When you touch down on Réunion island, you’d be forgiven for thinking you just landed in Europe. A three-hour fl ight from Johannesburg takes you to this Indian Ocean getaway situated between Madagascar and Mauritius – an island that’s entirely French-speaking and dotted with the famous Carrefour grocery shops.
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Its airline – Austral Air – boasts designer-dressed hostesses serving plates of juicy jumbo prawns and perfectly put-together strawberry tartes tatin. Its people are a melting pot of European, Malagasy, Indian, Asian and African descent, and the creole culture is interwoven with colourful influences such as fire-walking ceremonies led by Tamil penitents and lively lion dancing parades during Chinese New Year.
The food and architecture are equally flavourful, with spicy rougailles, and pastelhued pitch-roof houses and burnt-orange courtyards surrounded by casuarina and tamarind trees. Most people, however, visit Réunion for its dramatic landscape – and I was there specifically to see its mighty volcano, a location selected to celebrate the newly launched Urban Decay Naked Heat Eyeshadow Palette, which includes shades aptly named Ashes, Ember and Scorched.
Piton de la Fournaise
Reunion’s Piton de la Fournaise is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and a huge tourist draw with its otherworldly lunar landscape. Eruptions still happen (the last was in July 2017), and volcano-watchers stay on high alert to see a rare spectacle of fiery, lava-laden rivers rolling down the mountainside before sizzling into the sea. If you’re brave (and fit!), you can walk down into the caldera and climb into the crater rim – but nothing beats a bird’s-eye view. Helicopter tours offer rides where you can see it all: waterfalls plunging into endless ravines, the three cirques rimmed with jungle-thick ridges, and the smoking black plains of barren volcanic zones. The landscape is so fantastical, you’ll feel as though you’re in a VR game, with the chopper swooping and dipping through a magical land not dissimilar to that of a Game Of Thrones set.
Dominated by white sands, restaurants and nightclubs, Saint-Gilles-les-Bains is the answer to Côte d’Azur’s Mediterranean resort-littered haven. The harbour is lined with fish restaurants (and yachts), and the high street with bistros, pharmacies and Chez LouLou – a bubblegum-blue boulangerie with chocolate-brown wooden shutters. The island’s west coast is full of small seaside towns, and from Saint-Gilles to Saint-Pierre you’ll find stretches of beach (black or white, depending on how far you are from volcanic terrain). The beaches are protected by a lagoon, which is like a gigantic aquarium with loads of water-based activities up for the take. Diving and snorkelling around the coral reef reveals an underwater world of clownfish, manta rays and sea turtles – in fact, there are more than 500 fish species and more than 150 hard-coral species here. If you don’t like to get wet, you can check out the seabed from a transparent kayak or a ‘bateau bulle’ (bubble boat).
Cirque de Cilaos
Once only accessible by foot or with sedan chairs, Cirque de Cilaos is hard to beat if you’re an outdoorsy type. Brilliant for hiking lovers, it’s flanked by snaggle-toothed peaks, ravines and thick forests dotted with remote hamlets. To get there, you need to navigate a steep, twisting road with an endless supply of stunning viewing points looking out to ramparts crisscrossed with dizzying gullies. The town is a pretty smattering of brightly painted wooden houses, and bazaars selling touristy wares such as wine, lentils and embroidery. Make sure you stop at La Maison de la Broderie to shop for a souvenir or two. ►
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As the only five-star beach resort on the island, LUX Saint Gilles is a spoil with views of the lagoon from most rooms. There are tennis and volleyball courts, a swimming pool and outdooryoga classes for morning Zen sessions. You can snorkel, SUP or laze in the sand, drinking cocktails from La Plage beach bar. Located 45 minutes from the airport, it’s close to the volcanic peaks and waterfalls of the ‘Pitons, cirques and remparts’ site. The best things about this resort include its home-made ice cream, the messages in a bottle half-buried around the beach with scrolls revealing unexpected treats, and the tree of wishes where you can write down a wish on a ribbon and tie it to the branches. Once a year, a wish is selected to win a free LUX holiday. Score!
Influenced by Madagascan, African, Asian and European cuisine, the food in Réunion is filled with spices -turmeric, cardamom, cloves, ginger and nutmeg-and rich in tropical fruit such as mango, papaya and star fruit.
ROUGAIL is a tasty sauce made form chopped tomatoes, onions, saffron and chilli. It is an essential part of the cuisine and comes in many varieties – tomato, rougail dakatine (with peanut butter), rougail sausages, rougail boucané (with smoked meat) and cod rougail.
RHUM ARRANGÉ is a combo of local rum and fruit that’s left to macerate for between six months and two years. It’s mixed with limes, barleywater, pineapple juice and vanilla, and is generally served as an aperitif with samoosas.
CARI is the local curry – and the national dish. There are differentversions, including chicken, fish and lobster, all served with white rice. It is often accompanied by rougail.
BOURBON POINTU is a type of coffee that only exists in Réunion. Low in caffeine, it’s one of the most expensive coffees in the world. You can visit plantations and taste it along the plantation route.
GRAND BOUCAN, a carnival in June, sees multicoloured floats, dance troupes and music groups parade through the main street of Saint-Gilles. Cafés and restaurants spill onto the street pavements and seafront through the night. LIBERTÉ MÉTISSE, held in December, is a celebration of the island’s cultural diversity and mixed heritage, with four days of concerts, exhibitions and tasting sessions.
LES ELECTROPICALES is an EDM party in May, with artists from around the world taking part. Electropicales.com LEU TEMPO is Réunion’s oldest performing-arts festival combining circus acts, street theatre and puppet shows.