The Vanilla-Scented Island and the Breath of the Earth
Reunion Island (France)
Reunion Island is located in the vast Indian Ocean, 800 kilometers east of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa. The island’s symbol is two high mountains that were created by underwater volcanic eruptions. Centered on these mountains is a powerful landscape of sharp peaks, towering cliffs, and land reminiscent of the surface of the moon. The culture and cuisine are also unique to the island and have been nurtured by its history as an overseas province of France and by the many ethnic groups that have come and gone.
The Peak of Reunion Island
Reunion Island has an area of about 2,500 square kilometers, of which 40% is registered as a World Natural Heritage site as the Spires, Cirques and Cliffs of Reunion Island. It takes two hours from the port to reach Piton du Maïdo, a large observatory located at an altitude of 2,190 meters, where you can enjoy an exceptional view of the island; the Piton des Neiges (3,071 meters above sea level), the highest peak on Reunion Island and the highest peak in the Indian Ocean, the rugged mountains and valleys that surround it, and the Cirque de Mafate that can only be accessed by helicopter or on foot. When you stand on the observatory, you will be able to see the beautiful and powerful scenery of these mountains below you. It is truly breathtaking.
Reunion Island is a paradise for those who love hiking. The marked trails alone are 900 kilometers long, and there are a variety of long and short hiking trails. One of the hiking trails starts at the Piton du Maido observatory. Just walking among plants that are different from those in Asia is inspiring, but what appears before your eyes is the Piton des Neiges, the highest peak, also known as the “roof of the Indian Ocean,” and lovely villages. The change of scenery is so beautiful that you have to stop walking and embrace the view from time to time.
Feeling the Breath of the Earth at an Active Volcano
The Piton de la Fournaise (2,632 meters above sea level) is another symbolic mountain of the island. While the Piton des Neiges ceased volcanic activity 12,000 years ago, this mountain is still active today. Several times a year, it spews magma and rains ash. If you take a bus along the scenic route named “Route du Volcan (Volcano Route)”, you will be surrounded with view of the “Moon Landscape”, a desert that looks like the surface of the moon, and the Piton de la Fournais. Once you step on the lava flown from the crater to the foot of the mountain, it feels as if you were visiting another planet. The Piton de la Fournaise is a mountain full of energy, where you can feel the pulse of the earth from the soles of your feet.
The Two Bourbons
Reunion was once known as Bourbon Island, and the coffee variety that bears its name, Bourbon Pointeau, is cultivated here. The variety once disappeared for about 60 years, but in the 21st century, thanks to the efforts of those who sought to revive this fantastic coffee, its taste and aroma have been reclaimed. Another thing to enjoy is Bourbon vanilla. While 99% of the world market is for synthetic vanilla, the island of Reunion is famous for its precious natural vanilla. The rich, sweet aroma that is sought after by many talented chefs in France and elsewhere is also a must-try for those who visit this island.
The Taste of the Island
The food of Reunion Island is called Creole cuisine. It is a fusion of cuisines from not only France but also Madagascar, India, East Africa, China, and many other regions, due to geographical and historical factors. Its main characteristic can be summed up as spicy and savory. A typical menu item is “Rugaille Sosis,” a tomato-based dish cooked with onions, garlic, and sausage. Even in the hot weather, which tends to reduce appetite, the dish goes so well with white rice!
Towns and Villages on the Island
The capital city Saint-Denis is located in the northern part of the island. It is a beautiful city with a contrast between the blue of the sea and the white walls reminiscent of the south of France. As you walk around the city, you will notice that the people who pass by have many different backgrounds. They are people of European, African and Asian descent, as well as those known as Creole, a mixture of these ethnic groups. Not only do they look different, they also wear different fashions, creating a diverse atmosphere where people of many races live together. A peek at the market will make you feel refreshed as the handcrafted products and tropical fruits are brightly colorful.
The village of Salazie is located inland and has a very different atmosphere than Saint Denis by the sea. In this village is the beautiful Notre Dame church built in 1839. The village of El Bourg is another place to visit. Located in the Cirque de Salazie, one of the three valleys surrounding the Piton des Neiges, it is one of the most beautiful villages in France. The village once prospered as a hot spring resort, and is now known for the lovely pastel-colored buildings that line the streets, while surrounded by lush greenery and a dynamic topography. It is no wonder that the village is so popular among tourists. The two mountains are the center of nature, as well as the towns and villages. Wherever you go, you can surrender yourself to a relaxing time on Reunion Island.
PHOTO: PEACEBOAT, Okuhira Keita, Matsuda Sakika, Adobestock, shutterstock.com