We are suckers for lush green islands with pointy mountains. Our jaws were perpetually dropped while on São Miguel Island in the Azores last year, and we’ve been struck in the past by Nuku Hiva in French Polynesia and St. Lucia in the Caribbean. But Reunion Island, a 39-mile-long spec of France in the Indian Ocean, may be tops (so far) in our book. Can cliffs get any steeper? Can you pack any more waterfalls into one viewpoint? Can you wedge any more vegetation into a valley?
Reunion is a volcanic island that rose up from a hot-spot under the earth’s crust. The hot-spot has moved relative to the earth’s surface over millions of years, leaving a chain of islands that stretch from India south to Reunion. Reunion is the newest member of the chain and still volcanically active, just like the Big Island is the newest and most active island in the Hawaiian chain. Its recent birth accounts for the dramatic topography and it is home to one of the most active volcanoes on earth, Piton de la Fournaise. It was quiet the day we visited but erupted as recently as last fall. We had to check it out. Because of the fresh lava and cinders, the volcano is the one part of the island that isn’t green. Instead you have a starkly beautiful moonscape, or maybe a Mars-scape since many of the iron-rich rocks have weathered into shades of red.
Reunion is a surprisingly cosmopolitan place. It packs in almost a million people throughout its many mountains and valleys. Like its neighbors Mauritius and Seychelles, Reunion was uninhabited until the arrival of Europeans a few hundred years ago and today the population is very ethnically mixed with people whose ancestors hail from Africa, Madagascar, Indian, China and Europe. It is an integral part of France and even had yellow vest protesters occupying a roadside park. Reunion has good infrastructure, including an offshore highway currently under construction that is said to be the most expensive road in the world by some measurement. We didn’t get a chance to see much of the capital Saint-Denis since we were so busy gawking at the mountains but we did have a pleasant morning at a Sunday market in an outlying beach town. We could have mistaken the farm tables, food carts and pyramids of artisanal condiments for a Seattle neighborhood market if it weren’t for the tropical fruits. Those who weren’t at the market were at big family picnics nestled in the trees by the beach. A giant storm was just an hour away, but the barbecues went on seemingly unconcerned.