Lesser known than some of it’s neighbouring islands, Reunion Island is a small French owned island in the Indian Ocean, 175km South West of Mauritius and just east of Madagascar. Being one of the overseas departments of France, Reunion is the outermost region of the European Union and part of the Eurozone. This means it’s very easy for Brits to travel, with no visa or vaccinations required to visit. The official language of the island is French but the majority of the population speak Reunion Creole. Being 63km long and 45km wide, Reunion has a tropical climate which moderates with elevation. The highest point of the island is Piton de Neiges volcano which reaches 3,070m above sea level.
Last month I was lucky enough to spend a few days discovering this incredible island with our client Connections, a Destination Management Company operating in Reunion and Mauritius. Being the first to admit I knew little about the destination from the UK, I was enlightened by what I experienced in just a few days in this tropical mountainous paradise.
Getting to La Reunion from the UK is easy enough, travellers can fly 1 stop via Paris and then make the 11-hour flight to Reunion with Air France, Air Austral, Corsair and French Bee. Alternatively, it’s a popular option to twin-centre with Mauritius or add on to a South African safari adventure.
If arriving from France, there’s no need for customs on arrival, and luggage is delivered almost immediately to Baggage Claim. On arrival, the Connections team picked us up and we began our drive up to Cirque de Salazie and the mystical mountain village of Hell-Borg. Cirque de Salazie is one of Reunion Island’s 3 valleys, and home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls on the island. At the heart of Salazie lies Hell-Borg, a small fairy-tale village just 9km from Salazie. In Hell-Borg guests are surrounded by majestic mountains, waterfalls and Creole mansions with tiled roofs and colourful gardens. The drive up to Salazie and Hell-borg is a twisty but well-maintained road with plenty of incredible viewpoints to enjoy on route.
Set out in a form resembling an ace of clubs, the three cirques once formed by the eruption of Piton des Neiges each offer their own enchanting individuality. Whilst Cirque de Salazie is the kingdom of cascading waterfalls, Cirque de Cilaos is home to the island’s hot springs and Cirque de Mafate is only accessible on foot or by helicopter.
On the drive back down from Salazie we stopped off at La Vanilleraie, an award-winning Vanilla plantation and preparation workshop located in the authentic Creole estate of Le Grand Hazier in Sainte Suzanne. Here guests can tour the vanilla planation and it’s different varieties of vanilla plants, discovering the manufacturing secrets of this sweet tasting spice. The tours give detailed information about the plant and processing of the pods, also covering the history of vanilla cultivation on La Reunion. After the tour, guests can look around the shop and purchase any of the available products including genuine La Reunion Bourbon Vanilla, Vanilla Ice cream, jellies and jams, or frozen vanilla pods. Find out more about La Vanillerarie here
Day 2 on Reunion Island was a 4×4 tour of one of the world’s most active volcanos, Piton de La Fournaise located within Reunion National Park. Like Hawaiian volcanoes, it’s fluid & non-explosive lava flows slowly downhill in the uninhabited area of Encols and sometimes towards the sea. Guests can climb to the top of Piton de La Fournaise where they can see the majestic view of the volcano from viewpoint Pas de Bellecombe. The last major eruption was in 2010, however 2007 caused millions of cubic metres of lava to be spilled into the sea, covering the road to a thickness of over 60 metres and creating a new black sand beach. As we continued to drive along the Wild South Coast of Reunion we passed by the Lava Tunnels. The volcanic bowels of Reunion Island are criss-crossed by countless tunnels formed by lava flows from Piton de La Fornaise, some of the tunnels are wide enough and can be explored. In this area it’s also worth visiting Piton Saint-Rose, a village devasted by the 1977 volcanic eruption, the village church was partly destroyed by the lava flow of the eruption, having been restored and renamed to Our Lady of Lava, guests can visit the Church today.
Whilst reunion Island is most known for it’s majestic mountains and active hiking experiences, it’s also home to sandy beaches, turquoise lagoons and marine life including whales and dolphins. La Reunion offers 22km of exceptionally well-preserved lagoons, including Lagoon de ‘Hermitage, just south of Saint Gilles. You can enter the water anywhere along the beach and can enjoy swimming, snorkelling, kayaking or stand up paddle boarding, protected by a 30km turquoise coral reef.
