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Of Cirques and Adventure: Reunion Island

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Mention France, and images like the Eiffel Tower, berets, and baguettes come to mind. But did you know that France also consists of several islands scattered around the world? These French overseas regions are part of the EU, and adopt French as their official language.

One of the most interesting of these is undoubtedly Réunion Island.

Set adrift in the vast Indian Ocean, it’s actually closer to Madagascar (and Mauritius) than it is to anywhere in Europe. And as an island destination, its selling point is not about sandy beaches or stilted chalets above the water – this is because Reunion has what other islands lack: adventure.

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The 3 Cirques

The best way to see the true majesty of the island is from a helicopter (Corail; €210, 25 mins) – as you rise to the mountain ridgeline, nothing can prepare you for that first glimpse of this geologic wonder.

From the air, you can actually see that much of Réunion Island owes its creation to volcanoes – most notably in the 3 breathtaking cirques (bowl-shaped craters) that look like a 3-leaf clover from the air, each encircled by a ridgeline of tall cliffs (remparts).

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- Cirque de Salazie
Salazie is the ‘flattest’ of the 3 cirques, and the road journey offers vistas of soaring cliffs sliced by rivers and thundering waterfalls, like the incredibly scenic, 640m tall Cascade Blanche. Salazie is also home to the pretty village of Hell-Bourg, a member of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (‘The most beautiful villages in France’), which consists of pastel-coloured Creole villas complete with verandahs and quintessential Réunionnais details.

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- Cirque de Mafate
The most remote of Réunion’s cirques, Mafate is surrounded by jagged remparts, criss-crossed with deep ravines, and studded with waterfall ridges. Thanks to its topography, there are no roads here; the sprinkling of hamlets that are scattered in this giant extinct volcano are only accessible on foot (or helicopter).

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- Cirque de Cilaos
There’s also a sprinkling of hamlets in Cilaos, but unlike Mafate, it is accessible via the RN5 – a major road that snakes steeply up to the cirque from the coastal town of St Louis, taking you around over 400 twists and turns for an unending stream of Instagram moments.

An Active Volcano: Piton de la Fournaise

Also known as The Volcano, Piton de la Fournaise last erupted in January this year. Situated within a UNESCO-protected national park, the volcano takes up most of the eastern portion of the island, and the landscape is reminiscent of a red-earthed moonscape which is occasionally draped in cloud. The crater itself, though still active, is accessible to hikers (there also is a viewpoint for those just wanting a view).

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When Piton de la Fournaise erupts, the lava flows through Le Grand Brûlé before hitting the ocean – as its name suggests, it’s an area of hardened lava. The road that runs through this area has to be rebuilt every time the volcano erupts.

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Beachside

Beaches may not be Réunion’s strong card, but at St-Gilles-les-Bain you’ll find practically everything a beach can offer.

First off, you can go snorkelling or diving in its pristine coral reefs (you can see it from the air), where its underwater topography and shipwrecks are quite unique. There’s also a strong surfing culture here – you can suit up and ride the waves, or watch surfers in action from the many bars and cafes that line the beach.

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Further down the coast at Saint Leu is where kitesurfing and paragliding are popular, thanks to the ideal wind and wave conditions.

For easy access, you can base yourself at Le Saint Alexis (standard rooms from €170), a beachside hotel with a very unique architecture – its pool connects right to your doorstep (and the underwater reception), and each room features a whirlpool bath.

Read more about Réunion in our May/June issue now. Pick up your free copy or read online here.

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Practicalities

To get to Réunion Island, fly to Mauritius (7 hours), from where there are shuttle services to Réunion (1 hour). For more on Réunion, visit www.france.fr or en.reunion.fr.

Air Mauritius will celebrate its 50th anniversary this June, with 5D/3N packages from S$1,238. It is currently the most convenient way to access the islands of the Indian Ocean (like Réunion) and countries of eastern and southern Africa.

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