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  • Overview

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

    The chic, upmarket seafront area known as La Barachois has a lovely promenade, and remnants of the small port that once existed can be found here. These remains include an old warehouse of the infamous Dutch East India Company that now houses the French Administration Offices. The Grande Marche (market) is a veritable 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 blends with traces of African, Chinese, and Indian culture, creating a rich mélange that is evident even in the cuisine. Visitors should make sure to 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, including mosques, Tamil- and Buddhist temples, and a cathedral, illustrating the cultural 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, as mentioned, remains of old VOC buildings.

    Visitors should also get out of town and climb one of the three surrounding peaks for an unspoilt panoramic view of the town's scenic surrounds. Perhaps the most breathtaking of all 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.

    Musee Leon Dierx

    The Musee Leon 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 once belonged to a Réunion-born art dealer, Ambroise Vollard, and was later donated to the museum by Vollard's brother, Lucien, after Ambroise's death in 1939. The museum is a must for art lovers and is lauded as the best art collection in the Indian Ocean. Tours of the permanent and temporary exhibitions can be arranged, but must be booked in advance. The museum is closed on Mondays.

    Leon Dierx Leon Dierx Thierry Caro
    Natural History Museum

    The Museum d'Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum) of Saint-Denis opened its doors in 1855 and was the first museum in Réunion. Home to a rich collection of the Indian Ocean's past and present fauna as well as rocks and minerals, the museum offers nature lovers a wonderful snapshot of the region's phenomenal natural heritage. As an added bonus, the actual building is listed as a historical monument, the grandeur of which alone is worth visiting for; plus, it's situated within the State Gardens (Jardin de l'Etat), a beautiful botanical garden that contains a number of exotic plants and trees, such as the talipot palm and the baobab.

    Natural History Museum Natural History Museum B.navez
    Saint-Gilles-les-Bains

    Close to Saint-Paul, on the northwestern side of the island, Saint-Gilles-les-Bains is a highly popular weekend destination, boasting a beautiful lagoon and gorgeous white-sand beaches. Once a sleepy fishing village, Saint-Gilles is now Réunion's most popular resort, attracting crowds of visitors intent on enjoying its wealth of leisure activities, watersports and lovely beaches. Snorkelling, scuba diving and swimming are all highly recommended here, 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 also has plenty of hotels and restaurants, though these tend to get crowded at peak holiday periods and over weekends.

    Saint-Gilles-Les-Bains marina Saint-Gilles-Les-Bains marina Damien Boilley

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    English Pronounciation

    Like the rest of Reunion, Saint-Denis has a tropical climate. November to April is hot and rainy, while the rest of the year is slightly cooler and drier. In Saint-Denis the summer temperatures average between 73°F (23°C) and 84°F (29°C), and in winter temperatures average between 64°F (18°C) and 75°F (24°C). Saint-Denis is home to one of the Indian Ocean's tropical cyclone monitoring centre, although the island itself is seldom affected. The cyclone season runs from mid-November to mid-April and the island is occasionally affected.

    Saint-Denis is a pleasant holiday destination year-round and is never cold, though it may be humid and rainy. Travellers generally prefer to visit in the cooler dry season, between May and October.

    Aéroport de la Réunion Roland Garros
    Location: Roland-Garros Airport is located approximately five miles (8km) east of Saint-Denis.
    Time: GMT +4.
    Getting to the city: Taxis are available from the airport, as is an airport bus to and from Saint-Denis that operates every day. The trip takes about 20 minutes.
    Car Rental: Car rental companies at the airport include Europcar, Hertz, Sixt, Budget and Avis.
    Facilities: The airport has a snack bar, restaurants, ATMs, a bookshop, cell phone charging stations, boutiques, restaurants, a multicultural space, a bank and a bureau de change.
    Parking The first 15 minutes are granted free of charge. Thereafter, parking charges start from €1 for every 15 minutes, up to a daily maximum of €35.

    A good local bus service called Car Jaune operates within Saint-Denis and links the city to the rest of the island. The roads are well maintained and car hire agencies are available. Renting a car is a good option for those who want the freedom to explore independently, but really shouldn't be necessary for a stay in the capital alone. Taxis can also be found at taxi stands or ordered by phone within the city. The historic core and seafront area of Saint-Denis can easily and safely be explored on foot.

    Saint-Denis, with its brasseries, bistros, cafes and Creole character, is a great jumping-off point for exploring the island paradise that is Réunion. This stunning little island town offers visitors architectural beauty, lively ambience, plenty of shopping and dining opportunities, and an abundance of French flair. We recommend visitors indulge in Saint-Denis's slew of excellent eateries and get their souvenir (and spice) shopping done here before exploring the rest of Réunion.

    Tourist attractions in Saint-Denis include the Parc du Colorado, a park that is ideal for a picnic or a barbeque and boasts beautiful views; the Jardin de l'Etat, a pretty little garden in the heart of the city; the Musee Leon Dierx, with its impressive modern art collection; and the Natural History Museum, where visitors can learn about the animals, plants and geology of Réunion.

    Of course, the real adventure begins when visitors venture a bit further afield on the island. There are many glorious excursions possible from Saint-Denis, which is best used as a travel hub for explorations of the natural wonders of Réunion.

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    No direct flights from Heathrow to this Destination