La Réunion


Jutting out of the ocean like a basaltic shield cloaked in green, Réunion is a mini-Hawaii, with astounding geographical diversity. Within an hour or two, the landscape morphs from lava fields to lush primary forest, from jagged peaks to sprawling coastal cities. The West is Réunion's Riviera, a long string of beach suburbs and resorts towns, including glitzy Boucan Canot.

The pièce de résistance is Les Hautes & the volcano. Piton de la Fournaise is one of the world’s most accessible active volcanoes and depending on nature’s whims, you might even witness fiery-red molten lava. When the volcano has finished working its magic on you, there are horses to ride, majestic mountains to trek up in the Cirques, or paraglide from in St-Leu, drop-offs to dive from, big waves to surf, extinct volcanoes to fly over, and canyons to explore. But it’s not all about nature, landscapes and adrenaline – Réunion has its cultural gems as well, with stunning Creole architecture in cute-as-can-be villages, as well as colourful religious buildings and festivals.


Réunion is a tropical island, but one that doesn’t fit the cliché of a sun-soaked Edenic paradise. Sure, you’ll find appealing palm-ruffled stretches of sand, but none that rivals the super-sexy beaches that are de rigueur in the Seychelles or Mauritius. All the better for you: mega-resorts are nonexistent. Open the Pandora’s box, and you’ll leave the island proclaiming to the world that La Rénion lé gadiamb (‘Réunion is lovely’, in Creole).


Facts about Reunion

Distance from Réunion to Mauritius 220km
Lychee season December to February
Unemployment 30%
Territory size 2512 sq km
Highest point Piton des Neiges 3070m
Population 800, 000 (estimated)
Capital St-Denis
Estimated total cars 340, 000
Languages French, Creole



Reunion is usually said to have been first discovered in April 1513 by the Portuguese navigator Pedro Mascarenhas, and his name, or that of Mascarene Islands, is still applied to the archipelago of which it forms a part; but it seems probable that it must be identified with the island of Santa Apollonia discovered by Diego Fernandes Pereira on the 9th of February 1507. It was visited by the Dutch towards the close of the 16th century, and by the English early in the 17th century.

When in 1638 the island was taken possession of by Captain Gaubert, or Gobert, of Dieppe, it was still uninhabited; a more formal annexation in the name of Louis XIII. was effected in 1643 by Jacques Pronis, agent of the Compagnie des Indes in Madagascar; and in 1649 Etienne de Flacourt, Pronis's more eminent successor, repeated the ceremony at a spot which he named La Possession. He also changed the name of the island from Mascarenhas to Bourbon. By decree of the Convention in 1793, Bourbon in turn gave place to Reunion, and, though during the empire this was discarded in favour of Ile Bonaparte, and at the Restoration people naturally went back to Bourbon, Reunion has been the official designation since 1848. The first inhabitants were a dozen mutineers deported from Madagascar by Pronis, but they remained only three years (1646-49). Other colonists went thither of their own will in 1654 and 1662.

In 1664, the Compagnie des Indes orientales de Madagascar, to whom a concession of the island was granted, initiated a regular colonization scheme. Their first commandant was Etienne Regnault, who in 1689 received from the French crown the title of governor. The growth of the colony was very slow, and in 1717 there were only some 2000 inhabitants. It is recorded that they lived on excellent terms with the pirates, who from 1684 onward infested the neighbouring seas for many years. In 1735 Bourbon was placed under the governor of the Ile de France (Mauritius) at that time the illustrious Mahe de Labourdonnais. The Compagnie des Indes orientales gave up its concession in 1767, and under direct administration of the crown liberty of trade was granted. The French Revolution effected little change in the island and occasioned no bloodshed; the colonists successfully resisted the attempts of the Convention to abolish slavery, which continued until 1848 (when over 60,000 negroes were freed), the slave trade being, however, abolished in 1817.


During the Napoleonic wars Reunion, like Mauritius, served the French corsairs as a rallying place from which attacks on Indian merchantmen could be directed. In 1809 the British attacked the island, and the French were forced to capitulate on the 8th of July 1810; the island remained in the possession of Great Britain until April 1815, when it was restored to France. From that period the island has had no exterior troubles. The negro population, upon whom in 1870 the Third Republic conferred the full rights of French citizenship including the vote, being unwilling to labour in the plantations, the immigration of Indians began in 1860, but in 1882 the government of India prohibited the further emigration of labourers from that country in consequence of the inconsiderate treatment of the immigrants by the colonists. Reunion has also suffered from the disastrous effects of cyclones. A particularly destructive storm swept over the island in March 1879, and in 1904 another cyclone destroyed fully half of the sugar crop and 75% of the vanilla crop.

From the 17th to the 19th centuries, French immigration, supplemented by influxes of Africans, Chinese, Malays, and Malabar Indians, gave the island its ethnic mix. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 cost the island its importance as a stopover on the East Indies trade route.

