I HAD never been to this supposed French tropical paradise of Reunion, but something told me it would be nothing short of extraordinary.
The experience started most delightfully onboard Air Austral, Reunion’s national carrier. Having a beautiful crew serve us the likes of Nicolas Feuillate Brut and Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, followed by the most delicious and generous three-course meal gave us an incredible sample of what was to come.
Four movies and a short nap later, we approached what looked like sparkling lava gently spilling into the Indian Ocean.
That spectacular view was St Denis’ city lights glistening on the rolling hills that led to the ocean. It was as close a preview as it got to an eruption from one of the island’s active volcanoes.
The rugged grandeur of this dot in the ocean is a massive contrast to its refined French culture. And the island’s different ethnic groups – Africans, Indians, Chinese and Malagasy – comprise a most unique mix that is evident in their Creole cuisine.
The best way to see the island’s landscape is via a helicopter tour.
We flew over the expansive and dramatic cirques of Mafate, Salazie and Cilaos before hovering over the volcanic crater that steamed quite ferociously beneath us. It was incredible.
Weaving through dramatic peaks and lush gorges, we were enveloped in the sheer majesty of it all before our pilot took a sharp stomach-flipping dip into a curved ravine decorated with a wall of gushing waterfalls.
As much as our stomachs turned, the breathtaking beauty before us made it all worthwhile.
After a night’s rest – and recovery – at Grand Hotel du Lagon, our colonial beachside resort on the white sandy beaches of St Gilles Les Bains, we journeyed to get a closer look at the volcano, Piton de la Fournaise. Our boots crunching on the red and brown ground, we walked along the Mars-like surface and took in the raw surroundings of one of the most active volcanos in the world.
A quick stop at the Riviere des Rampant gave us an opportunity to recover from the winding roads and just be one with the verdant scenery.
In the heart of Cirque de Salazie is the pretty, tranquil town of Hell-bourg, where everything French and Creole meets. Colourful homes and beautiful gardens drew our attention everywhere we looked, while friendly locals tried to converse with us in their sing-song Creole language. Quite amusing.
IF YOU GO
Air Austral flies to Reunion from Sydney twice a week and has an interline agreement with Virgin from major ports around Australia. Fares start from $1240 inclusive of taxes. Visit www.airaustral.com.au or call 1300 306 365 for more information.
Visit www.reunion.fr for more information on Reunion Island.
Visit www.naiade.com for information on Grand Hotel du Lagon.
Helicopter tours are at €180 per person. Visit www.corail-helicopters.com for details.
For organised tours, visit www.ethnixtours.e-monsite.com.