An excursion with a local guide is for sure the best way to discover the island.
07.00am Departure to the south of the island, at the beginning of the South-East coast through Tampon, by driving back up to “Plaine des Cafres”, a cattle-breeding area (bovine, sheep) dotted with brooms, old tamarind trees and acacias. The scenery in the High Plains is magnificent. Bourg-Murat is the starting point to take the forest road from where you’ll enjoy the numerous sights, particularly the “Nez de Bœuf” (Ox’s Nose) with a panorama over “Rivière des Remparts”. The edges of this canyon are the witnesses of the first “Caldeira” (depression in a circular form) caused by the falling-down of the summit of “Piton de la Fournaise”. When you continue, you discover a lunar landscape, “Plaine des Sables” (the sands plain), born from the falling-down of the second volcano which built itself into the caldeira. After Plaine des Sables, the road goes on in-between the distorted ruins of ancient craters up to the last bluff before the central volcano site. Here, from the edge of a 300-metre high “Pas de Bellecombe” belvedere (2311m), you can gaze at the almost prefect cone of La Fournaise, culminating at 2631m. Reunion Island came to life after two major volcanic events. Around 3 million years ago, the first event made magma emerge to the surface of the ocean, around a central crater whose remnants are now the culminating point of the island: Piton des Neiges (Snow Peak 3070m). The second one occurred about 30 km to the South-East 400 000 years ago. A new volcanic massif formed and came beside the first: Furnace Peak, still active today and erupts regularly about 3 times a year, for the great delight of visitors. A path along Pas-de-Bellecombe leads down into this absolutely fascinating “enclosure”: 1 hour walking for the first crater ”Formica Leo”, and around 5 h walking for the main craters “Bory” and “Dolomieu”. On the way back by the same cinder track, you stop over the “Commerson Crater” which results of a volcanic explosion. After a Creole lunch, you visit the Volcano museum “La cité du Volcan” (designed by Maurice and Katia Kraft), a must for all those who want to find out more about volcanoes. The permanent exhibition provides information on the geological formation of the island, on volcano-related risks and the way they are controlled. At the end of the road leading to “Bois-Court”, you get a memorable visual dive down of “Grand Bassin” huge valley. Return to your hotel around 5.30pm.
7.00am Departure for the south of the island. First stop at the “Souffleur” along the rocky coast to admire beautiful white foam geysers, resembling a whale’s spout.
The pretty village of La Rivière Saint-Louis will be the last one before entering Cilaos Cirque. The pleasure starts with the road that plunges onto the bottom of Saint-Etienne’ river. This very picturesque road built in 1932, leads you to the beautiful cirque of Cilaos, a geological curiosity. Cilaos is the most southerly and driest cirque of the three. The sky is more frequently clear there and its slopes have fewer waterfalls.
In 1845, a path with difficult access is opened to pedestrians and oxes. In 1896, the thermal baths set up and, as far as a suitable road for vehicles was built, the journey to Cilaos was achieved on a “sedan chair” but Cilaos village is situated at 1200m!
The ascent by the “400 bends road” offers exceptional lookout points with breathtaking views of the several hamlets.
When you finally reach the village dominated by the highest summits (the majestic Piton des Neiges 3070m, Grand Bénare 2896m, Trois Salazes 2121m), you’ll feel as if you were exploring a village of yore, with its old houses surrounded by flowery yards and gardens which in the hot season, look like a colourful artist palette: jacarandas with mauve shadings, dahlias, azaleas, roses, hydrangeas, mimosas… Cilaos is also famous for its hydropathy establishment, its magnificent embroidery, its wine (the only one produced in Reunion) and its lentils. Various walks invite you to go in search of this paradise. You reach the best view on the cirque by taking a forest path to « La Roche Merveilleuse » (or by car or by bus). From up there, you overlook the whole cirque, the village, the paths, and the forests… It is also great to discover the thermal baths, both the old vestiges dating back to the 19th century to which you can accede via a picturesque road and the new facilities for spas, health and fitness.
After a Creole lunch, you’ll visit the “Embroidery House” and discover “Les Jours de Cilaos”. On the way back, in the late afternoon, you’ll stop at “the whirlpool” at L’Etang-Salé, and return to your hotel around 5.30pm
07.30am Departure to the north of the island, taking the coastal road to Saint-Denis, the capital. Thereafter, you discover the real face of the East coast: it’s an intensive farming of sugar cane district, its population in majority of Indian Tamil origin stems from thousands of volunteers, “imported” for harvest after the Abolition of Slavery in 1848. One of the evocative signs of this Tamil culture is the number of the colourful temples built here and there. You can admire the outside architecture of the “Temple du Petit Bazar” in Saint-André. On the way you’ll stop at the Niagara Cascade, a real open-air theatre. You also discover the fantastic story of the famous “Bourbon Vanilla” by visiting a vanilla plantation. This orchid grows from St-André to Sainte-Rose.
