A seaside resort par excellence, the region of Saint-Gilles is associated with relaxing on the beach and practising water sports, particularly diving. You can easily spend a week lazing on the sand and bathing in the lagoon; shopping in the markets and small shops and spending your evenings in bars along the seafront.
However, it would be a shame to stay in Saint-Gilles without making a few trips to its surrounding areas. Those who enjoy handcrafts should not fail to go to the market of St. Paul on Fridays to discover all that Reunion has to offer in terms of basketry, spices, cloth and other traditionally made items.
Hikers will enjoy walking around some of its cirques and those who enjoy a bit of adrenaline will love the experience of viewing the island by helicopter to be able to see Reunion in all its contrasts, with its slopes that reach 984 ft in altitude. From Saint-Gilles, you should visit Hermitage beach (undoubtedly the most beautiful beach in the surrounding areas and in Reunion itself). Situated just under 2 miles from the centre of the resort, it can, however, be difficult to get to during peak periods.
In fact, the two roads which lead to it have trouble absorbing the region's large fleet of cars. This causes traffic jams comparable to the traffic in the areas around London during rush hour; the only difference being that here people prefer to sit and sweat in the jam rather than beep their horns ? here politeness reigns over rules of priority on the road. On the congested roundabouts, for example, you should allow cars ahead to access the slip roads, and, most importantly, you should remain completely calm, even if you have to drive some 20 to 45 minutes to reach the seaside.
The most spectacular way of exploring the cirques is to take a helicopter ride, which costs around £150. Smaller budgets are better off taking the car or going by foot. You can approach the Mafate cirque from Maïdo, a view point located 5905 ft above sea level. From there, a footpath leads down to the bottom of the cirque to the islets and villages perched on the eroded tops of ancient volcanic chimneys.
The Hermitage beach, south of Saint-Gilles is the most beautiful beach on the island, along with that of Grande-Anse (near Saint-Pierre). Otherwise, there is not a lot to see in Saint-Gilles apart from the market and some shops (handicrafts, decoration). Go to St. Paul instead, or even Saint-Denis and while you're in the capital make some time to take an historic journey through the streets, which are lined with old listed creole houses.
In the mountains the skies remain clear early in the morning, but from 10:00 am -11:00 am clouds tend to gather on the summits. This natural umbrella quickly lowers temperatures, so do not forget to take a warm jumper and a windbreaker with you. Also, bear in mind that the high season (November to March) is not the best time to visit the island, as the hotels are crowded, more costly and, above all, there is a risk of cyclones.
Avoid driving during rush hour. It is impossible to cross Saint-Gilles in less than 30 minutes until 10:00 am and in the afternoon from 4:00 pm until dusk. The only solution is to book a hotel near the beach so that you don't have to worry about making the trip, and for excursions, leave at dawn or take alternative roads (double the travel time compared to the journey on the motorway).
The rougail (meat cooked in a spiced tomato sauce). It is delicious everywhere, including in small restaurants on the seafront, and excellent at one of the resort's well-known restaurants. Go, for example, to the gourmet restaurant of the Boucan Canot Hotel, or that of Saint-Alexis or Orangine in the Villas of the Lagoon. Specialities include fish, seafood, salad of palm core and achards, which are vegetable condiments that are often very spicy.
Bring back a bottle of rum (aged with vanilla, spices or fruits). Take home some vanilla beans (a vanilla clove or a vanilla extract) and exotic fruit jams (pineapple, guava, litchis) or go to the florists and buy some tropical flowers (packed in special packaging, they will easily survive the plane journey home). To enjoy all of these flavours and scents without even visiting Reunion, visit the web site: www.colipays.com.
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