>> THE EAST COAST
Of seasons and spices...
The east coast is exposed to regular rainfall brought by the trade winds. However, the rains which feed rivers and some magnificent waterfalls, are followed by days of radiant sunshine and immensely blue skies. Tropical spices, sweet-smelling coffee, and, since the first half of the 19th century, omnipresent sugar cane, have made this sector prosperous.
This is also the land of vanilla, cultivated everywhere, either intercalated in the sugar cane fields of Sainte-Marie and Sainte-Suzanne, or hanging onto wooden stakes (made of what locals call "candle" wood or forest wood) from Saint-Andre to Sainte-Rose. Visiting the "Vanilla House" in Saint-Andre and the Vanilla Co-operative of Bras-Panon, where skilful craftsmen and women perpetuate the technique originally developed in Reunion in the 19th century, is a must. In the processing season, the sweet smell of vanilla is only rivalled by the powerful smoke coming out of the region's sugar factory of Bois-Rouge.
From July to November, the strong smell of warm sugar fills the air. Book for a visit of the sugar factory and dip your hands into "brown gold". A century ago, harvesting the cane fields required a lot of labour. Hence, after slavery was abolished, tens of thousands of indentured Indians were "imported" into Reunion. These Tamil Indians (called "Malbars," whereas Muslim Indians are referred to as "z'Arabes") have contributed their part to the island's cultural melting pot in the form of numerous, brightly coloured temples which perpetuate the eastern countryside. Sainte-Anne Church (a listed monument which was used as one location of Francois Truffaut's movie "La Sirene du Mississipi"), is a curiosity worth a visit.
Magnificent estates are found along the east coast
Magnificent estates and huge white houses tucked away in dream-like orchards also form part of the colonial heritage. One example is the beautifully restored "Valliame House" in Saint-Andre. In Sainte-Suzanne it is now possible to visit "Le Grand Hazier" - an old colonial mansion nestled at the end of a coconut-lined alley.
Riviere des Marsouins & Riviere de I'Est
But there is plenty more to admire in the east, especially waterfalls and rivers. Riviere des Marsouins (Porpoise River), flowing along a valley with breathtakingly steep slopes, is the wildest of them all. With a bit of luck, you will be there when "bichiques" are being fished at a river mouth. A sight you will certainly find interesting is the crossing of Riviere de I'Est (East River), with the old suspended bridge, now a venerable and carefully kept relic.
After Sainte-Rose, you are entering the realm of the volcano, which surprised everyone when it flowed outside of its natural "enclosure" in 1977, spewing scorching lava on the village of Piton-Sainte-Rose. Miraculously spared, the church now stands in the middle of a field of cooled lava. Sainte-Rose also offers some breathtaking viewpoints on a wild and preserved seashore, as at Anse des Cascades.