Trip to Réunion Island

We have always wanted to have a look at this small French island in the Indian Ocean. Since we were going to Africa for three weeks in an organised way, we thought Servas visiting would be a perfect way to finish our trip.
ReunionLocateIt became apparent that to see the wonders of the hinterland, the Cirques and the volcanoes, we would need to hire a car. You can travel on good roads around most of the shores of the Island but the access to the mountainous interior is by narrow winding roads. There is a limited bus service.

For such a small island, Réunion has over forty Servas hosts. Many were away when we contacted them but replied from far-away places and we finished with three host families and one night in a Gîte recommended by one of our hosts up in the steep, green hills.

Hosts Christophe and Laure Perrier and their daughter Lisa from St Dennis

Hosts Christophe and Laure Perrier and their daughter Lisa from St Dennis

Hosts Christophe and Laure Perrier and their daughter Lisa from St Dennis[/caption]We flew Air Austral – Réunion’s own airline – from Johannesburg, which was excellent despite departing at midnight. We were met at the airport and had the next two nights with the Perrier family – Christophe, Laure and Lisa. Their home was an easy walk into town where many buildings have been or are being restored to their former French glory. Christophe helped John through the intricacies of hiring a car in French and off we went.

Our view was wiped out by mist on our first attempt to peer over into a crater but after that our luck improved and over the next few days we saw all three. The mountains rise jaggedly against the sky and deep ravines run down to the coast all around the island. Only one is active and this volcano – Piton de la Fournais – is a major drawcard for the island. You drive through the lava fields and must walk to see the actual smoking vent. Later, on the other side of the island, we saw where the lava had flowed into the sea in the 1970s.

Most tourists come to the island to walk. There are several tracks that go into and through the Cirque de Mafate. Mafate’s valley contains a village that can only be reached by walking.

The island is luxuriant with growth. It has rich soil and a high rainfall, six metres a year in the wettest spot. Chokos are the national vegetable. As well as being cultivated they have escaped and now climb happily over the waterfalls and fences. The island is rich in flowers from everywhere, cottage gardens, tree ferns, African bright blooms. The towns of Cilaos, Hell-Bourg and Salazie are a delight of colour. On the coast are sugar cane and banana plantations. The food and culture are both Creole and French, which leads to gourmet adventures, not the least of which are the bakeries and pâtisseries.

Our second host, Myriam Michel, lived in an apartment near the beach at St Pierre. She had organised a beach picnic with several hosts and we had a lovely evening watching the sun set over the sea and listening to French and English chatter and the singing to the accordion. We were embarrassed when asked “ What do Australians sing at picnics?” One of the Servas folk, Sylvie, had organised our stay up in the mountains at Le Grand Islet and we had our evening meal up there with people, mostly young, who were walking the tracks. We enjoyed listening to their adventures, in French mainly.

We join  hosts from St Pierre for a beach barbecue

We join hosts from St Pierre for a beach barbecue

Our final host family were Richard and Sylvia Stratford and their children, Timothy and Mirana, back in St Dennis, also a reasonable walk from town. Richard helped with the details of returning our little car and drove us into the airport. A short walk across a grassy field was his preferred approach.
We would like to thank our hosts for allowing us into their homes and helping us enjoy the marvels of Réunion.

We would like to encourage readers to go to Réunion. Car hire is advisable bearing in mind the twisty narrow roads and, for us, driving on “the wrong side”. Our hosts spoke English but most of the islanders do not but everyone is relaxed and friendly. They regard their island as Paradise. It was easy to see why.

John and Margaret Booth,
Sydney

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