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A French island thriller! Volcanic Reunion in the Indian Ocean will take your breath away

  • Reunion is located in the Indian Ocean, 1,300 miles off the east coast of Africa
  • Celebrity Rave's Siobhan Warwicker checked into the luxury Lux* Saint Gilles resort
  • She then ventured to Mauritius, where she found the landscape more forgiving

We could be entering a kingdom imagined by Tolkien. My fists clench as the chopper surges down a sheer gorge, skimming past the forested edges, a waterfall bubbling away beneath.

For such a small island – it’s the size of Dorset – Reunion makes you feel tiny. No wonder the French snapped it up in the 17th century. 

In the Indian Ocean, 1,300 miles off the east coast of Africa, it is the EU’s very furthest outpost.

Reunion is located in the Indian Ocean, 1,300 miles off the east coast of Africa

Reunion is located in the Indian Ocean, 1,300 miles off the east coast of Africa

It shares a bloodline with Mauritius, 140 miles away. Both burst into existence from the same volcanic hotspot, their mountainous hearts a reminder of violent beginnings. But they couldn’t be more different.

Beach-lovers don’t bother with the 30-minute flight from Mauritius to Reunion. And you’ll need more than a swimsuit on this island, which is made for adrenalin junkies.

No one encapsulates this spirit better than our runner and surfer guide Alexis Vincent, who I am following, gingerly, down 12ft of jumbled rocks into a narrow cave.

Using our headlamps we duck dripping stalactites. Are we traversing a centuries old cave? No. It’s the same age as Alexis: 31.

Hidden across Reunion, these lava tunnels form when the crust cools around a flowing core. They are the work of Piton de la Fournaise, one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

Reunion, which is a volcanic hotspot, is a showcase for nature at its most impressive

Reunion, which is a volcanic hotspot, is a showcase for nature at its most impressive

Back in daylight, we bound over fields of solidified lava, like wrinkled elephant’s skin, broken only by the crowns of trees poking through their basalt tombs.

Another volcano, lurking underwater off the coast, causes strange deep-sea fish to float, ready cooked, to the surface. But as we hike up to the breezy clifftops above Grand Anse beach, I spot the spout of a blue whale.

Reunion isn’t only a showcase for nature at its most impressive, it also delivers a flash of France. In Saint-Pierre, on the south coast, yachts are moored and anglers in striped jerseys are fishing. ‘Our capital is Paris!’ our driver declares. I daren’t say it’s actually Saint-Denis.

Cuisine is, inevitably, a fusion – and a tasty one. The samosas I buy from Saint-Paul market are filled with ‘poisson et fromage’, and a typical lunch is vanilla-curried duck. In true French style, we drink wine with lunch. Like true Creoles, we bookend each meal with rum.

From the town, it’s a winding 90-minute drive up to the rainforest of Cirque de Salazie, one of three collapsed volcanoes, which, along with La Fournaise, engulf the island’s centre. Mist rising from the canopies is an atmospheric backdrop to the pastel houses. 

On Reunion, Daily Mail's Siobhan Warwicker checked into the luxury Lux* Saint Gilles resort

On Reunion, Celebrity Rave's Siobhan Warwicker checked into the luxury Lux* Saint Gilles resort

She found the hotel was a real treat after a day of intrepid adventuring 

She found the hotel was a real treat after a day of intrepid adventuring 

Returning to my resort, Lux* Saint Gilles, is a treat after the day’s adventures and every evening I swim in the ocean.

Luckily, Lux’s white beach is on a coral-protected lagoon, so unlike most of Reunion’s shores, it’s safe to swim. Those mighty swells, which attract world-class surfers, are shark infested.

Attacks are rife. Alexis has been face to face with a bull shark. Did it put him off?

‘Non! I’m an addict,’ he says. With two surfers killed in the past year, the sport is now banned everywhere apart from two beaches, which are rigged with nets.

Mauritius, on the other hand, basks safely behind a protective and far-reaching barrier reef. The pace of life is gentler here, the landscape more forgiving. Along the shore-line, hedonistic five-star resorts vie for attention like birds of paradise. For my visit, I stay at Lux* Belle Mare, on an exclusive eastern stretch.

By day, I cycle past fishing villages and fields worked by women in tropical skirts, or snorkel then snooze on the hotel’s pristine beach. Evenings are more energetic. One night I join a troupe of Mauritian Sega dancers, who teach me to ‘swish’ to each slap of the drum.

Pack your walking boots and your party shoes for these two wildly different, but wildly wonderful, islands. 

TRAVEL FACTS 

Hayes & Jarvis (hayesandjarvis.co.uk, 01293 762 456) offers a ten-night holiday from £1,995 pp, with five nights at LUX* Saint Gilles in Reunion, and five nights at the LUX* Belle Mare in Mauritius, both B&B, plus Air Mauritius flights. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR celebrityrave

Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

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