Then, you’ll enter in the largest, the greenest and the wettest cirque of the three (owing to its windward position). Salazie, a refuge of fugitive slaves or “runaways” was late colonized. Inviolate for a long time, this cirque is accessible by the only hemmed road running along Rivière du Mât”. You find very quickly an imposing garden of verdure and cascades, in particular the “Voile de la Mariée” (wedding veil). Its charm derives from the existing harmony between its waters flowing down a hundred cascades, its omnipresent lush vegetation, its imposing relief made softer by all the greenery, and the man-made buildings that blend in with the landscape. Everything grows there, but you’ll notice in particular banana trees, bamboos and various vegetables cultivation like watercress, and the most well known is “chouchou”, imported from Mexico in 1840. Arrival to Hell-Bourg: the village was awarded in 1998 the title for one of the most beautiful village of France for the quality and genuine character of the place. It has been built up around hydropathical sources, which brought to this cirque its fame until its permanent closure due to mass fallen rocks in 1848. After a Creole lunch, you may visit this village of ancient times, real museum of Creole architecture and the “Folio House” with its impressive garden.
Return to your hotel around 5.30pm.
07.30am Departure in direction of Saint-Pierre, where the leeward coast becomes the windward coast and takes another colours and a very special animated atmosphere. You follow the road to “Grand Anse” creek, with its beach bordered with coconut palms, a real heaven of peace. Every weekend, the brand newly married couple investigate the place for the pictures. The many lookout points afford the enjoyment of discovering this charming part of the island: Manapany, Langevin, and “Cap Méchant”: there the ocean crashes in impressive waves against the jagged black lava cliffs. A little bit farther, crossing the bottom part of the coloured wood forest, you discover, at the foot of the volcano, the recent lava flows. A total landscape breaking up with the “Great burnt land”: actually, the tropical exuberance makes way for a much more mineral environment. Lots of those rivers of lava increased the island over the ocean of tens hectares! The whole region has a strange atmosphere to it, due perhaps to the fact that no dwelling can be seen for about thirty kilometres. In Sainte-Rose zone, you stop at “Anse des Cascades” (waterfall cove), with its tiny fishing-boats landing sites and at Piton Sainte-Rose, where the church “Notre Dame des Laves” has been miraculously frozen around by the 1977’ lava river without being damaged. But more than 50 houses has been destroyed! Since then, this place is a famous pilgrimage spot. On the way back, and after a Creole lunch in the surroundings of Saint-Philippe, you visit a wonderful and wild botanical garden: “Le Jardin des parfums et des épices”. (Spice and fragrance garden). You’ll explore hundreds of species of native exotic plants including many medicinal, ornamental and fruit spices, some of which being a century old. A guide with a perfect knowledge of the garden and of its history will take you round the place and initiate you to the manual pollination of the vanilla flower (October to January). Return to your hotel around 5.30pm.
07.00am Departure to the North and the East coast to run along the big sugar cane fields. You stop first at “Sainte-Anne Church”, unique on the island, with its outside cement ornaments made by hand by the church’ goers 140 years ago. On this road you also go through litchi, jamalac and pineapple fields. The houses are more rare and in a pure Creole-style with their colours and inimitable well-kept gardens. You cross numerous rivers of which the East River which was crossed in the past by the ”Suspended Bridge”, always preserved but not used.
After Sainte-Rose, you stop first at “Notre Dame des Laves” that has been miraculously frozen around by the 1977’ lava river without being damaged. But more than 50 houses has been destroyed!
Secondly, the paradise waterfall cove “Anse des Cascades” with its tiny fishing-boats landing sites. The exuberated vegetation of the place will make way for the “Great Burnt Land”, a mineral environment with its recent lava flows (December 2005 is the last one, the 4th of the year!). The road will go down to the South by “Tremblet” to the beginning of the “Savage coast”, with its black basaltic rock which contrasts with the intense blue of the sea and the green of the coloured wood forests.
After Creole lunch, you will discover the district of Saint-Philippe offering the biggest natural reserve of the island (vacoas, filaos, coloured-woods, cabbage trees…).
A stop at “Cap Méchant” (Bad Cap) will show you a volcanic promontory famous for its impressive waves crashing onto the jagged lava cliffs. Arrival at your hotel around 5.30pm.