If you never heard of Reunion Island before, well I can’t blame you, we’re just a tiny dot in the Indian Ocean. To find us you will have to grab your map and search right between Madagascar and Mauritius. Unknown to the world, this beautiful French island has a lot more to offer than you might think and if you would like to learn more about it, you should definitely read this article.
Reunion Island’s History
Everything started about 3 million years ago with a volcano’s eruption, but it’s only in the late seventeenth century, during the period of french colonialism, that the first humans set foot on the island. Baptized “Bourbon Island” by the french royal family, Reunion Island only earned its real name in 1793. Of course as you would have guessed, two thirds of the people arriving there were slaves from Africa, India and China to work on the sugar-cane plantation. When slavery was abolished in 1848, the island started to attract more foreigners looking for work, adding to the big melting pot that Reunion Island already was.
Even though the official language is French, most of the population speaks Creole. Be aware that each island in the world has its own Creole, the dialect can be similar to each other, but it’s not always the case. Reunion Island culture is very mixed, meaning people of different heritages came together and created something new altogether. Concerning religions, the island is somehow very traditional, while accepting towards every religion: it’s the only place in the world where I’ve seen a Christian church directly next to a Muslim mosque, in the city center and next to the mall. Some Hindu temple (Tamil) are scattered around the island as well, always painted in very bright colors and harboring divine statues.
All cultures co-exist in harmony and create a unique place: Reunion Island.
What can you do in Reunion Island?
It would take less than 2 hours by car to reach the northern coast if you start from the south, so if you rent one during your trip you could do anything. And believe me when I tell you there is quite a lot to do.
Bring sturdy shoes on the island, the mountains, wild nature and hiking trails are the most famous attractions for tourists. You certainty will be amazed by watching the sunrise at the top of the Piton des Neiges, this extinct volcano is the highest point, not only of the island, but of the entire Indian Ocean, with its 3,071 meters altitude. Hiking this path is not the easiest thing to do, most people choose to hike at night so they won’t miss the sunrise. It’s really worth it in the end.
If you’re lucky you could admire a volcano’s eruption, an extraordinary show only few are lucky to witness in their life, as the Piton de la Fournaise is one of the most active volcanoes on the planet and the only one active on the island.
Both locals and tourists love to hike in Mafate, and visit the small village located in the crater of the third island’s volcano. As it’s completely cut off of the world, there’s no cable connection (so no phone or electricity), the village is only accessible by foot and all supplies are either carried by helicopter or by people themselves. The village was created by fleeing slaves who searched to hide in the mountains, and as of today, there are still a few hundred inhabitants who decided to stay in the village. But I assure you, this is the only place in Reunion Island where there’s no electricity, not all of us live like in the Little House on the Prairie…
What I like most about the island is its ability to change landscape quite easily, if you drive in the higher parts you’ll see a lot of preserved nature and forests, the weather will be colder… But if you decide to lower your altitude and drive on the coastline, you will get a tropical vibe: sea, sun and fun. To say that Reunion Island is not very popular for its beaches is an understatement, they even have a bad reputation. But fear not, they are safe if you follow the beach’s rules.
Most tourists like to go to the west side of the island, like Saint-Gilles or Saint-Leu to enjoy the beaches. After all, they are the most beautiful ones: white sand, clear water, sun all year long … but they got too popular over the years. Everything is pretty expensive, especially the hotels and the restaurants. If you want to escape that, you can head out to the south and visit Saint-Pierre for example, the beach is not as Instagram worthy, but you’ll be at peace. If you’re not looking to swim but instead just lay on the sand, get a tan and watch the sunset, my to-go place is Grand Anse. You’ll enjoy your afternoon, believe me.
Is Reunion Island’s food any good?
Being such a melting pot, as you could have already guessed the culture has a huge impact on food. It’s hard sometimes to decide what’s really typical or not, because even the usual chinese or indian dishes are slightly adapted to Reunion Island’s taste. “Snack-bar” is a very popular concept on the island, usually it’s a small place or even a food truck that sells sandwiches named “American” which can be filled with anything you want: a mountain of cheese, french fries, vegetables, meat… Usually not very healthy, hence its name.
You can also buy a lot of different appetizers: samosas (indian snack) filled with cheese, tuna or vegetables; bouchon (it’s like a small chinese steamed buns filled with meat); bonbon piment (a small spicy fried cake); and for your sweet tooth you can taste a bonbon miel (a small honey-made cake, it’s basically 100% sugar). Don’t forget to order the local beer (there is not a lot of beer choices anyway), the Dodo, named after the famous extinct animal that used to live on the island.
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to cook a real Creole recipe (or if you go to a restaurant) there are a few recipes you should definitely try. Most meals are composed of rice, beans and either a cari or a rougail. For example, you can order a rougail saucisse (it’s sausages slow-cooked with a lot of spices, tomatoes, onions…) or a cari poulet (a chicken slow-cooked with a lot of oil, spices and a few tomatoes). You can decline a rougail or a cari in many different recipes and use any meat you want. But as you will notice, vegetables are not a big part of the inhabitants’ meals, unless you’re eating a palm salad, so vegetarians don’t have a lot of choices. Reunion Island’s food isn’t famous for its healthy cuisine, but it tastes really good!
If you’re looking for a good restaurant, I would recommend going to Le Cap Méchant (the one in Saint Philippe) or La Marmite du pécheur in the southern coast. Le Bénitier or La Case Créole are quite famous for their food quality if you’re located in the west part of the island.
I would advise you to have a picnic on the weekend, it’s one of the most common activities for locals, you really can go anywhere: on the beach, in the forest, in the mountain… You can either make your own food, or buy something on your way, it’s very common for people to sell grilled chicken on the road, for example.
I could keep writing forever about the all the activities you could do (snorkeling, paragliding, boat excursion, rum tasting, etc) but I just wanted to present this island to the rest of the world. I hope you enjoyed the article and I’d like to think you discovered a new “dream destination”.