IGO TRAVEL | 20 May 2018
05 June 2018: Bonjour! We landed at Aeroport Roland Garros, St Denis; off Air Austral at 19.45 (a 3 hour 50 Minute flight). I have to mention that the food on board was the most amazing economy class airline food I have ever had. There was no shortage and the staff were great! Upon arrival at the airport; it’s handy to know that you do need a EURO1 coin to access the airport baggage trolley! We did not have one, but some people we had chatted to on the flight, and who travel between the 2 countries frequently, very kindly lent us a coin.
We had pre-arranged car hire, and the airport facility is quite small. As we stepped out departures it was very easy to find our car hire (across the road). Dom and I had no idea where we were going and within 15 minutes we were on our way to the hotel (with paper maps and directions from the car hire kiosk.)
We opted to take a GPS as we had been advised of an app called “Here We Go” which has GPS maps available for download – only problem being initially, that we had not pre-downloaded the GPS map for Reunion to use offline from our phone with voice directions when you punch in your destination (we did this only once we got to the hotel).
Our hire car was a little, bright blue, Renault Twingo (had plenty of space as well as oomph for two of us). We somehow managed to drive a left-hand drive car on the right-hand side of the road around many roundabouts in a foreign country in the dark while it started to rain. We arrived at our hotel room at the 3* Lux Le Recif, about an hour later; rather relieved!
06 June 2018: We had a walk on the beach at St Gilles du Bain. A huge, delicious buffet breakfast followed and we hit the road early. We chose to drive to Piton Maido and so for each place we wanted to visit, we’d search for on the phone app. The app directed us there (no data required). The drive was along a very mountainous route at the edge of Cirque De Mafate (2205m).
The route took us past Route Forest du Bernica; passing Le Gaullaume town and Petit France, where we stopped at an interesting little shop selling curios, local fare and extracted oils. The weather was extremely windy, cold and rainy in the mountains. Visibility was low with the poor weather and at that altitude there can be a lot of cloud cover.
In the afternoon, we took the coastal route round past St Denis & drove around the north coast to the 2nd ‘Cirque de Salazie’. At times there were narrow, winding roads, and tunnels, where passage for only one car would be possible. 1/2 way up, at 576m, there were the most amazing tall, narrow, white, beautiful waterfalls which grabbed our attention as they tumbled down the cliff faces, and side of the roads into the river. We travelled further into Salazie to the old Creole village of Hell-Bourg.
There were stunning scenery along the entire route. We turned to head back to the hotel as it was getting dark (and parts of those winding roads don’t have street lights!). We stopped en Route at a huge supermarket called CarreFour, in Sainte Clotilde (Carre Four, I had recognised, from my travels in the past, through France). There we bought the freshest, long, French Baguette, French Camembert as well as Brie Cheeses, a packet of Norwegian salmon, chorizo, parma ham, butter brick, lettuce and french wine! That was our dinner. We made it back to the hotel around 20.30pm. It was DELISH!
07 June 2018: We woke up really early to eat another huge buffet breakfast. I loved the fresh fruit and the cooked breakfast as well as the french pastries! We were off to the 3rd Cirque, located in the centre of Reunion, called ‘Cirque De Cilaos‘ and drove right through the twistiest, winding roads (cut through the sides of the mountain) to the town of Cilaos, with an altitude of 1131m. It’s a quaint little creole town at the top if the caldera (dormant volcano) mountain. We strolled around the town and took in the local sights. Cilaos town back to St Gilles was an approximate 1 hour 20 minutes drive.
That afternoon the weather was glorious. We decided to make use of the Lux Le Recif complimentary goggles, snorkel and flippers and explore the ocean lagoon in front of the hotel. The water was crystal clear as well as safe to swim. The entire west coastline, where the beaches are located, is protected by a coral reef. You can see the reef a few hundred metres out as the waves break over it. We saw many tropical fish swimming alongside us between the sporadic outcrops of volcanic rock underwater.
At sunset we took a long walk along the beach – the sunset was magnificent! We decided to drive to St Gilles Les Bains that night for dinner. We had eyed out a local vendor making fresh pizza at his spot in the little town, near the car park (he operates from an adapted vendor van – complete with a pizza oven). We opted for the large ‘Volcano‘ Pizza, freshly made in front of us, with stretched dough, cheese, olive, ham lardons, and an egg in the centre. It was garnished with a dollop of fresh garlic and basil topping. Wow, it was so good and filled us both (costing around 14 Euro). Admittedly, we didn’t quite know what all the ingredients were on the menu before ordering as it was all in French & we only recognised the word Volcano.
At this point I must mention, that unless you can read or speak French – it can be quite comedic to converse as well as communicate! Some people can speak a little English, but like us, we have a limited French vocabulary and in some small towns, the locals do not know English at all!
08 June 2018: Another sunny day with an early start. After our final large buffet breakfast at Lux* Le Recif we bid farewell, packed up our stuff, checked out and headed out on a drive to the South of the Island towards Saint Pierre, to our next hotel the stunning 4* boutique hotel, called Villa Delisle. We stayed in their Indian Ocean, Junior Suite.
St Pierre is a very busy, seaside town. We struggled for a parking at first. However, once we had checked in, we were allocated a hotel parking spot. From reception we were welcomed with a choice of French Champagne or fruit cocktail as well as a delicious fruit platter in the room.
