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The Réunion island – La Belle France

A perfect day in La belle France starts with a cafetière of strong coffee and a couple of those flaky buttery croissants that only the French can make. Followed by a relaxing time on the beach reading Nice Matin, Le Figaro and La Figaro. So says Peter Jones, a man who has taken so many holidays in France he’s practically a local…

A gentle stroll along the beach with my feet in the turquoise sea led me to the town of St Gilles. Here, overlooking the busy little harbour, a glass of pastis was followed by an excellent assiette of fruit de Mer, washed down with a couple of glasses of ice cold Muscadet. Wandering back to my hotel I stopped at a branch of Credit Agricole bank to replenish my euros. And stopped off at a Carrefour supermarket. Back at my hotel I enjoyed a supper of foie gras mi cuit and a perfect entrecote and frites, followed by a classic Rhum baba, all enjoyed overlooking the ocean.

Yes, a perfect day in la belle France.

But just une minute. The turquoise sea was not my French mother’s beloved Mediterranean Sea. It was the Indian Ocean. And not only was I south of the Equator – I was more than 9000 kilometres from Paris.

I was on the island of Réunion, a department of France.

A few useless facts:

  • The currency of Réunion is Euros.
  • The flight from Charles de Gaulle to Roland Garros airport is currently the worlds longest active domestic flight.
  • The most expensive road in the world is here.
  • And more people are eaten by sharks off Réunion’s coast than anywhere else in the world.

My base for my four nights was a rather elegant 5* hotel on the west coast, right on the beach. With a choice of several restaurants, it has all the trappings you would expect of a hotel of this class. Ironically my first meal was a beautifully cooked shark steak, which makes the current score one nil to me.

I am not a huge beach sitter, I normally like to just get lost, follow my nose and explore, but my time on the island was limited so I took a coach at 5.30 in the morning to take me to the Piton Maido which at 2190m high, AKA the Balcony of Réunion Island, offers truly spectacular views.

It was very cold; my pink seersucker shorts and Rolling Stones t-shirt may have looked cool on the beach but were totally inadequate up the mountain. Nevertheless, the views made the chill worthwhile.

Descending to sea level the coach dropped me and my companions at the weekly market in St Paul. Right on the beach it has everything you expect to find in a French market. Rotisserie chickens, mountains of saucisson and charcuterie and huge displays of cheeses. It’s what you’ll find in any French town…

…And then – quelle surprise! Piles of coconuts, pineapples, sugar cane and some of the weirdest looking vegetables I have ever seen. Some of them are so scary I would run a mile if I met them on a dark night back home in Oxfordshire.

But the big stars are the spices, great pyramids in every hue, filling the air with  sensational aromas. And of course the local speciality Vanilla is here. I couldn’t resist and filled my suitcase.

So if you want La Belle France with a tropical twist – head south, but take a couple of books it’s a long flight.

Peter Jones is a photographer and freelance writer who blogs at pinkshoesontour

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