Reunion Island by Air
With much of Reunion Island 1000m above sea level, it can be difficult to see everything in just a few days. The best way to experience the breath-taking landscapes and sceneries of Reunion is from the sky, during this trip we were lucky enough to take a scenic helicopter flight with Helilagon, one of the island’s main helicopter operators. Helilagon offer a variety of flights and tours but I recommend “The Must Do”, where clients can fly over the volcano, all 3 Cirque’s (Mafate, Salazir and Cilaos) and dive in the incredible Iron Hole with the view of rivers, waterfalls and the turquoise lagoon waters below.
Explore the local markets
There are many markets across Reunion Island, these are the heartbeats of the island and one of the best ways to immerse yourself with all the senses of the island and the local Creole culture. On my trip we visited Hermitage Market in Saint Gilles Les Baines, open every Sunday on the ocean front, the market sells local foods, drinks, clothes, accessories and souvenirs including many local delicacies such as ‘bouchons’ and the local beer ‘Dodo’. Saint Denis in the North of the island has one of the larger covered markets in Reunion, open every day except Sundays with many handmade products coming over from Madagascar. Find out more about Reunion’s colourful local markets here
Where to stay in Reunion
The Ness – This brand new 4* hotel opened in 2019 with a perfect location in the centre of La Saline les Baines, directly facing the Lagoon in the middle of a unique coconut grove. With 84 rooms and suites spread across 3 levels, the hotel is the perfect place to relax on Reunion when taking time out from all the activities you can enjoy on the island. The Ness has it’s own Infinity Pool, direct access to the Lagoon with private access beach, 2 restaurants and a bar facing the lagoon as well as a fitness room and spa including a hydromassage bath, Hammam and three treatment rooms.
Lux* – The Lux Hotel St Gilles is a 5 star hotel situated on the popular west coast of the island. The resort is made up of 174 rooms, 8 suites, 3 restaurants and 1 bar within Creole Style Villas, spread across the coconut palms and casuarina trees just a few steps away from the shimmering waters of the Lagoon L’Hermitage and it’s protected coral reefs. The white sand beach, turquoise water swimming pool (the largest on the island) invite you to relax, as well as opportunities for tennis, volleyball or day tours across the island.
Dina Morgabine – Located on the west coast of the island in La Saline Les Baines just above L’Ermitage, this modern boutique hotel benefits from fantastic views over a natural wooded area and the ocean. The property offers 73 modern and comfortable rooms each with a terrace, these are divided into 8 standard rooms, 12 courtyard rooms with kitchenette, 20 garden tooms with kitchenette, 28 horizon rooms, 2 family apartments and 1 suite. The restaurant s situated at the top of the hotel offering uninterrupted panoramic views of the coast, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The hotel provides a range of activities for guests including beach volleyball, children’s playground, ping pong, fitness room with equipment, spa including sauna and Turkish Bath, a heated 25m outdoor swimming pool with water aerobics, rooftop yoga classes, e-bikes and a regular free shuttle bus to the beach or centre of St Gilles.
Le Nautile – Le Nautile is a beach front hotel on the west coast of Reunion nestled on the edge of the lagoon l’hermitage. This charming 3* hotel offers 43 brightly decorated 43 rooms and suites – some with sea view, all have a terrace or balcony. Guests can experience creole and international cuisine at the hotel’s restraint, which offers a theme buffet on Tuedays and Friday evenings.
Boucan Canot – This 4* beachfront hotel looks out over a gorgeous white sandy cove on the west coast of Reunion. The hotel offers 32 luxury rooms, 6 junior suites, 4 senior jacuzzi suites and 1 ocea suite with private access to the beach.
Great hotels for groups:
- Hotel Alamanda – Part of the Exsel hotels group, this 2* 70 room hotel is set on the west coast of La Reunion close to Saint Gilles Les Bains and L’Hermitage Lagoon. Designed in Creole architectural style in a tropical garden with a swimming pool and 2 restaurants serving Creole, International and Italian cuisine. All rooms are 15m² each with a terrace/balcony, air conditioning, a 26” TV, telephone, fridge, safety deposit box and complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the hotel.
- Hotel La Victoria – Located in the south of Reunion in Grand-Bois, the Victoria Hotel overlooks the Indian Ocean with a spectacular view of the waves crashing against the cliffs. The 31 room hotel is just 10 minutes from the centre of Saint Pierre. La Victoria is ideally situated on the Whale Route of the island, with many humpback whales migrating along the West coast of the island from June to September before going up towards the Mozambique Channrl. The hotel provides guests with binoculars and a bell to let fellow guests of a whale-sighting off-shore.
