Saint-Denis - Abbey Travel, Ireland



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Welcome to Saint-Denis


Réunion's small but spirited capital is Saint-Denis, a picturesque town flanked by three mountains and situated at the mouth of the Saint-Denis River. Saint-Denis is a mixture of sophisticated French-style restaurants, bars and nightclubs (with Parisian prices), and more traditional sights and sounds. Sadly, it is often sidestepped on trips to the island, used merely as a starting point due to its close proximity to the airport. However, it is well worth taking some time to explore its charms before moving on.

The chic, upmarket seafront area with its promenade is known as La Barachois, and remnants of the small port that once existed can be found, including an old warehouse of the East India Company that now houses the French Administration Offices. The Grande Marche (market) is a treasure trove of Malagasy arts and crafts, fragrant spices and textiles, while smaller markets offer mouth-watering fresh tropical fruits and vegetables. A distinctly French flavour mixes with African, Chinese, and Indian, creating a mélange that is evident even in the cuisine. Try a delicious cari(a meat or fish stew cooked in a sauce and eaten with rice) and rougail(a spicy tomato salsa), sample some excellent Chinese food from a tiny take-away or indulge in juicy mangoes or litchis off the stalk.

Saint-Denis boasts a fascinating mix of religious architecture, from mosques, Tamil and Buddhist temples, to its Cathedral, illustrating the diversity of the island. There are several quaint old buildings, an interesting Natural History Museum, a Modern Art museum named after the poet Léon Dierx and the facades of old East India Company buildings. It is also well worth getting out of town and climbing one of the three surrounding peaks for a gorgeous view. Perhaps the most breathtaking is from Route de la Montagne (the Mountain Road), a steep track that winds up to the top of a lava cliff that drops dramatically into the sea. Once the delights of Saint-Denis have been explored, the rest of the island paradise of Réunion awaits.

Information & Facts


Like the rest of Réunion, Saint-Denis has a tropical climate. Temperatures in the capital range between 70°F and 79°F (21°C-26°C). November to April is hot and rainy, while the rest of the year is slightly cooler and drier. Humidity is high, particularly on the east coast. Saint-Denis is home to the Indian Ocean's only tropical cyclone monitoring centre, although the island itself is only affected occasionally.

Getting Around

There is a good local bus service that operates within Saint-Denis, while another bus service links the island. The roads are well maintained and car hire agencies are available. Taxis can also be found at taxi stands or ordered by phone. The historic core and seafront area of Saint-Denis can easily be explored on foot.

French, as well as Reunion Creole and some English is spoken.

Réunion is an overseas départementof France and therefore since 2002, the unit of currency is the Euro, divided into 100 cents. There are plenty of banks and ATMs on the island, and most shops and hotels accept major credit cards (though most require a minimum amount for payments). Travellers cheques are widely accepted, with Euros the preferred currency. Banks are open on weekdays from 8am to 4pm. Most businesses are required to display their prices in their windows and restaurants and hotels must have their rates visible from the exterior.

Local time is GMT +4.

The Musée Léon Dierx in Saint-Denis houses an impressive collection of Modern Art, with works by some of the great masters of the genre such as Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso, Vlaminck and Morisot. Much of the collection was once that of the French art dealer, Réunion-born Ambroise Vollard, and was donated to the museum by Vollard's brother, Lucien, after Ambroise's death in 1939. The Museum is a must for art lovers, and the curious, alike.

The Museum d'Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum) opened its doors in 1855 and was the first of its kind in the Indian Ocean. The museum houses fascinating exhibits of the region's creatures, from shells to rare birds and mammals, as well as books and engravings. In 1945 and 1948, cyclones destroyed much of the museum's collection and it was forced to close its doors for several years, but today it boasts roughly 42,000 specimens. The museum is within the State Gardens (Jardin de l'Etat) - a beautiful botanical garden home to roughly 50 species of trees from around the world and numerous beautiful plants, ponds and walkways. A particular favourite in the gardens are the flowering lotus plants.

Réunion's shield volcano last erupted in July 2006 and is currently one of the world's most active, along with Kilauea in Hawaii. The volcano is spectacular and is one of the island's principal attractions, rising 8,565 feet (2,611m) above sea level. High cliffs, deep craters, legrandbrûlé(the burnt slopes) and lava streams create a stunning scene. In the past, lava streams have flown into the sea, destroying the main highway along the way. Eruptions usually occur within the caldera and therefore pose little threat to people. The walk to the summit takes roughly five hours and it is well worth finding out before hand about weather conditions as cloud cover can roll in quickly, preventing hikers from being able to make the climb. An alternative way to explore the area is by helicopter, although this is a more expensive option. Saint Paul, former capital of the island, is the closest town to the volcano and has a lovely street market (on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings), two miles (3km) of black-sand beaches, fine examples of traditional Creole houses, a seaside cemetery and other historic sites.

Close to Saint-Paul on the north western side of the island, Saint-Gilles-Les-Bains is a highly popular weekend destination, offering a beautiful 12-mile (20km) lagoon and gorgeous white, sandy beaches. Saint-Gilles was once a sleepy fishing village, but now it is Réunion's most popular resort, filling up with those seeking sun and fun. Snorkelling, diving and swimming are a must, but those tired of the beach can head to the Garden of Eden, a lovely botanical garden with roughly 700 species of tropical plants. Saint-Gilles has plenty of hotels and restaurants, though these tend to get very crowded at peak holiday periods and weekends.

Réunion is a place of spectacular natural beauty and one of its must-sees are its three main cirques, Cilaos, Mafate and Salazie. A cirque (or caldera) is a natural amphitheatre, created by a volcano collapsing in on itself. Salazie is perhaps the most striking, covered with roughly 100 waterfalls, most notably The Bride's Veil ( Le Voile de la Mariée) near Hell-Bourg, as well as lush vegetation. Cilaos has long been the site of a spa resort, boasting thermal baths for the wealthy inhabitants of the area in the 1800s. It was also once a refuge for runaway slaves. Today it still known for the Irene Accot Thermal Centre; a must for weary hikers. Mafate is the most remote of the cirques and its name is derived from the Malagasy for 'lethal,' illustrating the difficulty of accessing the area. Mafate is dotted with tiny hamlets (the largest is La Nouvelle) and there are no proper roads, so the only access is on foot. The cirques provide unparalleled hiking opportunities and unspoilt wilderness, and are within a few hours of Saint-Denis.

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