Madagascar, Reunion & Africa Travel Information
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>> THE WEST COAST
Stretches of white sandy beaches and crystal clear lagoons are the first images that come to mind when one thinks about Réunion's west coast. Apart from its scenic seaside, the west has a multitude of treasures in store for all to see.
It all began when a sailing ship dropped anchor in the large Bay of Saint-Paul (for many years called the "Bay of the best Anchorage"). Saint-Paul, the capital of the island until 1738, has not kept many traces of the first settlers, except for a square structure of old stones, which might have been the foundation of a "case" (traditional Creole house).
The former capital is still well worth a visit, particularly for the luxuriant canyon of Bernica, eloquently praised by the famous French poet Lucent de Lisle, who is now buried in the seaside cemetery. Opposite the cemetery, one can pay an emotional visit to the deep excavations at the foot of the cliff, which are said to have been the settlers' first shelter. Saint-Paul is also well known for its pond and the picturesque road of "Tour des Roches" around it.
A fresh sea-smelling breeze welcomes the visitor as he reaches Saint-Gilles, Reunion's main seaside resort. Further along the road, after Saline-les-Bains, the white sand is replaced by impressive black cliffs below which the buffeting ocean gives birth to white foam geysers resembling a whale's spout. At Saint-Leu (one of the most beautiful surf spots in the world) the sand is grey and black on the beach of Etang-Sale ("Salt Pond").
A few kilometres down south, in Saint Louis, sugar cane fields stretch along the sea. Among them stand the chimney towers of the west's only sugar factory. Beyond lies the south...
Cirque of Mafate
There is more to the west than just miles of sandy beaches and cliffs. Its heights also beckon the visitor. The narrow roads rise suddenly and the nippy air is scented with flowers and geraniums (the "rosat" geranium whose leaves are distilled to make essential oil much sought after by the perfume industry). Higher up, the landscape is covered by a high altitude forest of acacias, scented mimosa, and "tamarins des Hauts" - an endemic species of trees (tamarind) with distorted trunks, appreciated by cabinetmakers. As the road suddenly stops at Maido, the plunging view over the cirque of Mafate will take your breath away.
A wealth of history
Some places in the west are evocative of the island's history: the Villele Museum and Chapelle Pointue (Pointed Chapel), the Stella Matutina Museum, tracing the history of sugar cane, and the Mascarin National Botanical Conservatory, working for the protection of rare and endangered plant species of the island and the Indian Ocean.