Saint-Leu, Réunion

Photo: Ile de La Réunion Tourisme via Blue Margouillat
Photo: Ile de La Réunion Tourisme via Blue Margouillat

You love the island of Hawaiʻi. The jagged peaks, the lava fields, the lush forests, and the wild coast combine into one of your favorite destinations. You return time and time again, but you still haven’t exhausted the list of places you want to see and the things you want to do. Unfortunately, more and more people are on to your big secret. People aren’t sticking to Maui and Oʻahu the way they used to. So unless you can figure out a way to deter them, you might have to start looking elsewhere for a volcanic paradise.

It may take a little longer to travel across Africa, but the Indian Ocean island of Réunion is considered a mini, undiscovered Hawaiʻi. It’s situated east of Madagascar and southwest of Mauritius. The uninhabited island was discovered by the Portuguese and later claimed by the French, who have ruled it relatively uneventfully ever since. Today, Piton de la Fournaise, “Peak of the Furnace,” remains one of the most active volcanoes–along with Hawai’i’s Kīlauea–in the world. The most recent eruption occurred in 2010.

The easiest way to see Réunion and travel between the main towns is les Cars jaunes. Jump on one of the unmissable yellow buses in Saint-Denis to travel south along the western coastline to Saint-Leu. You’ll pass French Colonial buildings, former sugar plantations, and filao-lined black-sand beaches. The wild Saint-Leu coastline is known for its left-hand waves and surfing competitions, paragliding, and submarine diving. Visit the Kélonia Marine Turtle Station to see green, hawksbill, and loggerhead sea turtles and understand their migratory patterns. Learn about rum production and the island’s slave history at Le Musée Stella Matutina, a former sugar cane factory. And see the island’s rare and threatened endemic plants at the Conservatoire botanique national de Mascarin. Ready to get a better view of that volcano? Go inland, through the dense green canopy, and hike Le Cirque de Cilaos for panoramic views from La Roche Merveilleuse–once you clear the low-lying clouds–and thermal baths at the Bras rouge waterfall.

Photo: Laurent de Gebhardt/Blue Margouillat
Photo: Laurent de Gebhardt/Blue Margouillat

Whether you spend the day in the water, in town, or in the mountains, you’ll be ready to relax at a nice hotel by late afternoon. Blue Margouillat is a hillside, grand colonial house with creole flair. A gallery shows off paintings, sculptures, and pottery by island artists. The gardens are filled with hibiscus, allamanda, and frangipani flowers. The pool overlooks Saint-Leu Bay and the never-ending Indian Ocean. Trade winds keeps you cool as you sip a Ti’Punch and enjoy the view. Your room, one of only 14, has red-tile floors, wooden shutters, and crisp, white linens. From your jacuzzi tub, look out over your verandah to the blue water.

Return to the pool for sunset, a cocktail, and les petites bouchées. Stay for a candlelit gourmet dinner with jazz music, foie gras, freshly caught fish, island spices, and a bottle of champagne. Real champagne. Cap off the meal with a rhum arrangé digestif or a cigar from the cellar.

Okay, maybe Réunion isn’t completely like Hawai’i. It’s up to you to decide which is better. Just don’t share your answer with the Hawai’i crowds.

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