Reunion travel guide
Anse des Cascades is a black rock beach flanked by a vertical mountain wall, where narrow waterfalls cascade down and run into the sea. Fishermen have their small boats lined up on the nearby ramp. Judge by the number of parking spaces, Anse des Cascades is a popular site for locals and tourists alike. There is a single restaurant and a small snack stand, else the shady coconut grove is favoured as a picnic spot.
Cilaos is another good base for hiking in the mountainous interior of Réunion. It's bigger and certainly less cute than Hell-Bourg, but the surrounding mountains offer equal good hiking options. As Cilaos attracts more visitors than Hell-Bourg, the number of auberges and restaurants are also greater.
Even before you reach the mountain town of Hell-Bourg you will be spellbound by the magnificent scenery. Steep mountain walls with narrow waterfalls cascade down from ridges often covered in clouds. For every turn on the twisting road, another splendid view come into sight. Hell-Bourg itself is a cute cluster of old Creole mansions with green gardens on a backdrop of rugged mountains. As Hell-Bourg is used as base for trekking (both day hikes and longer), it has a fair share of tourist facilities.
The winding mountain road from Cilaos ends in the small settlement of Ilet a Cordes. It's mostly farmhouses, vineyards, and fields, but the panoramic views over the jagged mountains and Cilaos across the deep craves are just splendid - if the clouds haven't rolled in. The settlement has a end-of-the-world feel, which is funny enough also the official name of the last bus stop here, Terre fine.
When the volcano erupts, the lava flows towards the sea. Thousands of years of eruption have created a barren moonscape of lava, which is called Le Grand Brûlé. Once in a while the area is expanded, when the lava choose to reroute its course to the sea. The vegetation will then slowly reestablish itself until next eruption. The more black the lava field is, the younger it is. Some of the youngest lava flows are from the big eruption in 2007. There are viewplatforms along the road, which cross the Le Grand Brûlé.
The viewpoint Le Maido is located at 2205 m on a mountain top. If the view is clear you can see all the way down to the coast. The slopes are covered in low alpine vegetation and there are plenty of sitting areas along the road. Locals find the low temperatures (5-10 c) at the higher altitude refreshing, so they happily go picnicking wrapped in blankets. As with other viewpoints, get here in the early morning before the clouds roll in if you want a chance to have a clear view.
Réunion has some crazy mountain roads. They are all sealed and in good condition, but twisted with hairpin bends, blind curves, and oncoming traffic which usually cuts corners. At some sections the road is no wider than a vehicle, but still is two-way. Some of the best (most exhilarating) road trips on Réunion are those to: Takamaka Viewpoint; Piton de la Fournaise; Cilaos (and all the way to Ilet a Cordes); and Le Maido Viewpoint.
Réunion's most famous - and only active - volcano is Piton de la Fournaise. Every second year or so it erupts, but it's impossible to predict. The outer crater is easy accessible, as you can drive all the way to the car park and viewpoint at Pas de Bellecombe (2311 m). The road is winding and narrow, but otherwise in good condition except for the last 4 km, which is a dirt road across an eeri moonscape. In the non-active periods it's possible to hike across the bottom of the outer crater and up to the viewpoint Balcon du Dolomieu (5 h return). During eruptions it's possible to see the spewing lava and lava flow either from the distance from the car park at Pas de Bellecombe or get closeup by walking along the outer rim to the viewpoint at Piton Kapor (3h return). If the volcano is erupting, come in the early afternoon, bring warm clothes and expect traffic jams up to the car park at Pas de Bellecombe.
Saint Anne's Church (Catholic) has proclaimed the title as Réunion's finest church. It was erected in 1857, but was rebuilt in the first half of the 20-century. The pastor let his "children" help him with the decoration of the church. The result is a colourful facade covered in stucco depictions of flowers and angels.
Saint Gilles-les-Bains is a real vacation town full of holiday condos. The focal point is the nice promenade which runs along an attractive beach with shallow waters. Both the promenade and the main street inland is lined with pizzarias, restaurants and bars, which gets the place pumping during weekends in high season.