- Le Relais L’ermitage – Located just off the lagoon of St Gilles, this 3* hotel is ideal for large groups due to having 161 identical rooms spread over 2 floors and situated across a three-hectare tropical garden. The hotel has 4 restaurants and bars, with open-air restaurant Papayer the perfect setting for dinner and live music in the evenings.
- Le Recif – Located on the West Coast of La Reunion along the shores of L’Hermitage Lagoon. 3* Hotel Le Recif offers charming Creole Style Villas decorated in bright colours offering a refreshingly genuine slice of island life. With two swimming pools and the nearby lagoon, the hotel is the perfect place for swimming, diving, snorkelling, surfing and deep sea fishing. The hotel offers a choice of 1 restaurant and 1 snack-bar, all 161 rooms and suites are sea facing and is great for families and groups.
Hotel La Victoria
After 4 nights in La Reunion, we embarked on a short and sweet 30 minute flight with Air Austral to neighbouring island Mauritius. Mauritius is a tropical island nation which sits 175km northeast of Reunion with 177km of coral reef coastline. Mauritius has a tropical climate, modified by the southeast trade winds, a warm dry winter (June to October) and a hot, wet & humid summer (November to May). English is the official language, but Creole and French are far more widely used.
Upon arrival at Mauritius International Airport, we were met with a warm welcome from the Connections team at their permanent airport counter (18) in the arrival’s hall, complimented with a refreshing cocktail before getting our transfer to the hotel. Connections have their own fleet of well-maintained vehicles including coaches and cars, all drivers are professional, neat and have great destination knowledge so will be able to give your clients the perfect introduction to Mauritius.
Tonight we stayed in Outrigger Mauritius, less than an hour’s drive the airport this absolute beachfront resort is located on the southwest coast of the island nestled in the nature reserve of Bel Ombre. This stunning new deluxe property blends the needs of the most sophisticated traveller with the charm and tradition of an early 17th century Mauritian sugar cane plantation. Choose to unwind in one of the four swimming pools, relax with an indulgent treatment at the extensive wellness spa or take a stroll along the beach or through the deluxe tropical gardens. The resort offers 181 sea-facing rooms with Deluxe, Family, Suites & Villa options, all of which have been designed to a contemporary and premium standard with Mauritian feel and atmosphere. There are plenty of dining options on the property with 3 restaurants including Edgewater, the resort’s beachfront restaurant offering sandwiches, burgers and salads for either Lunch and dinner. Mercado Market Dining offers an energetic international food market dining concept where guests interact with chefs at each kitchen, celebrating cuisine from Europe, Mediterranean, North and South Asia and India for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This evening I had dinner at The Plantation Club, offering a French Colonial atmosphere, reserved exclusively for Suites & Villa guests during the day with it’s own private pool and outdoor lounge as well as a fine-dining restaurant open to all guests in the evening serving modern Mauritian cuisine.
The next morning I was picked up by Richita from Connections and our driver to embark on a whistle-stop tour of the Wild South West. This is one of the bestselling day tours Connections offer, including Chamarel Waterfalls, the Seven Coloured Earths, Rhumerie de Chamarel, the Black River Gorges, the sacred lake of Grand Bassin and the Trou Aux Cerfs volcanic crater with a 360 view over the island, as well as the historic sailing ships at Voilers de l’ocean.
Throughout the tour we also stopped to see some of the more boutique accommodation options:
- La Vielle Cheminee – a small working farm located in Chamarel next to the beautiful Plaine Champagne nature reserve and close to several mountain peaks. The Chamarel falls, Seven coloured earth, Curious Corner and Rhumerie Chamarel are all close by attractions. La Vielle Cheminee offers 5 different cottages with a typical ‘Creole’ style, ranging from 2-6 persons. All homes possess their own unique personality through tasteful and comfortable decoration using recycled building materials and furniture, fully equipped kitchen and BBQ, it’s own garden and under the shadow of the old sugar mill’s stone chimney and the sounds of the old tractor, song of the roosters and cutting of the sugar cane. There is no restaurant on the property, but all houses have a kitchen, a catering service is optional and meals can be cooked with a min of 24hours notice. Picnic baskets are available for lunch upon request. The property offers numerous walking trails, a hilltop swimming pool and a stable of horses who are calm, gentle and available for horse riding in this scenic setting.
- Chalets Chamarel – A brand new hotel made up of 9 double deluxe es perched on the ridges of Chamarel mountain Piton La Porte with incredible panoramic views of the west coast on one side and breath taking forest views on the other. The retreat is part of the Sea Resorts collection and is just a short 5 min drive away from Chamarel Falls and the Seven Coloured Earths. The resort is an adults-only hotel with it’s in-house restaurant and bar ‘SeaForest Restaurant’ serving local and international cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Guests can receive complimentary tea and coffee as well as a sundowner cocktail from 5-6pm. The prime positioned swimming pool sits at the centre of the property overlooking the turquoise blue waters surrounding Ile Aux Benitiers and Le Morne Mountain.
