Introduction

If you are looking for a unique vacation spot without thousands of other tourists intruding on your peace and quiet, then look no further than Reunion Island, an overseas department of France, located in the Indian Ocean just east of Madagascar. Once a stopover for merchants traveling the East Indies trade route, with two well-sheltered marinas the island of Reunion has become just as popular for modern sailors en route to Africa.

But the island is more than just a port of call, though not as well known as her sister islands, Seychelles and Mauritius. The rich culture of this intriguing island ensures a memorable visit, with 17 miles of beaches and 1000 miles of hiking trails; those who love outdoor adventures will find heaven at La Reunion Island.

People

Reunion is home to over 800,000 people with the largest community, Saint-Denis, at 158,000 residents. Because the island is a territory of France, officially, everyone who lives there is considered a French citizen. However, the islands inhabitants remain true to much of their ancestral culture and identify themselves by their ethnic origins.

Though the majority of the people are Creole (people of a mixed African and European descent) there are many people from Africa, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, China, Madagascar, Comore, and even mainland France. This mix of cultures has influenced every part of Reunion society, from their music, to the food, to their sports and leisure activities.

Geography

Just like its diverse population, Reunion Island has a variety of intriguing geographic features, similar to the islands of Hawaii. Located right over a hotspot in the Earth's crust, frequent volcanic eruptions produced a rugged mountainous terrain in some areas, yet in others, Reunion has lush forests filled with exotic birds and wildlife unseen anywhere else in the world. Numerous waterfalls, three collapsed calderas (cirques) and an active volcano complete the picturesque view.

Though the average temperature ranges between a cool 64 degrees Fahrenheit to a balmy 87 degrees Fahrenheit, a mountain range divides the island's weather. On one side gets most of the wind and rain, while the other side tends to be a dry oasis. Overall, Reunion is a tropical paradise occasionally affected by cyclones during the November to April cyclone season.

History

Reunion began much like Australia, and although the Portuguese visited the island in 1513, it was the French who first populated the isle with criminals, French mutineers, in 1643. The criminals were later relocated to France and in 1649, King Louis XIII named the isle Bourbon after his royal house. Soon after, the French India Company began the process of colonization in 1665. When the House of Bourbon fell in 1793, the island was christened Reunion as a means of commemorating the union of revolutionaries from Marseille and the Parisian National Guard.

The island's diverse citizenry began with the infusion of slave labor culled from Mozambique and Madagascar to work the sugarcane plantations, the foundation of Reunion's economy. When slavery was abolished in 1848, indentured servants were recruited from Tamil, many of whom decided to settle in Reunion after their five-year contracts expired. Soon after that, immigrants from China and Gujarati began coming to the island to sell food and fabrics and finally in 1946, Reunion was declared an overseas department of France.

Famous Attractions

Three of Reunion's volcanoes collapsed in on themselves forming the three famous three cirques, or calderas -Salazie, Cilaos, and Mafate. Like natural amphitheatres, these three Calderas offer numerous picture opportunities and are the heart of many outdoor activities available on the island, including canyon explorations and hiking.

Reunion's only active volcano, the Piton de la Fournaise, keeps life exciting on the island. Measuring 2631 meters high, the volcano has erupted 140 times since 1640, but residents have learned to go with the flow, so to speak, and happily take tourists to view the volcano's Furnace Peak.

The Piton des Neiges volcano is another tourist favorite, though not active, at 3070 meters, the highest point on the Island. Outdoor enthusiasts from around the globe come to hike the trails, do a bit of mountain climbing, or learn about the 200 or so varieties of plant and animal life at the biological reserve.

Nightlife

Reunion offers just as many night time adventures if you tire yourself out with a canyon excursion during the day. Take a quick nap and then join the locals for a bit of fun and festivities at the many bars, clubs, casinos and movie theaters available on the island. From Bowling City - a bowling alley, restaurant and night club all rolled in one - to the Gueule de Bois - a night club that hosts live concerts every weekend - you are sure to find a night spot where you can dance and have fun into the wee hours of the morning.

Culture

The dominant religion is Roman Catholicism established by the first settlers, but with the influx of people from other countries and the freedom the government gives them to practice their own beliefs, you'll find the island dotted with the mosques and temples of such other religions as Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam.

Though Creole is predominantly spoken amongst the locals, French is the official language taught in schools and used in formal government and business office settings. You are also likely to hear chatter in other languages like Mandarin, Hakka, Cantonese, Tamil, and Arabic.

Cuisine

Just like its people, Reunion cuisine is a mixture of cultures- French, Indian, Chinese, and African- with the delicious blending of tastes and food preparation techniques that comes from the sharing of ancestral cooking secrets.

Creole food is the main fare, with typical dishes made of meat or fish cooked in sauce and served with rice. However, with several creperies and fine dining restaurants, French cuisine is just as popular. For the most part, though, restaurants happily serve a mixture of food from each culture, so it is not uncommon to see dishes from France, India and China on the same menu.

If you are in the mood for something a little more exotic, try one of the specialty dishes, Carri Bichique, a mixture of hedgehog and wasp larvae served in a meal called Rougail. Keep in mind, there is plenty of French wine on hand to help you wash it all down.