Where is La Réunion?
This small island, which is actually a region of France, is located in the southern Indian Ocean, 435 miles to the east of Madagascar and 124 miles to the south west of Mauritius.
La Réunion is far more than a beach holiday destination, but the beaches here are still pleasant. The hotels that we’ve hand-picked are mostly focused in one area on the west coast, around the charming villages of St-Leu and St-Gilles-les-Bains. St-Leu has a volcanic black-sand beach typical of the island, while at popular St-Gilles-les-Bains the sand is unusually golden. In this area, natural lagoons formed by coral reefs provide safe places to swim, away from the sharks that inhabit the deeper waters created by the volcanic landscape. It’s not permitted to swim outside of these areas. Each of our hotels is well placed for exploring the rest of the island. On the east coast, the towns give way to sugar cane fields and vanilla plantations.
Volcanoes & cirques
40% of La Réunion is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, created to protect the island’s rugged volcanic interior. At 3,070 metres high, the dormant volcano of Piton des Neiges is the island’s most dominant feature, shrouded in lush subtropical forest. It covers most of the north-west of the island and offers a variety of sightseeing and outdoor activities. The active Piton de la Fournaise (2,630 metres) is the world’s second most active volcano. Situated in the south-east corner of the island, it’s La Reunion’s most popular attraction. Follow the forest paths, stop at various viewpoints to see the canyons and lunar landscape, see the crater lake and walk on lava flows from previous eruptions. ‘Furnace Peak’, as the volcano’s name translates, erupted as recently as 2004 – and the island continues to grow with the lava spread.
Where the volcanoes have collapsed, ancient jungle-clad natural amphitheatres have been created, known here as ‘cirques’. Salazie, Cilaos and Mafate make up the three cirques. The Cirque de Salazie, around 30 miles from the capital St-Denis, is the largest cirque, surrounded by verdant forests and dotted with more than 100 waterfalls. It hosts one of the island’s prettiest villages, Hell-Bourg, on the edge of the cirque, with its Creole houses and beautiful gardens. Reached by a memorable winding road, the colourful Cirque de Cilaos has a thermal spa and is known for its hiking and biking trails and vineyards. The third cirque, the rugged, isolated Cirque de Mafate, can only be reached on foot or discovered by helicopter. Despite this, a population of Creole farmers can be found living in villages on top of the plateaus.
La Réunion’s main city, St Denis, is also the island’s northernmost, often overlooked in favour of the natural attractions. But for a spot of culture and architecture appreciation, it’s a great stop-off, with Creole houses – some open to the public – and two museums: the Musee Leon Dierx with an impressive collection of modern art and the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle. The restaurants here are also some of the best on the island.
4x4 trips are an excellent way to explore and discover the island’s interior and offer the advantage of a knowledgeable driver/guide en route. This is useful when, for instance, your driver alerts you to lava tunnels at the side of the road that you can actually climb inside. By hiring a car you can enjoy the comfort and flexibility of exploring the island at your own pace and visiting the main sights that you want to see. And as the island is a French territory you’ll find that the roads are in very good condition throughout the island – it’ll be similar to driving in Europe. You can either hire a vehicle for just a day or for the whole duration of your stay on the island.
GMT +4 hours
12¾ hours via Mauritius or Paris
No visa required for UK passport holders