La Possession, Réunion (France)

South Coast

Réunion is an island less than 200 miles from Mauritius.  It is what is called a Department of France.  As such it has representatives, just as the mainland part of France, to the government of France and the European Union.  And unless things have changed it makes France the first European country to greet each new day.

We dock at La Possession on the northwest side of the island.  The town is so named because that is where the French first proclaimed possession of this island.  The tour we took was called Réunion’s Wild South.  The south is called wild because in that area there are no beaches and therefore no houses.  We boarded the bus and headed south along the west coast.  The west side of the island and the east side of the island are very different.  The west gets about 700 mm of rain per year; the east gets about 7000 mm per year.  That translates to 27.5 inches for the west and 275 inches for the east.

Réunion is actually even more spectacular than Mauritius in many ways.  Part of that may be because it is a much younger island.  It is only about 2,000,000 years old, which is about one third the age of Mauritius.  Both islands are volcanic in origin and therefore subject to the same basic life cycle.  Eventually both will be flat but that won't be for several million more years.  So there is still time to enjoy the mountains.  They are substantially higher on Réunion.  The highest is 3071m tall (in feet that is 10,075!)  They actually get snow on it now and then.  In fact that is the name of the mountain, Snow Peak (Piton des Neiges).  They also have a volcano, Piton de la Fournaise, which has erupted as recently as 2007.  (There are other volcanos as well but although it may be too early to declare the others extinct they haven't done anything exciting in recent history.)  Fortunately for inhabitants the currently active volcano tends to give warning and just have a lava flow without explosive eruptions.  

Our first stop was a beach near Grand Anse which is near the southernmost point on the island.  Since we were docked in La Posession that was almost half way around the island (approximate dimensions:  N to S 70 km, E to W 50 km  in miles that is about 44 x31 miles).  The scenery on the road which circles the island is often breathtaking!  Much of the island has steep drop offs that go straight down into the sea.  There is a stretch on the west side which has a bit of an undersea shelf so it has formed a coral reef but the highest volcanic mountain would actually be about as high as Mount Everest if we drained the Indian Ocean so we could see the base of it.

The reef area has been designated a natural marine reserve of Réunion and much of the more central part of the island is a UNESCO World Heritage zone.

The beaches are mostly black sand (the volcanic rock pulverized by the elements) with some lighter specks of coral in it.  The shore is still not completely sandy so one must be careful walking here because of the outcroppings of solid basaltic rock.

Our guide, Sully was very good and spoke English quite well.  We had numerous French speaking people on the tour and he was very good about inviting all of us to help if his English was not quite up to the task.  This became very helpful at the second stop, the Garden of Perfumes and Spices (a botanic garden of sorts pretty much in the jungle).  We had a guide from the garden who spoke in French and Sully translated.

From the garden we went to lunch at a nearby restaurant called Etoile de Mer (Star of the Sea).  Lunch was good and made even better when we found out that alcoholic beverages were part of it if we wished.  There were open wine bottles on the long table and when we asked if we could have beer they said of course.  The local beer harkens back to Mauritius because it is called La Dodo.  It was decent.  We each had one and then we tried the wine and after that they came around with a special rum that had been infused with vanilla, cinnamon and some sort of berries.  Mmmm!  We tried not to overdo but everyone seemed to have a warm glow after lunch.  

Stop #4, after lunch, was the Lava Field.  This is an area on the southeast corner of the island where the active volcano deposits new lava from time to time.  They only build a two lane road through this area because periodically (after the mountain decides to get frisky) they must rebuild the road.  We climbed up some very badly maintained stairs in the lava field (not too many lawyers in Réunion) to a viewing platform.  Sully regaled us with tales of eruptions and stories about how they learned the hard way to wait until the lava had properly cooled (possibly months) before rebuilding the road.  We were able to see flows from 2002, 2004 and 2007, and the cones where the latest flow came from.  It was interesting that there was a guy with a fruit stand right where the bus stopped, and it was clear from his sign that this is his regular spot, even though it is out in the middle of nowhere. 

The picture below is of a church which is a few miles north of the current lava field.  It was spared by the lava you see at the front door in 1977.  The latest lava flows have occurred farther south so the town has been rebuilt in the area around the church.  Needless to say the parishioners don't have to look too far for evidence of miracles!  Some lava did actually enter the church through the door but most of it passed by on the sides.  The name of the church was changed to Notre Dame des Laves.  

Réunion may be the very best part of France.  We have enjoyed it greatly on both visits and would love to return.  You can check out the additional pictures in the photo album.

Notre Dame des Laves

© Susan L. Stone 2015