France, In­dian Ocean Style

Premier Magazine (South AFrica) - - Contents - Text: Nicky Fur­niss Im­ages © Réu­nion Tourism, LUX* St Gilles, istockphoto.com

One of the first things you will learn when you ar­rive in Réu­nion – a small vol­canic is­land south-west of Mau­ri­tius – is that although you may be close to 10,000 km from France, this lit­tle In­dian Ocean is­land has de­cided that lo­ca­tion re­ally is of mi­nor con­cern when it comes to be­ing a part of Europe. To high­light this, our guide very quickly quashed our at­tempts to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the is­land and main­land France. “Bi­en­v­enue to France,” he said, “Be­cause that’s where you are!”

It takes a lit­tle while to get your head wrapped around this be­cause, con­trary to most trips to Europe, this one takes about a third of the time (the flight is ap­prox­i­mately four hours) and doesn’t ne­ces­si­tate a lengthy and costly visa ap­pli­ca­tion process – in fact, as South Africans, you can ba­si­cally just rock up!

France in the Mid­dle of the In­dian Ocean Cat­e­gorised as an overseas depart­ment of France, Réu­nion is grouped with all of the other French re­gions and shares the same rights. So, when it’s time to vote for a new French pres­i­dent, the Réu­nionese head to the polls just as the main­lan­ders do. When the main­lan­ders cel­e­brate Bastille Day – or any other French pub­lic hol­i­day – you will find the Réu­nionese do­ing the same. Although, we dis­cov­ered, the is­lan­ders like to spend their hol­i­days pic­nick­ing and feast­ing on “road chicken”, ro­tis­serie chick­ens which are sold from lit­tle stands on the side of the main roads. I doubt you’ll find the usual Parisian do­ing this.

Réu­nion is gov­erned by ex­actly the same laws as the rest of France, and they drive on the same side of the road as the rest of the Europe. As a South African driver, this can take a lit­tle get­ting used to, es­pe­cially when hav­ing to nav­i­gate a two-lane traf­fic cir­cle. Un­for­tu­nately, there are many of these on the is­land, so you may end up go­ing around some of them sev­eral times be­fore fig­ur­ing out the right exit. But then, that also gives you a chance to learn some choice French words from the lo­cals!

Speak­ing of the lo­cals, they also – in time hon­oured French tra­di­tion – love a good rev­o­lu­tion, or these days, a strike. There was one shortly af­ter we ar­rived and it cer­tainly put many a South African strike to shame thanks to its block­ade of trac­tors.

Réu­nion is part of the Eu­ro­zone, and as such, the euro is the of­fi­cial cur­rency. This does, un­for­tu­nately, mean that you’ll have to shell out a fair bit of rand to get your hol­i­day spend­ing money, but you’ll be so glad you did.

De­li­cious De­lights

This cor­ner of France is an epi­curean won­der­land. French cheeses and cham­pagne abound on menus in restaurants – and even in the lo­cal su­per­mar­kets – and there is a boulan­gerie

(bak­ery) on al­most ev­ery street cor­ner. The one down­side of this is that it makes fol­low­ing di­rec­tions a lit­tle dif­fi­cult (“Oh, it’s easy to find – it’s right next to the boulan­gerie”), but this small ir­ri­ta­tion is soon for­got­ten the mo­ment you sink your teeth into a freshly baked baguette – like only a true French­man can make.

Many of the boulan­geries also make de­li­cious quiches and sand­wiches, per­fect to pop in your back­pack on your way to the beach. The vol­canic black sand beaches are par­tic­u­larly pic­turesque, while oth­ers are rem­i­nis­cent of those of the South of France, com­plete with stripy um­brel­las and lounge cush­ions. Head up the wind­ing road lead­ing to the pin­na­cle of Pi­ton de la Four­naise – the ac­tive one of the is­land’s two vol­ca­noes – and you will feel a nip in the air and will pass by lush green pas­tures dot­ted with low­ing cows. Blink and you could al­most be in the French Alps.

A Dif­fer­ent Kind of Land­scape

That’s pretty much where the ty­po­graph­i­cal sim­i­lar­i­ties end though. The sum­mit of Pi­ton de la Four­naise is a bar­ren lu­nar land­scape, its one side black

with past lava flows which you can ex­plore up close if you take the curvy coastal road to the “Wild South” of the is­land. The vol­cano is also re­spon­si­ble for some beau­ti­ful rivers and dra­matic scenery – per­fect for hik­ing, moun­tain-bik­ing, horse-rid­ing, and canyon­ing.

Head north where the now ex­tinct sum­mit of Pi­ton des Neiges dom­i­nates the sky­line, and you will find the vol­cano’s three cirques

or calderas, each with its own dis­tinct char­ac­ter. Salazie is home to lush veg­e­ta­tion, and more wa­ter­falls than you can aim your selfie stick at, as well as Hell-bourg, reg­u­larly voted France’s pret­ti­est vil­lage. Ci­laos is fa­mous for its soar­ing cliffs and ma­jes­tic scenery, while the small­est, Mafate, is a hiker’s par­adise. Even if it wasn’t so in­cred­i­bly green and full of flora and fauna, it would still have to be, as the only way in is on foot!

This is per­haps the best ex­am­ple of what makes Réu­nion such a fas­ci­nat­ing des­ti­na­tion. It has all the ele­ments of a wild trop­i­cal is­land and yet all the re­fine­ment of Europe.

French So­phis­ti­ca­tion, Is­land Charm

Nowhere is this more ev­i­dent than at the is­land’s only five-star beach re­sort, LUX* Saint Gilles, where tra­di­tional French colo­nial architecture com­bines with dra­matic views of Pi­ton des Neiges be­hind it and the la­goon of L’her­mitage beach in front.

For a real taste of France, you’ll find at least a dozen dif­fer­ent types of bread at the break­fast buf­fet, not to men­tion crêpes and pas­tries of ev­ery de­scrip­tion. The ho­tel’s fine-din­ing restau­rant, Orangine, is the per­fect place to sam­ple French haute cui­sine, mixed with the is­land’s distinc­tive Cre­ole flavours which smack of In­dian and Chi­nese in­flu­ences.

Dur­ing balmy evenings the scent of vanilla from the ho­tel’s gar­den mixes with the smell of salt and pine trees, and as you dip your toes in the wa­ter, jaunty trop­i­cal cock­tails or glasses of cham­pagne are or­dered from the white starched wait­ers in an eclec­tic mix of lan­guages from French, English, and Span­ish, to Cre­ole.

This is Réu­nion – the youngest in the French fam­ily, wear­ing a lit­tle black dress from Chanel but with flow­ers and dreadlocks in its hair.

For more in­for­ma­tion on Réu­nion, visit the Réu­nion Is­land Tourism Board’s blog at blog.wel­come­tore­union­is­land. com. You can also find them on Face­book @Go­tore­unionsa.

LUX* Saint Gilles

Part of the LUX* Re­sorts & Ho­tels group of re­sorts which first made its mark with five beau­ti­ful ho­tels in Mau­ri­tius, LUX* Saint Gilles boasts 174 rooms and suites, three restaurants, a bar and a café, as well as a host of leisure ac­tiv­i­ties on one of the pret­ti­est stretches of coast­line on the is­land. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.luxre­sorts.com or email info@is­land­lighthol­i­days.co.za.

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