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