An untamable ocean, stark lava dried into a rugged rock, charming city-scapes, tumbling waterfalls and lush hillsides - this is Reunion Island as seen from the sky.
Many photographs snapped from my helicopter flip across the island were blurry, or focused on the windscreen, or have a pilot nose in the way. Luckily, that doesn’t matter, it is the vivid memory I cherish most.
The way my heart beats faster on recalling the whipping blades that carried us ever higher, or the way that the mountain peaks dissolved and gave way to abyss after plunging abyss, one spectacularly carved in two by the white stream of a thin waterfall, another pockmarked by dark lava splotches.
I want to clutch my seatbelt right now as I remember our aircraft pitching left, as though I might slip from the sky, and land inside a forested mountain fold.
But where to base yourself for such an unforgettable touch of fantasy in Reunion?
Why should travellers to Reunion stay in Saint-Paul?
Saint-Denis is the capital of Reunion and usually steals many visitors to the island. However, Saint-Paul, which sits along the north-west coast of Reunion makes an excellent base for soaring, sailing and swimming too.
The municipality of Saint-Paul includes the island's most exquisite beaches (L'Ermitage and Saline-les-Bains are renowned for their sublime waters, plus more conventional seaside resorts and beach loungings) and is home to the famous weekly open-air market.
2. The Weekend Market
Held every Friday and Saturday morning, an open-air market convenes breathtakingly on the seafront. The picturesque stalls and colourful produce of the Saint-Paul market make for a great culinary outing that doesn't break the budget for South African travellers. Peruse the local goods, snack on samosas, stock up on spice and enjoy the balmy sunshine.
You can even take a walk on the blackened beach sand, but don't be tempted to swim. One must take the swimming regulations seriously here on Reunion Island.
Love food? Read about Reunion's real cuisine, from farm to fork.
3. An exceptional helicopter ride
Not far from the market, lies the helicopter hangar of Helilagon. From this base (there are two on the island) you will hop aboard to traverse pea-green peaks, sparkling lagoons and cross the entire diameter of Reunion to circle an active volcano that dominates the south.
It's nothing short of fantastic to admire this scope and scale of the Island from the sky.
4. Sunset Crusing
From the sky to the sea, it's also simple to set sail from Saint-Paul. A catamaran sunset cruise grants guests another side to Reunion Island. The two-hour boat trip offers glorious golden hour landscapes of the pinnacled landmass, and in certain seasons whale-watching too.
Scientists have recorded 22 cetacean species that roam the waters around Reunion, including Humpback, Sperm whales and Fin whales, like South Africa, they’re best-spotted between June to October.
5. Hot Tub Retreats
Close to both the chopper and catamaran base, lies a city sanctuary. Lodge Roche Tamarin and Spa Village is a real treat. Each log cabin unit features a hot-tub spa bath built into the deck and boasts views of the Indian Ocean. It is also ensconced in trees and provides an awesome alternative to typical beach stays.
However, when you wish to venture further afield, this four-star stay is just a 20-minute drive from Saint-Denis and Saint-Gilles-les-Bains.
For further information, contact the Reunion Island Tourism Board South African Office at firstname.lastname@example.org
I've partnered with @gotoreunionisland and am reliving beloved memories from my trip there last year 🇫🇷 All opinions and recommendations expressed are my own.