- Bubble Lodge Bois Cheri – The bubble lodge offers guests a unique and eco-friendly accommodation option in the domaine of Bois Cheri, the most famous Tea Estate of Mauritius. The Bois Cheri Restaurant offers panoramic views of the south coast of the island. The bubble lodges are secluded nestled around the Lake offering bubbles for couples and families. All rooms are equipped with ecological toilets, a washbasin with running water, an open sky shower and offer perfect bedroom views for stargazing using the SkyView smartphone app. Activities around the lake include pedal boats, kayaking, fishing or walks around the lake to meet deer, guinea fowl, black swans and ducks.
After visiting some of the Wild South West of Mauritius we drove up to the North of the island to Mont Choisy, home of Tarisa Resort & Spa, a 3* fully renovated hotel facing one of the most popular sandy beaches and turquoise lagoons on the island. The resort consists of 75 rooms (57 superior, sea facing, 12 superior garden facing, 5 family rooms and 1 suite), 2 restaurants, a bar, a spa, a kids club, gym, outdoor swimming pool, beach front boathouse and conference room. The resort offers half board, full board or all-inclusive board basis at their Indigo Restaurant, serving local and international buffet style cuisine. Tandoor is their authentic Indian A la Carte restaurant which guess can book for a supplement. Having a beachfront location, guests can make the most of compliment activities such as canoeing/kayaking, pedal boats, snorkelling as well as glass bottom boat trip.
My 2nd and final night in Mauritius was at the incredible Lagoon Attitude at the very top of the island. Part of the Mauritius owned Attitude Hotel Group, Lagoon Attitude is a 4* Adults-only hotel with a commitment to eco and sustainability, adopting a zero single-use plastic approach, encouraging guests to use 100% mineral sunscreen and visit their Marine Discovery Centre. The property has several water refill points and provides guests with a complimentary Isotherm flask, 5 bars and a dine-around experience enabling guests to choose from 3 of the 5 restaurants without additional cost. There are 182 rooms and suites available on the property with 5 different categories suitable for couples and families. As the name suggests, the property boasts a lagoon style beach where guests can take part in water activities such as glass bottom boat, kayaking, pedal boats, snorkelling, laser boats, stand up paddle boarding and windsurfing, as well as PADI diving and catamaran cruises at an extra cost. The property has 3 swimming pools (1 heated), 2 floodlit tennis courts, a fitness centre, a spa with 4 treatment rooms, steam room and jacuzzi, beach volleyball, yoga classes, shuffleboard and organised walks to the famous Cap Malherueux Church.
Paradise Cove Hotel, just around the corner from Lagoon Attitude, this boutique 5* hotel recently reopened in September 2019 after undergoing a major renovation and is part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection. This adults-only hotel offers a You & Me concept, making it the perfect get away for couples, with 67 rooms across 4 different categories. The hotel offers 3 swimming pools, including a hilltop infinity pool and man-made cove, with 4 restaurants scattered around the property. The Dining Room is the hotel’s main restaurant, open for breakfast and dinner, XO specialises in a healthy sushi concept, Peninsular overlooks the lagoon offering Tapas of the world, and finally The Cove offers seafood dishes, nestled amongst the coconut trees between the main swimming pool and the cove. The Dining Room, XO and Peninsular are available in the hotel’s Dine Around concept which can be offered from a Half Board Package upwards.
Just a 15 minute drive from Paradise Cove lies a very different style accommodation, Le Demeure St Antoine, an 1830s colonial style mansion transformed into a Guest House and Restaurant. There are 4 luxury ensuite bedrooms each with 4 poster beds, air conditioning, TV and internet connection as well as access to the veranda or gardens. The Restaurant, well known for hosting events and festivities offers fine cuisine with Creole flavours and can accommodate up to 40 people inside and 80 out on the veranda.
On the North West corner of the island lies a seafront boutique property called Seapoint. Recently renovated in 2015, Seapoint Boutique Hotel is an absolute beachfront location overlooking the Coin de Mire Island, Flat Island and Round Island. The hotel consists of 22 rooms across 2 levels, 3 restaurants, 2 bars and a lounge, reception, boat house, boutique and spa. All rooms at Seapoint are ocean facing and have a terrace or a balcony. The hotel has a heated outdoor swimming pool overlooking the beach with sunbeds and parasols available for guests as well as a poolside bar serving drinks and snacks.
