Dramatic Scenery from ULM on Reunion Island ©Solange Hando
Located between Mauritius and Madagascar, this island is just 63x45 km but claims such dramatic scenery that 40% is listed by Unesco as a world heritage site. This includes one active volcano and three great calderas inland where people live, even in the remote Mafate where the only access is by donkey or helicopter.
Saint-Gilles Marina in Reunion ©Solange Hando
Yet this rugged hinterland is surrounded by a fabulous coastline and the old fishing harbour of Saint-Gilles has now turned into a mini St Tropez. It is a popular place for watersports, snorkelling, diving, surfing, sailing and more, with whale watching a top attraction during the migrating season.
Eating venues serve excellent seafood and pastries close to the local market and the island's only five star hotel is a short drive away. Euro is the local currency since Reunion is a French department and as such part of the EU.
Cilaos Caldera ©Solange Hando
Inland from Saint-Gilles, the 'road of 400 bends' climbs up through stunning scenery to Cilaos, the most visited of the three calderas which also gives its name to the colourful settlement. This is a lovely mountain resort with a lake, thermal springs and a 'Rock of Wonders' with a bird's eye view of the town, surrounding peaks and ocean on the horizon.
The resort is famous for embroidery, lentils and fruity wine and it is included in the national park which claims 80 km of walking trails. This is also a base for climbing the highest peak, the Piton des Neiges at 3071 metres, which despite its name has hardly ever seen any snow.
Beach in Saint-Gilles ©Solange Hando
But after a climb or a long day trip to Cilaos, it is always nice to return to the beach, relax on powdery white sands or sit in the shade of feathery casuarinas. There are several sandy beaches, best loved the idyllic Hermitage Lagoon protected by a coral reef.
Some sections of the coast however are truly wild with lava rocks, blow holes and steep but verdant canyons coming right down to the ocean.
Furnace Peak ©Solange Hando
Meanwhile in the south-east corner of this hot spot island, the 'Piton de la Fournaise' erupts almost every year, and often more than once. There are no settlements nearby and it is constantly monitored, keeping everyone away in case of imminent danger.
When it is safe, you can walk around this spine-shilling moonscape or join a jeep safari across the old lava fields. Alternatively you can book a helicopter ride or enjoy a really close view, as above, from a a microlight.
Colourful Reunion ©Solange Hando