Top 10 things to do in Réunion
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A mountainous, heavily forested island east of Madagascar, belonging to France
Réunion is a country.
Réunion ; previously Île Bourbon is a French island with a population of 840,974 inhabitants located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, about 200 kilometres southwest of Mauritius, the nearest island.
Administratively, Réunion is one of the overseas departments of France. Like the other overseas departments, Réunion is also one of the 27 regions of France and an integral part of the Republic with the same status as those situated on the European mainland.
Réunion is an outermost region of the European Union and, as an overseas department of France, a part of the Eurozone.History
Before the arrival of the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century, there is little European knowledge of Réunion's history. Arab traders were familiar with it by the name Dina Morgabin. The island is possibly featured on a map from 1153 AD by Al Sharif el-Edrisi. The island may also have been visited by Swahili or Malay sailors.
The first European discovery of the area was made around 1507 by Portuguese explorers, but the specifics are unclear. The uninhabited island may have been first sighted by the expedition led by Dom Pedro Mascarenhas, who gave his name to the island group around Réunion, the Mascarenes. Réunion itself was dubbed Santa Apolónia after a favorite saint, which suggests that the date of the Portuguese discovery may have been February 9, her saint day. Diogo Lopes de Sequeira is said to have landed on the islands of Reunion and Rodrigues in 1509.
Over a century later, nominal Portuguese rule had left Santa Apolónia virtually untouched. The island was then occupied by France and administered from Port Louis, Mauritius. Although the first French claims date from 1638, when François Cauche and Salomon Goubert visited in June 1638, the island was officially claimed by Jacques Pronis of France in 1642, when he deported a dozen French mutineers to the island from Madagascar. The convicts were returned to France several years later, and in 1649, the island was named Île Bourbon after the House of Bourbon. Colonization started in 1665, when the French East India Company sent the first 20 settlers.
"Réunion" was the name given to the island in 1793 by a decree of the Convention with the fall of the House of Bourbon in France, and the name commemorates the union of revolutionaries from Marseille with the National Guard in Paris, which took place on 10 August 1792. In 1801, the island was renamed "Île Bonaparte", after Napoleon Bonaparte. The island was invaded by a Royal Navy squadron led by Commodore Josias Rowley in 1810, who used the old name of “Bourbon”. When it was restored to France by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the island retained the name of "Bourbon" until the fall of the restored Bourbons during the French Revolution of 1848, when the island was once again given the name “Réunion”.
From the 17th to the 19th centuries, French colonization, supplemented by importing Africans, Chinese, and Indians as workers contributed to a range of ethnicities. Starting from 1690, most of the non-Europeans were enslaved. The colony abolished slavery on 20 December 1848. Afterwards, many of the foreign workers came as indentured workers. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 reduced the importance of the island as a stopover on the East Indies trade route.
During the Second World War, Réunion was under the authority of the Vichy Regime until 30 November 1942, when Free French forces took over the island with the destroyer Léopard. Réunion became a département d'outre-mer of France on 19 March 1946. Its département code is 974.
For a period of around two decades in the twentieth century , 1,630 children from Réunion were relocated to metropolitan France, particularly to Creuse, ostensibly for education and work opportunities. But many were abused or disadvantaged by families with whom they were placed. The fate of these children, known as les enfants de la Creuse, was brought to light in 2002. Réunion exile Jean-Jacques Martial filed a suit against politician Michel Debré for "kidnapping of a minor, roundup and deportation". In 2005, a similar case was brought against the French government by the Association of Réunion of Creuse.
In 2005 and 2006, Réunion was hit by a crippling epidemic of chikungunya, a disease spread by mosquitoes. According to the BBC News, 255,000 people on Réunion had contracted the disease as of 26 April 2006. The neighboring islands of Mauritius and Madagascar also suffered epidemics of this disease during the same year. A few cases also appeared in mainland France, carried by people traveling by airline. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin sent an emergency aid package worth 36 million Euro and deployed approximately five hundred French troops in an effort to eradicate mosquitoes in the island.Politics
Réunion sends seven deputies to the French National Assembly and three senators to the Senate.Administrative divisions
Administratively, Réunion is divided into four arrondissements, 49 cantons, and 24 communes. It is a French overseas département as well as a French region. The low number of communes, compared to French metropolitan departments of similar size and population, is unique; most Réunionnaises communes encompass several localities, sometimes separated by significant distances. Réunion is part of the Indian Ocean Commission.Geography
The island is 63 kilometres long; 45 kilometres wide; and covers 2,512 square kilometres . It is located above a hotspot in the Earth's crust.
The Piton de la Fournaise, a shield volcano on the eastern end of Réunion Island, rises more than 2,631 metres above sea level and is sometimes called a sister to Hawaiian volcanoes because of the similarity of climate and volcanic nature. It has erupted more than 100 times since 1640 and is under constant monitoring. It most recently erupted on 5 February 2015. Before that, the most noticeable was during April 2007, when the lava flow was estimated at 3,000,000 cubic metres per day. The Piton de la Fournaise is created by a hotspot volcano, which also created the Piton des Neiges and the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues.
