Reunion – “The French Narnia of Africa”

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Somewhere off the coast of Madagascar, 9000km from Paris, there is a little piece of France floating in the Indian Ocean. Despite being very, very far away from the homeland, Reunion Island is part of France whether you can wrap your head around it or not. The 51km wide island forms part of the African coast and is home to almost 900,000 people and is the largest of the Mascarene Islands. Known to the French as La Réunion, the island found its first settlers back in the 16th century when migrants from both France and Madagascar made their way to its shores. This African and non-African island is the birthplace of Roland Garros, the first person to fly solo, non-stop across the Mediterranean Sea and whom the French Open tennis stadium is named after. Today, La Réunion is an extension of France and both the currency and language are the same between the two. The island is tropical and vaunts white, sandy beaches and turquoise blue waters around the entirety of its borders.

And after reading the introduction and you are still confused why is there a piece of France floating around the Indian Ocean, let us divulge further. Firstly, a flight from Paris to Reunion Island will set you back just a few hundred euros and a negative COVID-19 test of course. When you land you can visit the most expensive road in France, which is situated on the island in Saint-Denis. Saint-Denis is the capital of the island and happens to be the 21st largest French city, and officially the largest French city but not physically attached to the land of France. When it comes to Reunions’ culture it varies in a mix of other cultures, influenced by Africa, Europe, China, and India. The local food and drink showcase a similar influence from each culture with most of the population being Catholic followed closely by Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists.

Unlike the situation in the Comoros Islands, where Mayotte remains an overseas French region (department), but where their sovereignty has been an issue in Comoros that has led to past conflict, there is no large political movement for independence or other confrontational issues of the sort in Reunion. As Reunion’s economy and economic structure are highly dependent on France with its main industries being tourism, agriculture, and fishery. Tourism consists mainly of beach resorts and with the spending by tourists amounting to $300 million in 2015 or about 1.7% of Reunion’s nominal GDP ($18.1 billion). In terms of agriculture, in addition to vegetables for domestic consumption, Reunion also produces fruit (lychees, mangoes, pineapples), vanilla and sugar. Sugar has been a major industry in Reunion since the 17th century and is its main export item. However, the island is affected by a high unemployment rate, which is three times the EU average for young people. Low levels of qualification and early school leaving remain a challenge. The economy remains fragile due to lack of basic infrastructures, and high transport costs.

The Island that was first called by the Arabs “Dina Morghabine” and then “Bourbon Island” holds the most significant landscapes of natural habitats and of the most active volcanoes on the planet and the greatest treasure of Reunion Island. Le Piton de la Fournaise volcano is the most visited place on the island and the most thrilling attraction. This volcano can be visited by helicopter or microlight planes, but the best way to discover the volcano is the hard way, on foot. These natural wonders of Reunion Island were recognised in 2010 by UNESCO that listed the Reunion National Park in the list of natural resources classed as World Heritage, because of their outstanding universal value. The Island of Reunion is more than a little French but rather an exotic corner of France. In the middle of the Indian Ocean.