We took a drive that afternoon. An hour further south to St Philippe (part of the ‘wild coast‘) and stopped again on return at a Leader Price for more freshly baked baguettes, salmon and French Cheeses. We had the opportunity to be shown around the facilities at Hotel Villa Delisle. They have a beautiful spa. The Junior suite is large as well as stunning – located right near their rooftop pool on the upper level, complete with a king size bed, luxurious finishes, an open-plan-walk-in rain shower and egg shaped bath. There was a his and hers basin and separate loo too. The suite has a dresser, desk, nespresso machine, bar fridge as well as a kingsize pull out sofa, a large LCD moveable TV and a single seater sofa as well as luggage area.
Buffet breakfast was also a delicious affair! Their breakfast restaurant adjoins the pool area / bar. Located on the other side of the hotel reception is their wine cellar as well as dinner restaurant. Their decor / facilities throughout are stunning! There is an associated casino just on the other side of the hotel/adjoining, which we had a look through – for those who wish to try their hand at winning some Euro’s on their one armed bandits! It was very busy within.
About 20 minutes from St Pierre is the La Saga du Rhum (Rum Distillery), which operates tours and tastings at 4 set times per day.
09 June 2018: We awoke early to enjoy a buffet breakfast at Villa Delisle. From 6am in St Pierre there is a Saturday morning local market. Here we picked up some souvenirs as well as locally grown cuisine (paella, freshly cooked chicken, chicken kebabs, samosas, macarons, fresh strawberries (Euro 2 a punnet), other fruit and veggies (all fresh & locally grown). This is a 15 minutes walk along the promenade from the Hotel Villa Delisle.
We spent the day traversing the southern half of Reunion island, from west to east, to drive around the whole of the wild southern coastline.
The exciting drive to Piton de La Fournaise was no.1 on our list. Over 2190m in altitude we went on the N3 and travelled as far as you can with the car via the ‘Pas de Bellacombe’ route (as you descend down the mountain towards this volcano you pass over an area of flat, red, barren earth, with the rare, odd outcrop of black, volcanic rock called ‘Plaine des Sables‘).
It truly looks like you are in the middle of planet Mars! From this viewpoint of the active volcano crater (it had stopped erupting just 4 days earlier) you can hike by foot right through to the crater mouth of ‘Piton de Fournaise’.
From the viewpoint, we saw what looked like a huge ‘anthill’ mound at the base of the rock face drop into the volcano crater.
We drove on down the windy, mountainous, roads passing many small towns. Near to the town ‘La Plaine Des Palmistes’, we bought a punnet of fresh, red guava (for Euro 2), as it was their ‘Guava Festival‘. Onwards we drove through towns called St Anne and St Rose, on the east coast, as well as stopping at the viewpoint Anse des Cascades (a viewpoint on the coastline), with beautiful waterfalls, picnic areas and an area to launch boats into the bay. The restaurant was closed here as it was in progress of being re-built, as it appears to have succumbed to storm damage.
From here we entered the lava roads (where the active volcano lava from past eruptions flows down the whole mountain side into the sea). These sections are marked with the year that each lava flow has occurred. The landscape of where the lava flowed & engulfed everything in it’s path, is now just black, knobbly & pocked, volcanic rocks, of varying sizes – some of which are covered in a fine grey moss that resembles grey ash – a bizarre landscape as far as the eye can see.
Upon returning to St Pierre we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the beach & pier of St Pierre and swam till the sun set.
10 June 2018: Departure day. We woke up, ate breakfast in our room (as we had to check out early to catch our flight home.) We returned our hire car, travelling up along the coastline clockwise to the airport. Using our “Here we go” app for the last time – it directed us straight into the airport.
Tips & notes:
I suggest you take a variety of clothes, as the higher altitudes can be quite cool, rainy & windy. Reunion is tropical, so expect the odd periods of rain until the sunshine returns. I would suggest taking closed trainers as well as an anorak for your travels up the mountains. Along the coast casual beachwear is perfect.
The most striking thing about Reunion is the change in the climate. Weather as well as the flora/fauna landscape from one mountain to the next is completely different everywhere we went.
Self Drive allows you to do what you want, when you want. You’ll have so much fun discovering some of the sights, small roads & towns that the ‘Here we Go’ app will take you on (some narrow, off the beaten track, through residential areas or even tall sugar cane fields; surprisingly, all have road name signs & are tarred! We did not get lost once! We filled our little car with petrol three times in total, whilst there, at a cost of around 30 to 35 Euros per full tank. It’s surprising how quickly you learn French words and when we returned, it took a moment or two to think if we were driving on the correct side of the road again.
Although we are sad to leave Reunion, my personal highlight was on our flight leaving Reunion. The captain announced something in French +- 10 minutes into our ascent. Some people on the right hand side of the plane were straining to look left out through our windows. So of course, we looked out our window too…the sight was something to behold! It was a perfect sunny day, visibility clear and there on our left we were flying right over Piton de La Fournaise Volcano and we were staring right into the crater mouth! We could make out where we had been the day before at the viewpoint on the crater edge. Although I did not have my camera ready it is a sight I shall remember forever! Au Revoir! Bon Voyage!