The economy has traditionally been based on agriculture, but services now dominate. Sugarcane has been the primary crop for more than a century, and in some years it accounts for 85% of exports. The government has been pushing the development of a tourist industry to relieve high unemployment, which amounts to one-third of the labor force. The gap in Reunion between the well-off and the poor is extraordinary and accounts for the persistent social tensions. The white and Indian communities are substantially better off than other segments of the population, often approaching European standards, whereas minority groups suffer the poverty and unemployment typical of the poorer nations of the African continent. The outbreak of severe rioting in February 1991 illustrates the seriousness of socioeconomic tensions. The economic well-being of Reunion depends heavily on continued financial assistance from France.


Climate and When to Go

Because of the high mountains, Réunion’s climate varies more than that of Mauritius. It still, however, experiences only two distinct seasons: the hot, rainy summer from December to April and the cool, dry winter from late April to October. The east coast is considerably wetter than the west, but wettest of all are the mountains above the east coast – around Takamaka, Plaine-des-Palmistesand the northern and eastern slopes of the volcano. As with Mauritius, the cyclone season is roughly December to March.

Temperatures on the coast average 22°C during winter and 27°C in summer. In the mountains, they drop to 11°C and 18°C respectively. Clouds generally cover the peaks and high plains from mid-morning. The drier winter months are the most favourable for hiking.

The peak tourist seasons are during the French school holidays from late June to early September. From October through to the New Year holidays is also reasonably busy, but after this everything eases down during cyclone-prone February and March. The weather normally changes for the better in April, which isn’t a bad time to a visit.


Places to See

Plaine des Sables and Piton de la Fournaise: gorging your senses on the Martian landscapes of the Plaine des Sables and the smouldering volcano of Piton de la Fournaise


Cirque de Mafate, Cirque de Cilaos and Cirque de Salazie: flying high over the mystical, rugged topography of Cirque de Mafate, Cirque de Cilaos and Cirque de Salazie


Hell-Bourg, Entre-Deux and St-Denis: going heritage-hunting among the Creole buildings of Hell-Bourg, Entre-Deux and St-Denis


Le Maïdo: quickening your pulse with a rip-roaring mountain-bike descent from Le Maïdo, through cryptomeria forests and sugar-cane fields


Grand Bassin: swapping stress for bliss in the perfect valley-village seclusion of Grand Bassin


St-Leu and L’Hermitage-les-Bains’: surfing and paragliding by day in St-Leu before diving into L’Hermitage-les-Bains’ steamy nightlife


More info at:



Festivals and Traditional Events

Adventure Film Festival
Date: May - Jun
Reunion Island's Adventure Film Festival brings gripping documentaries to theatres Luc Donat in Le Tampon and Champ Fleuri in St Denis. Climb roaring waterfalls, cross sweltering deserts and trek through arctic conditions - all from the comfort of your seat.
Adventure Film Festival Website (

Sakifo Musik Festival
Date: June (TBC)
The Sakifo Musik Festival brings an eclectic mix of live reggae, electro, country, rock and more to the coastal Ravine Blanche Village of Saint-Pierre. The artists, who mostly hail from Reunion Island and France, perform across a number of stages.
Saint-Pierre, Reunion
Sakifo Musik Festival Website (


Miss Reunion
Date: July (TBC)
After over a month of grooming, 12 sparkling Miss Reunion finalists take to the stage at the Theatre de Champ Fleuri in Saint Denis. The winner, crowned at this televised gala show, is automatically entered into the Miss France competition.
Theatre de Champ Fleuri, 2 Avenue André Malraux B.P.616, St Denis, Reunion
Miss Reunion Website (

Manapany Surf Festival
Date: Sep 2011 (TBC)
Coastal village Manapany-les-Bains becomes a hive of activity during the annual Surf Festival. By day, men and women in wetsuits take to the waves for body-boarding and surfing competitions. In the evening, concerts entertain crowds under the swaying coconut trees.
Manapany-les-Bains, Reunion
Manapany Surf Festival Website (


Le Grand Raid
Date: 13 TO 16 Oct 2011
Only the fittest runners can brave Le Grand Raid, a gruelling challenge of 147km. Competitors depart from St Philippe in the south of Reunion Island, then scale up and down five peaks of around 2000m before finishing in Saint Denis.
Le Grand Raid Website (

Christmas Village
Date: Dec 2011 (TBC)
If you're spending Christmas on Reunion Island, visit the Christmas Village at St Denis. Around 30 stalls set up temporary shop selling Creole toys and souvenirs - and the island's traditional festive fruits - lychees, mangoes and bananas.
St Denis, Reunion

Abolition of Slavery Day
Date: Dec 2011 (TBC)
Reunion Island comes out in force on 20 December to commemorate the abolition of slavery (in 1848). The national holiday, (the '20 Desamb') is marked with island-wide street parties - wherever you go you'll hear music and beating drums.


