
For fans of Grand Large, the traditional deep sea fishing tactics such as trolling and drifting, are available on the island. Local fishermen will be selling many varieties of fish, including blue marlin, sailfish, tuna, barracuda, and dolphin fish.
Saint–Leu is a surfer‘s paradise with its world famous 5 stars wave, which attracts surfers from all over the world. Various surfing spots are scattered between Boucan Canot and Saint-Pierre which welcome windsurfing, kitesurfing and funboards all year long.
Sustainable tourism and local culture
Fifteen communes have joined together in a network under the trade mark Villages Créoles®. The network’s aim is to take part in the development of people and territories, and contribute to protecting the environment, natural resources and biodiversity of the island.
In 2007, it won a Responsible Tourism Trophy in the cultural and heritage category.
As for accommodation, refuges and hiking lodges in the remote and rustic Mafate cirque are an ideal place to be totally immersed in nature.
The ‘Baobab et Palmiers’ eco-lodge is a must for lovers of ecotourism. It offers four bungalows around an authentic Creole house, a swimming pool and stunning views over the ocean.
Located at the crossroads of the famous Spice route,Reunion Island cuisine is based on flavours from all around the world, such as turmeric, cardamom, ginger and the four spices .
It would also be impossible not to stumble across the cari, inspired by Indian curries or the spicier rougail which comes in two forms: a ragout and a “home-made” condiment of chilli peppers and tomatoes, found on every table on the island.
And last but not least, sit back and enjoy the sunset out over the Ocean, listen to some maloya, a blues music born from the beliefs of slaves, or Séga, a blend of musical traditions from Europe and Africa, while sipping a delicious rum, sugar and vanilla bourbon all synonymous with the Reunion Island.
29 April: Piton des Neiges Cross-Country Race – Cilaos
The island’s oldest mountain race has a 13km circuit which reaches a height of 1,900m.
18-21 October: Grand Raid
The Diagonale des Fous celebrates its 20th anniversary. The Diagonale, which is world’s biggest mountain race, is 125km long, up to 8,00m high and has nearly 2,000 competitors. www.grandraid-reunion.com
24-25 November 2012: Mégavalanche
This mountain-biking event runs down the west of the island. The course has summits of over 3,000m high which offers up breath-taking slopes and diverse landscapes: from volcanic, mineral and desert summits, to heavenly beaches through tamarind forests and sugar cane fields. www.megavalanche.com