Our stay in St. Denis was short and sweet. With reason. The capital of Reunion is a charming place, but not thoroughly so. There is little to do here bar navigate narrow roads, visiting the few sites in the sweltering heat, browsing a good bookstore to find guidebooks on hikes, natural pools and so on (sadly all in French), and while the time away at a patisserie or restaurant deciphering your read.
There are ample supermarkets in Reunion, and you don’t have to stray too far to find a European, five-star shopping experience. Food is flown in from France, meaning you will find anything and everything on your doorstep, at fairly reasonable prices (given you are on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean). There are three Carrefour shops – one in St. Clothilde close to Roland Garros International Airport, one in St. Suzanne and one in St. Pierre. Jumbo Score can be found in St. Marie, St. Pierre and St. Benoit. Elsewhere look for Auchan. Go hungry, you won’t. You can even have MacDonald’s should the need strike unexpectedly. Be sure to explore the boulangeries – each hamlet has its own, and they are delightful and a cheap way to get a carb stuffing.
Where to stay in St. Denis: after a rather horrible experience in a Créole House, Juliette Dodu, which get rave reviews on Tripadvisor for some unknown reason (we stayed here on our first trip, summing it up: stinky air con, I had to rearrange their garage to actually park the car, claustrophobic family room), the only place I can recommend is the Mercure Créola Hotel Saint-Denis. Awesome views, ample parking, decent breakfast, good beds. And it’s clean! (not always a given in Reunion…welcome to the Eurozone). Best of all – the amazing swimming pool and the staff that speaks excellent English.
There are many books available on Reunion, but unfortunately, to date, all of the really useful ones are in French. The Lonely Planet has been a great disappointment, as I found that they glance over some of the major attractions, to the extent that you will miss them completely. Reunion has so much to offer, that a few pages in a book focusing on the Indian Ocean’s islands hardly scrapes the surface.
You will find books on walks, hikes, waterfalls and natural pools to visit, complete with GPS coordinates, detailed description, and photos, all in French. Accommodation guides are really good too, especially the Routard. Any accommodation that has been accredited by the Routard can be approached with confidence.
Note to self and fellow readers as regards these trail books: the average Réunionais is born with a pair of hiking boots attached to their feet. This is the country of the Grand Raid (which includes La Diagonale Des Fous, which roughly translates to the Diagonal Race of the Crazy…a race in which participants run from St. Denis to St. Pierre, over mountains high and valleys deep, and in Reunion there are many of these: http://www.grandraid-reunion.com). Keep in mind, whenever you attempt a walk or hike, that super fit, serial hikers have written these books. We found that ‘easy’ walks took us longer than the indicated time, some walks, which were marked as ‘easy’ were much more strenuous than expected. We did have kids with us, ranging from ages 5 – 12 years old, but they didn’t set the pace. We lagged. As for the rest of it, don’t be surprised if you find a group of Réunionais children run the trail you are hiking. They seemed to be born to it. And will do it in half the time you take!
In the next posts, I will detail the hikes we did area by area. And a few other things, of course.