Reunion island is a department of France in the Indian Ocean, which is truly a stunning destination. I spent a half day in St. Denis in 2019 with two friends en route to Madagascar– the idea was to do a ‘reunion in Reunion’ (get it?) As I researched the island, I quickly discovered that its most impressive features are its rain forests, volcanic calderas, and beaches. While we didn’t have time to do those things on our layover, I was so impressed with the brief taste of Reunion that it has remained one of my top “return-to” travel destinations ever since.
Upon arrival in St. Denis, our first stop was the Smaller Market, which featured fresh fruits and produce. The tropical fruit smoothies were a great refresher to combat the (very) hot weather– and to wake up after our early morning arrival. There’s a Grand Market nearby as well, which has more crafts and souvenirs.
The city center has a laid-back, small-town feeling, with plenty of 19th Century French and Creole influences. Some notable examples are the Maison Deramond and Maison Kichenin. The Cathedral of St. Denis sits at the center of town and is surrounded by several small shopping streets, cafes, and snack vendors.
The Barachois area along the waterfront has a small park and several old canons facing out to sea, with a dramatic backdrop of steep cliffs descending into the water across the bay. There is also a monument to French abolitionist Sarda Garriga, as well as French aviator Roland Garros. Heading east, there’s a scenic walkway along the waterfront with open-air cafes and pubs. We stopped for a “Bourbon” – Reunion’s local brew — which helped us deal momentarily with the oppressive heat and humidity.
There are plenty of restaurants serving French fare with Creole influence. We popped into one at random for lunch (without checking ratings or review) and it was delicious.
A note on sharks — while the beaches of Reunion are beautiful, this island is known for having one of the world’s highest rates of shark attacks. I’m not sure how common it really is, but just do some advance research to avoid being featured on Shark Week.
A final interesting tip on Reunion — as with the rest of this region, they make high quality rum — some of which is infused with vanilla beans, which grow on the island. If you’d like to grow your own vanilla, you can also buy sealed vanilla orchids at the Duty Free and bring them back to mainland Europe, since it’s all part of the Schengen zone! (Note– it takes many years before it gets large enough to start producing vanilla : )
Something for Next Time: I’d love to come back here for a 1-2 week hiking circuit of the rain forests over the three major calderas. Starting at Piton des Neiges (the volcanic peak), I’d aim to make a loop and see Cilaos, Le Maïdo, and especially Mafate. In the southeast region, I’d like to see the volcanic Piton de la Fournaise, as well as the waterfalls of Grand Galet.