This two-week Reunion driving tour combines the active volcano, Piton de la Fournaise, breathtaking scenery and picturesque mountain towns in the three Cirques, with a beach holiday where you can dive, surf, play golf, windsurf and paraglide. The itinerary is completely flexible - you can start on the coast and end in the mountains and spend more or less time in each place. It's a wonderful island and one of our favourite places for a self-drive holiday.
Day 1 Depart from the UK on the Air France flight to Réunion via Paris.
Day 2 Arrive in Réunion and collect your hire car. Drive east, through lush fields of sugar cane and past Tamil temples built by plantation workers, to Hell-Bourg, voted one of the most beautiful villages in France. Hell-Bourg is the main settlement in the lovely Cirque de Salazie and has many delightful Creole buildings here. Stay 2 nights at Diana Dea Lodge in a standard room with breakfast included.
Day 3 Salazie is the lushest of the three amphitheatres. Its 100 waterfalls plummet down spectacular gorges and cliffs like giant, silver ribbons. Walk to the hot springs, Les Sources Pétrifiantes, or drive to the outstanding viewpoint at Le Point du Jour and the nearby cascade. Go canyonning, mountain-biking or climbing or explore the Forest of Bélouve, with its endemic silvery tamarind trees.
Day 4 Drive south and cross the high plains, the area that separates the three cirques from the volcano. Nature enthusiasts should explore Bébour Forest, with its carpet of white lilies and dominated by enormous, prehistoric-looking tree-ferns. It is possible to see all the locally endemic birds and a variety of rare plants during one walk in Bébour Forest. Pause in Bourg Murat to visit the volcano centre. Stay at Les Géraniums, with its views of Piton des Neiges, at 3069m, the highest mountain in the Indian Ocean, with breakfast included.
Day 5 Explore the awesome volcano, Piton de la Fournaise (‘peak of the furnace’), which has erupted several times in recent years (most recently in September 2008). Then drive to the village of St Philippe on the verdant, tropical southeast coast. To discover why St Philippe is one of Réunion’s easternmost settlements, drive a short distance towards Tremblet to see the recent flows of lava. In this part of the island, the rugged coast is one of black pebble beaches or black volcanic cliffs. Retrace your route to stay 2 nights at Villa Belle near St Pierre with breakfast included.
Day 6 From Villa Belle you could visit St Pierre, with its charming fishing port, 19th-century dry dock, and craft market. Walk to La Rivière Langevin with its amazing waterfalls. Or do the botanical ramble at Mare-Longue and the Garden of Perfume & Spices (1½ hour-walk in the middle of tropical trees, flowers and spices) near St Philippe.
Day 7 Drive west along the coastal highway and inland to the mountain town of Cilaos. This is a superb, scenic drive with views of the island’s high mountains and steep gorges – you will understand why Réunion has been called 'the Nepal of the Indian Ocean’. In Cilaos, stay 2 nights at the very comfortable Hotel Tsilaosa with breakfast included which has wonderful views over the cirque, friendly service – and good cooking.
Day 8 The Cilaos amphitheatre is the largest of the cirques, with a beauty akin to the Alps in summer. There are wonderful hiking trails up into the mountain forests and among the ravines – and gentle, shorter walks. There are scenic drives to La Roche Merveilleuse and the hamlet of Ilet a Cordes. Just outside town, the Irenée Accot health spa offers a wide range of treatments. Activities include canyonning (abseiling down waterfalls), mountain biking, guided walks and tennis. Alternatively, we can arrange an overnight hike – Piton des Neiges is one popular choice.
Day 9 Wind your way back down to the coastal highway and drive to Hermitage-les-Bains to spend 7 nights at the refurbished 5-star LUX* Ile de la Réunion (formally Grand Hotel du Lagon) in a superior room with breakfast included.
Day 10 The hotel has tennis courts, bikes, the largest pool on the island and a choice of four restaurants. The beach is protected by a coral reef and the snorkelling is very good. Diving, and surfing, golf and paragliding are available nearby. Drive up to Le Maido, on the rim of the Cirque de Mafate for breathtaking views of the peaks and into the cirque itself. You could make a day hike along the rim to the summit of Le Grand Benard or descend to the village of Roche Plate – or from St Gilles, take a helicopter trip into the cirque.
Day 16 Drive to the airport, return your hire car, and check in for the Air France flight to the UK via Paris.
This trip has no fixed departures but restrictions may apply - check operator website