It’s very easy to drive on most of the roads on Reunion Island, and like France is – Reunion is the perfect place to rent a car and just drive around to discover. One of our day trips this time around went to St Leu and it’s vicinity.
Saint Leu is a small coastal town, located on the west side of Reunion Island – a 45 minutes drive from Saint-Denis and 25 minutes from Saint-Pierre.
Our first stop was Le Souffleur. It is a natural curiosity of the sorts. An under water cave has been created after a volcanic eruption and a hole is located right above that. It results of water being blown (souffler = to blow – hence ‘the blower’) up through the hole. The ocean was rather quiet when we were there, but the water still erupts several feet up. It was a pretty cool sight. I can only imagine when the ocean is rough, it must be spectacular.
Pointe au Sel
After that we drove to ‘Pointe au Sel’ – a cap with gorgeous views just south of Saint-Leu. It is a protected natural site and the name Cape Salt comes from the presence of salt pans. There is a small museum, located in the old salt storage facilities – it tells you the story of the different salt pans of the Indian Ocean as well as information of the well known condiment. You can walk anywhere on the site and the kids thought it was really interesting to see how salt is collected. It is the last place on the island where they still make salt and if you are lucky you can see salt workers out collecting.
From June to September it can be a great spot to do Whale watching – as the mammals migrate to warmer waters to give birth and mate. There were a few people in the water (and there is a beautiful little natural pool) but swimming here is not allowed because of the great currents.
Kélonia – a sea turtle observatory
We continued our little drive and stopped at Kélonia, a sea turtle observatory. It is a centre whose purpose is to raise awareness on the nature and on the protected and endangered species as well as a research and treatment centre – they take in sick or injured sea turtles to care for them and then release again. The museum is in 3 parts:
- a Discovery area: where you can see the different environments the sea turtles involve in as well as see some species in their open air pool
- a Confrontation room: it is an exhibition on sea turtles
- the Future area: with multimedia and interactive displays – explaining what should be done to protect and preserve the endangered species.
There are always many discussions about zoos and places where animals are in captivity. I have to say I don’t enjoy as such visiting a place and see sea turtles in captivity – but having said that this observatory do a lot on a local level to educate on the importance of protecting their (and our) environment and for that I am willing to support this type of place. They were showing a map and how they have managed to create a better habitat for sea turtles to come a lay eggs on the beaches in and around Saint-Leu.
(info on their website: museesreunion.re).
Lunch and walk around at the Botanical gardens of Mascarin, Saint Leu
We then took a beautiful drive up the mountain to Mascarin, the Botanical Gardens of Reunion Island. It is one of these switchback roads that they have so many of! Even though they can be a bit hard to manoeuvre on, I just love them and the views out just get more and more gorgeous the higher you get!
First we had a lovely local lunch at Le Vieux Pressoir – the restaurant is located inside the Botanical gardens and if you are smart and organised (i.e. not like me!!) you pre-book and get free access to the gardens. But hey, we are on holidays and don’t always know where we end up – the settings are lovely and the food was absolutely great.
Kids had ice-cream and we went for a stroll in the gardens. It is a huge area with much to look at! Endemic plants, coffee trees, tropical fruits, amazing collection of palm trees and cactus, bamboos and other orchids.
Other things to do in Saint Leu
There many more things to do in and around Saint Leu and we could have stayed longer, but Kiddos 2 decided to call it a day! So here is a little list of other interesting things to do:
- The number one is apparently para-gliding! Obviously not a very child friendly activity – but we saw dozens of para-gliders and the views must be stunning.
- The one Kiddos 1 really wanted to do: La Maison du Coco. It is the only producer of virgin coconut oil in Europe. You can discover here the origin and uses of the coconut on Reunion island. (link in english)
- Musee Stella Matutina: an industrial museum where you can discover the past of the sugar industry on the island, as well learn more about Reunion Island, its people and past. (link in French)
- A visit to the market of Saint Leu – markets on the island are always fun and a great place to find local produce and small presents to take home.
- As usual lots of trails and outdoor activities! The best site to find those are definitely Randopitons.re. (link in French, but is a map)