Like its name, Réunion Island blends many aspects of nature, culture and life
From where I stood, I could see the horizon of the Indian Ocean seamlessly meet azure skies. Réunion Island was made of so many diverse elements and yet they smoothly blended into one another. This I understood as I explored each of its individual geographic elements.
Three million years ago, volcanic eruptions resulted in the cratered landscape of La Réunion. The Piton des Neiges, at 3071 metres above sea level, is now extinct leaving behind three lunar-like cirques or calderas on its geography— Mafate, Salazie and Cilaos.
However, the existing, Piton de la Fournaise (Peak of the Furnace or ‘le Volcan’), is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It stands at a height of 2632 metres and has erupted several times in history. In 1977, enormous spews of lava flowed eastwards towards Sainte-Rosa and magically stopped at the doors of Notre Dame des Laves (Our Lady of the Lava).
The more recent 2007 lava flow joined the Indian Ocean after drifting through RN2 (also known as Lava Road), between Sainte-Rosa and Saint Phillipe. On Lava Road, black dried lava added a unique element to the landscape. I hopped from one mould to another and noticed the wrinkles of cooled lava form impressive patterns. Some had white woolly cracks and others nurtured stout green shrubs.
Later in the day, when I drove to contrasting green landscapes of Sainte Suzanne, I grew more curious about the natural hues of Réunion. La Vanilleraie is a sprawling vanilla plantation in one of the oldest agricultural estates of the island, Grand Hazier. In 2009, this land was turned into a vanilla processing unit. After a tour of the plantation, I sat in its porch admiring the windswept palm trees, rows of vanilla pods and the blue ocean beyond—as if this was a part of an Impressionist’s canvas.
The palette was complete when I saw different shades of green in Cirque de Salazie. Descending from a height of 440 metres, White Falls, one of the many waterfalls, created a picturesque contrast against the lofty hills.
Among the many Creole homes of Salazie, I was fascinated by Maison Folio in Hell-Bourg. This house stood out owing to its beautiful nature-inspired colours. The Creole villa was built in the 19th century using hardwood and other native elements of the island. The romantic pavilion greeted me as I entered a lush garden with tropical plants. The pastel green tones of the main house appeared amidst the garden. Here I noticed the white cornice crowning the roof, Creole-style furniture (wood with cane) at the entrance and two outhouses—all elements of traditional architecture.
The architecture gradually changed as I drove to the south of the island. Saint Pierre was bustling with life and activities— unlike the sleepy Réunion I had explored. On my left, the promenade was dotted by fitness enthusiasts and beyond, at the beach, relaxed families awaited sunset. On the other side of the road, vibrant, modern bars teemed with young adults and chaotic lanes turned to local markets. Saint Pierre wore rainbow colours—bright yellow snack bars, violet sky of dusk, dim red lights of bar counters and whites of outdoor spa and harboured yachts.
On my last day in La Réunion, a helicopter trail encapsulated the entire island. The brown volcanic textures were surrounded by wild, green ravines of the three calderas. As the gorges flattened, minute red houses and green agricultural patches became visible. And soon they met narrow shores of sand, to join the limitless turquoise ocean.