Five must-do's on Reunion Island
Many people think of Reunion as a beach destination. Before I went there, I must admit that I was part of that crowd. And sure, the island’s beaches are picture-perfect with white sand, turquoise waters and beautiful coral reefs. But there is so much more to Reunion than the beach. These are five of my (non-beach related) must-do’s in Reunion:
1. (and 2) Cook Creole Food (and drink rum)
The Creole kitchen is influenced by the many different cuisines brought here by the early settlers and slaves, that included French, African, Malagasy, Indian and Chinese. The national dish, called Cari, is a fragrant mix of spices with meat or fish, cooked over an open wood fire and served with rice and a special sauce called Rougaille. The sauce varies in hotness depending on who is making it; from mild to fiery hot.
To get a good understanding of the Creole food, I recommend going for a cooking class. I visited Far Far Kréole, where I learned to make chicken Cari and a wonderful dish with fish and green papaya. We also got to try our hand at, and taste, a selection of Réunionnaise snacks like samosas, dumplings and bonbon piment (chilli cakes).
Every Creole restaurant worth their salt will also stock a selection of Rhum Arrangeé. Basically rum in a large jar, infused with a variety of fruit, herbs and spices. It would be rude not to try at least one!
3. Visit the world’s most active volcano
Piton de la Fournaise is one of the world’s most active volcanoes! But fear not, its eruptions (the most recent which was in February 2015) are predictable and slow-flowing as opposed to the exploding volcanoes in other parts of the world. The area around the volcano resembles a moon landscape, but to me the most interesting part was the lava fields created by the massive eruption of 2007/8. You can see how the lava has made its way down the side of the volcano, across the main road and into the ocean. Today, the road has been re-built and passes straight through this immense field of solidified lava in the most mesmerizing patterns. Believe it or not, but in some places it is still steaming from the heat that remains inside the lava masses!
4. Throw yourself down a waterfall
The central part of Reunion consists of very high mountains and deep valleys in a mindboggling, green as amber landscape that could be taken straight out of a fairy tale. It is the perfect destination for people that want to do crazy things, like throwing themselves down steep waterfalls. Canyoning, rafting and mountain climbing are big sports that draw some of the best in the world for a challenge.
I went abseiling in the Yellow Flowers Canyon; an adventure I will never forget! We started off with a scramble across a vertical cliff face (safely secured with harnesses), then donned wetsuits and climbed or jumped down steep waterfalls in crystal clear (but flippen ice cold) waterfalls. There are also plenty of hiking trails, ranging from a few hours to several days, for those with a less adventurous inclination.
5. Learn all about vanilla
At a whopping R 20,000 (EUR 1,500) per kg, good quality vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron! But there are good reasons for this. I visited the beautiful Domaine (farm) Le Vanilleraie in Sainte-Suzanne to learn all about the process; from pollination of the flower (that is only open for one day) through to picking the beans, sun-drying for two weeks, maturation for at least one year in wooden boxes (with weekly airing and rotation) to the final measuring and sorting. All done by hand. The vanilla produced on Reunion is of the Bourbon cultivar, and considered to be of very high quality with a flavour that hints of liquorice and prunes. Whether your palate can pick that up or not, I’m sure you will enjoy it in a sweet dessert, a salty meat spice (!) or, of course, in your Rhum Arrangeé!