My final hotel inspection in Mauritius was Sakoa Hotel, a 4* boutique hotel just 10 minuites drive from Grand Bay, and 25 minuites from Port Louis capital. The hotel has 16 spacious rooms (14 standard and 2 suites), all rooms offer either a balcony or a terrace. The hotel restaurant is OAK, open every day with capacity for 40 guests, the restaurant serves a seletion of sea food, Mauritian specialties and international dishes, as well as a special menu prepared for children and themed evenings throughout the week. The hotel offers B&B, half board or full board basis. Being right on the beach, Sakoa offers a wide range of relaxing activities both within the hotel and on the beach, including paddle boats and kayaks at guests disposal, as well as a Wellness centre situated right on the beach, offering the perfect setting for a variety of pamper treatments.
March 2020 – Krabi, Thailand – Introducing the newly activity launch at Rayavadee ‘Bird Watching’ – Discover the secrets of the most frequently seen yet mysterious wildlife around Phranang Peninsular with the biologist, through careful observation, attentive listening and playful quizzes.
About the tour – the biologist takes you around for a half day birdwatching. Start with a brief on local bird diversity and ecology as well as basic birdwatching techniques and data reporting. We will hike through different ecosystems depending on feasibility including forest edges and fields, evergreen forests, littoral forests, mangroves and beaches and provide participants with binoculars and bird checklists to summarize observations. Our guide will introduce you to Ebird website, the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project which goal is to gather citizen birdwatchers’ unique knowledge and experience in the form of checklists of birds, archive it, and freely share it to power new data-driven approaches to science, conservation and education.
Rayavadee is situated in the heart of Krabi’s beautiful Phranang Peninsular on the border of Marine National Park, an area renowned for its natural beauty and rich flora, fauna and marine life. When the resort was built more than two decades ago, it was with the idea of living in balance within this unique environment. The accommodation was constructed to nestle in between the property’s many trees, none of which were cut during the process, in order to blend seamlessly with the natural surroundings. With the resort’s low-key approach to building, the habitat of the area’s many varieties of birds and animals was not disturbed.
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Free sunset music series to complement First Nations sails lighting experience this summer!
This summer, the Sydney Opera House will launch Badu Gili LIVE, a free sunset series of outdoor live music performances presented on its Monumental Steps in celebration of the nightly First Nations sails lighting Badu Gili. Badu Gili LIVE will take place on the first Friday night of each month from December 2019 to April 2020. A pop-up bar located on the Monumental Steps will serve a range of drinks and light bites. Badu Gili LIVE is providing a stage for First Nations performers to share their stories and experiences with the community through music.
We can barely contain our excitement ahead of the December 11th launch of the brand new Victoria Mekong Cruise, a sleek 35-cabin ship plying the waters between Can Tho, Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 3- and 4-night itineraries. To kick start this new offering, we’re extending an additional 20% off contract rates for bookings for January 8 and 12, 2020 sailings. Also, keep an eye on your inbox for photos and videos of the ship in all her glory!
NEW TRAVEL AGENT CONTRACTS READY FOR 2020-2021
Ahead of the new year, our 2020-2021 contracts and rates for travel agents are now ready. For any travel agents who are not yet part of our network, please contact TMG’s Business Development Team for exclusive offers. We’re looking forward to welcoming you aboard!
While temperatures across Europe and North America have already started to dip, select Victoria Hotels & Resorts have amazing offers to help your clients escape the winter blues. Check out all our Winter Promotions and get your clients packing for warmer climes!
VICTORIA CHAU DOC CELEBRATES 20TH ANNIVERSARY
This month, Victoria Chau Doc Hotel celebrates its 20th anniversary, a significant milestone for this graceful property just minutes from the Vietnam – Cambodia border. We’d like to thank our loyal guests over the past two decades and look forward to the next two, delivering heartfelt service deep in the Delta.
New Zealand’s largest and most technically advanced gondola. Situated within the dual world heritage Tongariro National Park, Sky Waka travels 1.8kms through one of the North Island’s most rugged and spectacular landscapes on Whakapapa, Mt Ruapehu.
Your exploration of New Zealand isn’t complete until you’ve experienced the ride through the sky on the largest gondola in the country. Journey over waterfalls and ancient lava flows and take in the majestic scenery of Mt Ruapehu and its neighbouring volcanoes, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro.