>> THE NORTH COAST
Situated at the northern tip of the island, Saint-Denis lies majestically on the surrounding mountain slopes. The town is a pleasant introduction to Réunion's myriad of colours and flavours. The administrative, social and political capital of Reunion since 1738, Saint-Denis is the largest French overseas city, with 120,000 inhabitants.
A city tour will begin with a pleasant walk along the seafront, whose name "Barachois" is a reminder of the tiny port, which was once located there, and of the bygone era of sailing ships, symbolised by the old, now silent guns. Facing the ocean and overlooking a garden with centenary trees, stands the Prefecture (French administration offices), a former warehouse of the India Company, which has been extended and renovated several times throughout the years. All over Saint-Denis, a pleasant mix of old and modern architectural styles can be found. Amongst the very old houses along Rue de Paris, you will find the birthplace of Leon Dierx (a writer and artist christened "the Prince of Poets" by his peers in 1898 after Mailarme's death), now housing the Cabinet of the General Council; the former "Maison Mas," now a modern arts exhibition centre; the Leon Dierx Museum; the Bishop's residence and the Museum of Natural History nestled in the heart of jardin de I'Etat (state gardens).
In this young, dynamic and action-packed city, high fashion boutiques can be found alongside the more modest stalls of the fruit and vegetable "small" market and of the local craft "big" market (situated close to a theatre). For the night owls, Saint-Denis offers a variety of cinemas, theatres, fashionable bars and nightclubs to satisfy all tastes. Saint-Denis is also an important religious city with its cathedral (which Pope John Paul 11 visited in 1989), its brightly coloured Chinese and Tamil temples and two mosques whose decorated minarets are silhouetted against the blue sky, near the many shops where Indian Muslims or "z'Arabes" will try to sell you their heavily scented fabrics.
Once a tiny quarter of well-aligned streets, Saint-Denis has over the past three decades considerably outgrown the slopes and fields, which were once its boundaries. A trip to the heights of Saint-Denis is the best and most pleasant way to get a bird's eye view of the city, and a few minutes' drive along the steep and narrow roads will take you to the elegant and flowery residential suburbs of Le Brule, Saint Francois or La Montagne. The city's upper reaches are also a sanctuary for nature lovers, where peace and tranquillity, fresh air, forests and waterfalls await the visitor.