>> THE WILD SOUTH
Saint-Pierre, the capital of the south, is both a charming seaside resort and a colourful and vibrant city. Saint-Pierre is also the gateway to the Wild South: a region with a very special character.
A multitude of yachts anchored in the old harbour, several kilometres of white sandy beach and a small lagoon: for Réunion's Southerners, Saint-Pierre has all it takes.
In Saint-Pierre, one cannot simply "go" somewhere: you must either go "up" or "down"! A random stroll will take you through a beautiful park in front of the town hall, which used to be an India Company coffee warehouse. You will wonder at the sight of the ornaments decorating the island's largest mosque and, weather permitting, anxiously await the fishermen's return in the picturesque village of Terre-Sainte. At Grand-Anse, where old lime kilns have been carefully renovated, a tiny path will lead you up a filao-tree covered "piton" (peak), from which you will enjoy a clear view of the rocky coast. From this point, it is possible to see the only (small!) island to be found off Réunion's shores.
The district of Petite-ile, near Saint-Pierre, was named after that huge, ocean-beaten rock. Petite-ile is a cosy flower garden with several highly picturesque roads passing through sugar cane, garlic and onion fields to eventually end up in the heights. Now the main road becomes more winding and narrow: this is the beginning of the Wild South... Along the coast, the waves come crashing against blocks of black, hardened volcanic lava and the sprawling rain forest gets nearer the coastline. Saint-Joseph will be the last "real" city you drive through.
From the ruins of an old sugarhouse in the harbour of Langevin, a magnificent road winds its way up the valley, running alongside attractive waterfalls. The road later becomes a splendid hiking trail, which will take keen hikers up the volcano's unforgettable moonlike scenery. Those who don't go much for strenuous exercise can indulge in more peaceful trout fishing in "Grand-Galet". Along the Mare-Longue botanical path in Saint-Philippe, you will discover Réunion's last mysterious "bois de couleurs" (coloured wood), and in the Spice and Fragrance Garden, the lush and humid undergrowth where such tropical plants and spices as vanilla, clove, pepper, cinnamon and cardamon grow.
Further up, look for the spicy flavour and distinctive yellow colour of the local saffron or turmeric ("curcuma") at Plaine-des-Gregues. Higher still, the hamlet of Roche Plate, only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles, leads to the heart of the lush and spellbinding mountains of the south.
The Burnt Country
As you leave Saint-Philippe, be sure to go and see the solidified lava platform, the now mute, impressive remains of a major eruption in 1986, which increased the island's surface by 30 hectares as it flowed into the ocean. Then, with the road as your only link with modern civilisation, you will enter the region known as "pays brule," which means "burnt country". For several miles there is nothing but the forest and bare stretches of black hardened lava. High in the clouds, the awe-inspiring volcano towers above the road, and piles of lagged scoria remind you of the volcano's violent awakenings. In this overwhelming decor, the only sounds you will hear are the roaring of the sea and the singing of birds.
From hard-working Saint-Pierre to quiet Saint-Philippe, the last gateway to the deserted forest, the road will take you along rich plantations, past worm-eaten carts, and a number of scenes and scents. The thrill of adventure awaits you at every corner in the south.