More events at:


Market days in Reunion

Le Grand marché de Saint-Denis: everyday but Sunday. Craft market

Petit Marché - Saint-denis: everyday bue Sunday, located down rue Maréchal Leclerc,in Saint-Denis city centre

Marché du Chaudron (Saint-Denis): Wednesdays and Sundays, located in Sainte-Clotilde.

Marché de Sainte-Marie: on Saturdays

Marchés des Camélias à Saint-Denis: Fridays, along the boulevard de la providence, selling camellias.

Le marché de Saint-Paul
: located in the city centre, this famous market sells local craft

More markets at:




Food: A Savoury Mix

The cuisine on Réunion Island is as mixed as the population. No dish still has its original taste because each one has been enriched and dressed up through the inspiration of Bourbonnais cooks and outside influences (French, Indian, Chinese, etc.). Dishes from each of these places are sometimes served together during the same meal.

Rice today is an essential part of local traditional cooking and is important as a side dish.
The use of local spices such as cloves, allspice (a leaf from a tree that combines several flavors such as bay leaf, pepper, cinnamon, and cloves), turmeric, country saffron (which is made by grinding the roots of a local plant), and of course ginger and peppers (big or small), which are the pillar of Creole cooking, are skillfully measured, mixed, used, and twisted to obtain new flavors.

The main local specialty is curry, a savory stew of meats, fish or shellfish, simmered with garlic, onions, ginger, cloves, turmeric, and other local spices. Curry is served with white rice, legumes (beans or lentils) and a spicy condiment called rougail made with tomatoes, lemon, and pistachios.

Rougail sausage is a type of curry made with smoked sausages and has nothing to do with the condiment. The same is true for rougail boucané, which is in fact a type of curry made with smoked pork.


Cabri massalé, originally an Indian dish, is a must-try as well. Traditional Indian cuisine is original and savory. The massalés served in many restaurants are especially tasty. Real Indian curry is eaten on banana leaves instead of plates, which is sure to be an eye-opener!
While it is very different, Indo-Muslim cuisine offers a wide range of aromas, each one as exotic as the next, based on a mix of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. When they arrived on the island at the end of the 19th century, the Chinese brought with them their culinary savoir-faire. Most of these visitors from afar were from Canton, which is one of the food capitals of China.


Rhums arrangés, which are very popular, are considered a local specialty. Herbs, spices, and fruit are macerated in white rum in order to obtain flavored rum.

Brèdes (local leafy greens) are no longer just the dish of the poor. The best restaurants on the island readily use it in dishes. Various brèdes include chayote leaves, pariétaire (a leaf from the nettle family), Chinese cabbage, watercress, or even Brède Mafane (which anesthetizes the mouth), which is used in Roumazaf, the Madagascan pot au feu.

Cambarre gateau is once again a famous cake. Its purple color is surprising, but it is 100% natural goodness.


More info at:


Try this yummy recipe! Samosas were probably introduced to Reunion Island by Indo-Muslims and are now extremely popular at any time of the day and in any place. This savory snack, varyingly spicy, can be served as an hors-d’oeuvre or as part of a buffet. Street vendors compete to sell them and offer a wide variety: either filled with vegetables, pork, chicken, tuna, prawns (this recipe), etc. If you want to prepare your own samosas, take care in preparing the dough, which must be thin and crispy once it’s cooked.


Prawn Samosas


Makes 4 servings


- 300 g (10 oz.) flour
- 400 ml (1 1/2 cups) water, approximately
- Salt

- 250 g (9 oz.) prawns
- 1 onion
- 10 sprigs of cilantro
- 1 clove of garlic
- 3 cm (1 1/4'') piece of ginger
- 2 mild green chilis
- 1 small red chili
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- 2 tbsp. oil + oil for frying
- some zest of Kaffir Lime
- salt and pepper



and cooking time: 2 hours



Making the dough and the filling

Combine 250 g (9 oz.) sifted flour with enough water to make a soft non-sticky dough.

Roll the dough out to an approximately 1.5 mm thickness. Cut into even rectangles about 18 x 7 cm (7 x 3”). Place these strips on a preheated baking tray.

Clean and shell the prawns. Chop them and sprinkle with lime juice. Set aside.

Peel the garlic and ginger; seed the red chili and mash all three together in a mortar with a little salt and pepper. Peel and chop the onion; seed and chop the green chilies; chop the cilantro leaves.

Sauté the shrimps in hot oil with the ginger-garlic-chili paste, the onion and the chopped green chilies. Add the cilantro and turmeric. Mix gently but thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Finishing and cooking

Place one spoon of filling on each strip of dough. Fold the top part down obliquely onto the lower part. Fold the lower part up over the upper already folded part, overlapping the edges to make a kind of cone.

Use a mix of flour diluted in water to seal. You should have a small triangle of filled dough: a samosa! Repeat the operation with the other strips.

Deep fry the samosas in moderately hot oil for 8-10 minutes. Remove, drain and serve immediately.


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Catherine Castelain
Date Last Modified: 4/3/15
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