Reunion Island travel guide: 12 reasons to be impressed by this record-breaking Indian Ocean island

East of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, a tiny speck of island lies. Many Australians have never even heard of it, much less visited. It's called Reunion Island and it is one of the most unusual island paradises on the planet.

In fact, it holds a multitude of records and notable features that should have made it world famous. Instead, it remains an undiscovered secret among all but the French, who claim it as a part of their own country.

But here are some reasons why it deserves to be better known.

It's home to the world's longest domestic flight route

When you enter Reunion, you're officially entering France, despite being more than 9000 kilometres away from Paris. This means that if you fly to Reunion non-stop from Charles de Gaulle Airport, you technically never leave France and therefore can enter the country as a domestic passenger. It takes more than 11 hours, which makes flying Sydney to Perth seem like a joyride by comparison.

People live inside craters

Reunion Island, village inside a volcano caldera.

Photo: Craig Platt

This volcanic island is covered in large craters. So large, in fact, that entire villages can be found inside them. A visit to Cirque de Cilaos caldera, taking the one road in and out of the crater, offers a glimpse into a completely different world to the beaches and cliffs of the coastline. Inside, the climate changes completely, the temperature dropping and rocky scrub giving way to lush rainforest interspersed with spectacular waterfalls.

To get true perspective on these unusual towns, take a helicopter trip over the island, where you'll see the craters clearly and, if you're lucky, you may even see some eruptions from. See helilagon.com

It's home to one of the world's most active volcanoes

Reunion Island volcano

Photo: Adobe Stock

Piton de la Fournaise, on the east side of the island has more than 150 recorded eruptions and is a major tourist attraction. It last erupted in January this year. It was previously a popular hiking spot but the volcanic activity of late has curtailed this.

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It has some of the best infrastructure you'll ever find on an island

Reunion Island

Photo: Adobe Stock

Putting even Hawaii to shame, the infrastructure on Reunion is incredible. The wide roads are smooth, straight and fast. Although the traffic in the island's main town can be quite bad, once you're outside the city you can zoom about at speed, with nary a bump to be felt.

It's home to the most expensive road in France

Although the roads are already quite good, they're getting better. Due to the risk of rock falls and landslides from the steep cliffs between Saint-Denis and the island's port, which can close the road up to 40 times a year, a new 12.5 kilometre road is being built at the whopping price of €1.66 billion ($2.43 billion).

Why is it so expensive? The six-lane highway is rising out of the ocean itself on columns, built to withstand hurricane winds and heavy seas. The project is due to be completed next year.

It's the world's most dangerous place for shark attacks

FULL BULL: A bull shark with its fins dropped is probably not intent on charitable activities.

Bull sharks patrol the waters off Reunion Island.

While Australia and South Africa have their fair share of sharks, nothing compares to Reunion's recent record. Scientists have been studying the phenomenon for years, but are unable to determine why this particular place has become such a centre for attacks. In 2013, the government banned swimming and surfing at any of the island's beaches save for those protected by shark nets or lagoons. The most recent fatal attack occurred in February this year, the eighth since 2011. That may not sound like a lot compared to Australia (which has had 17 since 2011), but the population and coastline of Reunion is tiny compared to Australia's. 

It holds the biggest clues yet discovered to the mystery of Flight MH370

MH370 wreckage recovered on Reunion Island.

MH370 wreckage recovered on Reunion Island. Photo: EPA

After months of searching the Indian Ocean in vain, the international effort to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared in mysterious circumstances in March 2014, failed to find anything.

However, in July 2015, wreckage was discovered on the shores of Reunion and later confirmed to have come from MH370. Although the mystery remains unsolved, the best clues to the aircraft's disappearance have shown up on this speck east of Africa.

It's home to the largest French city outside France

Saint-Denis, the island's capital, has a population of 158,139. This makes it the 21st largest French city, and the largest French city that's not actually geographically located in France. With its French colonial architecture and lush gardens, it could give Singapore a run for its money in terms of being a green, clean and manicured island city.

It's also home to 'the most beautiful village in France' … that's not in France

The village of Hell Bourg on the mountains of La Reunion island, France Reunion Island

The village of Hell Bourg on the mountains of Reunion island. Photo: Adobe Stock

Its name may not be so appealing, but the community of Hell-Bourg has been ranked among the most beautiful villages in France, even if its technically not in the country, geographically speaking.

Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (meaning "the most beautiful villages of France") is an association formed in 1982 that compiles a ranking of the country's prettiest villages, which must have a population of less than 2000 and have at least two national heritage sites.

Hell-Bourg, located in the caldera of Cirque de Salazie, is the only village outside mainland France to make the ranking. The village makes the list for "superb scenery formed by the Cirque de Salazie and its lush vegetation", and its heritage architecture from its days as a spa town.

It is home to the heaviest rain storms on the planet

Although it's a popular destination for sun and sand, inland Reunion can be extremely wet. In February this year, Tropical Cyclone Carlos dumped a whopping 447.7 millimetres in the mountains in a 24-hour period. In 1980, Tropical Cyclone Hyacinthe hit the island and stayed put for 12 days, a mind-blowing 6083 millimetres were dropped on parts of the island, making it the wettest tropical cyclone on record. To put that figure in perspective, the annual rainfall for Melbourne is 648 millimetres. So pack a raincoat along with your bathers.

It's home to the Indian Ocean's highest peak

Reunion Island

Photo: Adobe Stock

Admittedly, the competition is not strong in this part of the world. The Maldives are extremely low-lying and nearby Mauritius' peaks do not rise to great heights. Piton des Neiges rises to 3069 metres and can be climbed in a (long) day hike, though there is a mountain hut for those wishing to go at a slower pace and stay overnight to see the sunrise from the peak.

It's not overrun with resorts

Lux Saint Gilles, Reunion Island

Lux Saint Gilles, Reunion Island

Despite being a tropical island of incredible beauty and a popular escape for the French, the island is yet to truly develop its hotel industry. At present, Lux Saint Gilles (owned by the Mauritian hotel and resort chain Lux) is the only five-star resort on the island. Located on the western side of the island, the resort sits on a protected lagoon and is also home to the island's largest swimming pool.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

http://en.reunion.fr

FLY

Air Mauritius flies to Mauritius from Perth three times a week, with connections to Reunion Island. See http://www.airmauritius.com

STAY

Rates Lux Saint Gilles start from $670 per room per night twin share. The hotel can arrange tours of the island include visits to the caldera communities, vanilla plantations and various historic sights. See

https://www.luxresorts.com/en/hotel-reunion/luxsaintgilles

The writer travelled as a guest of Lux Hotels and Resorts.

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