With extraordinary adventures to be lived intensely, Reunion is the “ultimate island”. We had the privilege to discover four of the original and exciting experiences offered by the Ile de La Réunion Tourisme (IRT) and meet its Vice-president, Sophie Durville, for a chat.
From the mountain peaks…
The island can be explored from top to bottom. Start by filling your lungs with mountain air as you spend “A night under the stars” at Kaz Insolite! A real “Touch of fantasy” in your Reunionese escape, as spending the night in the Plaine des Makes is an immersion in the island’s natural history. Located at a short distance from the Fenêtre des Makes, which overlooks the famous cirque of Cilaos, the whole place is a memorial to the land’s geological history. Shaped by the collapse of the former Piton des Neiges massif, three fabulous cirques – Mafate, Salazie and Cilaos – stand as relics of the primitive ages of this volcanic island, which is ceaselessly changing under the whims of erosion. Here, nature is queen. What could be better than to sleep under the stars in the middle of a coniferous forest at 1,500 m above sea level, while enjoying the comfort of a fully-heated transparent bubble and its five-star amenities: bathroom, small lounge, cosy bed, advanced connection? While you contemplate the star-filled sky from your own private observatory, you can rely on the iPad software provided to you to better understand the constellations. At this altitude, where temperatures can drop brutally at night, a locally-prepared raclette or fondue is served on dinner to help you stay warm. Out of the ordinary it is, for sure!
… To the seashore
Now that the highlands hold no secret for you, you may want to head down to the western coast, where milder temperatures and warm azure waters set the tone for a unique experience: a wonderful incursion in the undersea kingdom of La Saline, to share with your family and friends. “Can you draw me a fish?”, would say the Little Prince. A talented illustrator with a passion for the sea, Fred will take you on an atypical snorkelling tour, with drawing boards and magic underwater chalks as additional equipment. Leave your waterproof camera behind: this time, you will sketch your own vision of the most beautiful fishes and corals of the Indian Ocean, under the guidance of the expert artist. It will be both a feast for the eyes and food for the mind, as you memorise the poetic names of encountered species such as butterfly fish, damsel fish, wrasse… Then, it will be time for you to put the finishing touches to your work, while drying in the gentle sun, on the shore of the island’s largest lagoon.
From the air…
The ultimate island is also one of extremes, as the two excursions off the beaten tracks, which we have chosen for you, will prove. Reunion is the perfect place for the “big jump”. The helicopter takes off at St Pierre, the main commune of the South, and in a second, the island’s amazing contours unfold beneath your eyes. From the air, Reunion appears like a magical dome! You already had a glimpse of it when landing at the Roland Garros airport from the North-West coast. Only this time, you will jump in free fall from a helicopter at 3,000 m above the ground. There’s no need to worry: you will be on the leeward coast, sheltered from the trade winds of the East and securely harnessed to your carrier. The first few seconds of hesitation and surprise will give way to a rush of adrenaline, then you will let yourself glide, spellbound by the fantastic bird’s-eye view over the Piton des Neiges, the Grand Bénare and the Indian Ocean. Did you say “intense”?
… Or under the lava flow
Next comes the volcano – the place of all fantasies for tourists and islanders alike. You may not be lucky enough to see an eruption of La Fournaise, but even in periods of inactivity, it leaves men in awe. From the lunar landscape of Plaine des Sables to the superb craters of Dolomieu and Bory, a world of sensations is awaiting you. Feel the volcano’s heartbeat, under the 2014 lava flow! Julien, the professional guide, will lead you through a labyrinth where almost organic forms loom. You will reach a small cave and turn off your lamps. Suddenly, the complete silence is broken by what may sound like the primeval echoes of the Earth’s pulse. This is nothing but the sound of traditional instruments and Creole rhythms dutifully played by a quartet of musicians in perfect harmony with nature and the elements. Now, your heart and the heart of the Piton de la Fournaise are beating as one… In the mood for more thrills, discover trips on full moon nights!
Sophie Durville – Vice-president of the IRT and Person of Reference for experiental tourism
At what level does the Reunionese tourism industry position itself?
The destination projects the image of a trip to “the ultimate island”. This is represented through various markers, including the reassuring setting of a French region, which lends itself to outstanding experiences and human encounters around four flagship themes: nature, culture, wellness and gastronomy.
How does the IRT implement experiential tourism?
We have built our approach around the creation, the promotion and the commercialisation of experiences, which aim at facilitating the visitors’ immersion and provide them with lifetime memories. Local residents are enlisted in many of these programs to share their knowledge of the land and the country’s traditions.
What tools are being used to ensure travellers’ focus on the experience?
A collaborative working process had to be set up with all the tourism stakeholders in order to identify the specificities and ambiances of the territory. Ongoing support is provided to tourism service providers through various materials and educational resources, which they can use for their own knowledge or to promote the destination. They include toolboxes, videos, storytelling presentations, summary sheets for tour operators and travel agents, and a dedicated section on the “reunion.fr” website.