By ABDULSALAM NASIR
Home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Reunion is a little known gem. This rocky, French-governed island off the coast of East Africa is indeed one of the most beautiful places in the world today. But in spite its serenity and cozy atmosphere, the place is still little known or less appreciated by travel freaks.
However, tourism is an important part of the Island’s economy. The area has only been inhabited since the 17th century. It was difficult to reach before the advent of commercial flight, so it took a long time before featuring on the tourist circuit. As a stop on the route des Indes, it was visited by sailors, diplomats and explorers. It was also popular with naturalists such as Jean Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent. It was almost by accident that Charles Baudelaire stayed there for several weeks in 1841.
At the time, travel was also difficult on the island itself. The Réunion railway was built in 1882, and before that was built it tool around two days to cross the island from Saint-Denis to Saint-Pierre. Only intrepid hikers made the several-day expedition to see the active volcano Piton de la Fournaise. Creole families from the west explored the more accessible (but still wild) sites such as Bernica and the Saint-Gilles Ravine, as recorded in the poems of Leconte de Lisle.
Tourism started to develop beyond anything previously known in Réunion. A second airport, Pierrefonds near Saint-Pierre, opened to commercial traffic in 1998. In January of that year the Observatoire du dévelopement de La Réunion noted that the general public was still sensitive to the development of the new sector, although it created lot of new jobs on the island. Tourism brought 370,000 visitors to the Intense Island (as it had been named by the CTR), with a turnover of 1.7 million francs.
In 2000, the turnover from tourism overtook that of the local sugar industry. The authorities were confronted with new problems: land management, and the effect of tourism on local culture. How to improve development without destroying the source of attraction, namely the landscape and local culture
Several communes elaborated on the concept of creole village, celebrating the diversity of Réunion heritage that same year. Fifteen villages sought to highlight their individuality. The emphasis was on marketing, the idea being that to increase tourism it was important to publicize Réunion and show the world a positive image. The 10 years of effort yielded fruit: Réunion had 426,000 tourists in 2002 and was the fifth most popular destination for tourists from the French mainland.
The island’s topography is very mountainous, with mountains that can be as high as 3,000 m (9,842 ft) close to the coast. The area has many natural tourist attractions, including Piton des Neiges (the highest point on the island), lava cliffs, and deep canyons. Another tourist attraction is the active shield volcano Piton de la Fournaise, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The collapsed calderas of Cirque de Cilaos, Cirque de Mafate, and Cirque de Salazie also draw tourists. The Le Maïdo viewpoint is located at an altitude of 2,205 m (7,232 ft) and has excellent views of the coast. There is good surfing off the island’s west coast.
Réunion’s capital Saint-Denis and the lagoons of St-Gilles-les Bains also attract tourists. The Domaine du Grand Hazier, an 18th century home of a sugar planter and official French historical monument, has a large garden with fruit trees and tropical flowers. Festivals take place year round throughout the island.
Indeed there are several places that would interest a first time visitor to this beautiful island. But here are some of the most notable and loveable in this part of the world.
Piton de Fournaise
Piton de Fournaise is the sole active volcano on the island. This is, however, one of the most active in the world. Visitors can see it from a distance and relish of beauty of nature.
Cirque de Mafate
This is the name of a village which because of its unparallel charm has become one of the must see spots of the island. It is an untamed little village. Though the village is populated, yet it is so removed from civilization that it has no roads suitable for cars. Tourists make a trip to this village by foot.
Piton des Neiges
Piton des Neiges is the name of the tallest mountain peak in Reunion Island. Soaring to over ten thousand feet, this often snow-capped peak has its own charm to hypnotize the visitors.
Plaine des Sables
The Plaine des Sables is a plain of ash and lava rock that lies just north of Reunion’s volcano. You drive across it as you approach the volcano, and it feels like you are on the moon, with no vegetation in sight.
Maison de la Broderie
The Maison de la Broderie is a small museum which showcases the beautiful needlework done by the women of Cilaos and the surrounding villages. Embroidery was originally introduced to the area by the French wife of a local doctor.
The best scenery on Reunion is in its wild interior, which features 3000-foot deep canyons and calderas, waterfalls, and a volcano. As an island, Reunion is ringed by beaches. However, many of them have rough surf and are not suitable for small children.
The Kelonia Marine Turtle Observatory is an institution dedicated to the study and preservation of Reunion’s marine turtle species. Kelonia has a number of rooms full of exhibits about turtles that you can walk through at your leisure.
Situated in the southeast corner of Reunion Island, Piton de la Fournaise is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Erupting for the first time about 50,000 years ago, records note that this basaltic shield volcano has erupted nearly 180 times.
Consideration was also given to the impact of tourism, particularly internal tourism. This was also growing quickly, with the construction of new recreational areas, hiking trails and picnic areas. This was damaging natural sites in an unanticipated way. But globally, the mood was optimistic and the island published a text Schéma de développement touristique de La Réunion in 2004. That year, they received 430,000 external tourists and generated 6,000 jobs in the sector, providing 6.5% of the total salary for all workers.
There is still a great deal to do. In January 2005 the responsibility for tourism was transferred to the region itself. In March of that year, the council proposed the ambitious goal of exceeding a million tourists in 2020. To reach that goal, they proposed a series of measures, notably adapting the accommodation for disabled people, and to ride the new wave of well-off tourists, particularly senior citizens. And with the tourism profile of this island gradually rising, it might not take too long before it becomes the preferred destination for adventurous tourists. It has every potential to assume that status.