The Piton des Neiges volcano, the highest point on the island at 3,070 metres above sea level, is north west of the Piton de la Fournaise. Collapsed calderas and canyons are south west of the mountain. Like Kohala on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Piton des Neiges is extinct. Despite its name, snow practically never falls on the summit.
The slopes of both volcanoes are heavily forested. Cultivated land and cities like the capital city of Saint-Denis are concentrated on the surrounding coastal lowlands. Offshore, part of the west coast is characterised by a coral reef system.
Réunion also has three calderas: the Cirque de Salazie, the Cirque de Cilaos and the Cirque de Mafate. The last is accessible only on foot or by helicopter.
View from satellite
Réunion from space . The three cirques, forming a kind of 3-leafed clover shape, are visible in the central north west of the image. Piton de la Fournaise, in the south east, is covered by cloud.
Lava flow emitted in 2005 by the Piton de la Fournaise
"Plage de l'Hermitage" beach
The climate in Réunion is tropical, but temperature moderates with elevation. The weather is cool and dry from May to November, and hot and rainy from November to April. Precipitation levels vary greatly within the island, with the east being much wetter than the west. There is more than 6m of rain a year on some parts of the east and less than 1m a year on the west coast.
Between 7 and 8 January 1966, Cilaos at the centre of Réunion received 1,869.9 millimetres of rainfall. This is the greatest 24-hour precipitation total ever recorded on earth. Another part of the island holds the record for most rainfall in 72 hours, 3,929 millimetres at Commerson's Crater in March 2007 from Cyclone Gamede. Commerson also holds the record for most rainfall over all periods ranging from 4 to 15 days from a storm in 1980.Environment
The island has been designated by Unesco as a protected natural site.Wildlife
Réunion is home to a variety of birds such as the White-tailed Tropicbird . Its largest land animal is the Panther chameleon, Furcifer pardalis. Much of the West coast is ringed by coral reef which harbours, among other animals, sea urchins, conger eels and parrot fish. Sea turtles and dolphins also inhabit the coastal waters. Humpback whales also migrate north to the island from the Antarctic waters annually during the Southern Hemisphere winter to breed and feed, and can be routinely observed from the shores of Réunion during this season.
At least 19 species formerly endemic to Réunion have become extinct following human colonization.
Between 2011 and 2013, there were 12 shark attacks in the waters of Réunion including a 15 year-old girl who was bitten in half. In July 2013 the Prefect of Réunion Michel Lalande announced a ban on swimming, surfing and bodyboarding off more than half of the coast. Lalande also said 45 bull sharks and 45 tiger sharks would be culled, in addition to the 20 already killed as part of scientific research into the illness ciguatera.Economy
Sugar was traditionally the chief agricultural product and export. Tourism is now an important source of income. In 2007, the GDP of Réunion was estimated at 13,740 million euros and the GDP per capita was 17,146 euros. Unemployment is a major problem in Réunion, the rate stood at 30% in 2014, 60% among young people. According to Le Monde, 42% of the population was living below poverty line in 2010.Demographics
Ethnic groups present include people of African, Indian, European, Malagasy and Chinese origin. Local names for these are: Yabs, Cafres, Malbars and Zarabes and Chinois . All of the ethnic groups comprising the island are immigrant populations that have come to Réunion from Europe, Asia and Africa over the centuries. There are no indigenous people on the island as it was originally deserted. These populations have mixed from the earliest days of the island's colonial history resulting in a majority population of mixed race and of "Creole" culture.
It is not known exactly how many people there are of each ethnicity since the French census does not ask questions there about ethnic origin, which applies in Réunion because it is a part of the 1958 constitution, and also due to the extent of racial mixing on the island. According to estimates, whites make up approximately one-quarter of the population, Indians make up roughly a quarter, and people of Chinese ancestry form roughly 3%. The percentages for mixed race people and those of Afro-Malagasy origins vary widely in estimates. There are also some people of Vietnamese ancestry on the island, though they are very few in number.
People of South Indian origin make up the majority of the Réunionnais of Indian origin; Gujarati, Bihari and other origins form the remainder of the population. The island's community of Muslims from North Western India, particularly Gujarat, and elsewhere is commonly referred to as Zarab.
Creoles , make up the majority of the population. Groups that are not creole include people recently arrived from Metropolitan France and those from Mayotte and the Comoros.Religion
The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism with Hinduism, Islam, Chinese folk religion and Buddhism also represented, among others.Language
French is the only official language of Réunion. Although not official, Réunion Creole is the native language of a large part of the population and is spoken alongside French. Creole is used informally whereas the official language of any administration, office as well as education is French.
Due to the diverse population, other languages such as Mandarin, Hakka and Cantonese are also spoken by members of the Chinese community, but fewer people speak these languages as younger generations start to converse in French and Réunion Creole. The number of speakers of Indian languages is also dropping sharply. Arabic is taught in mosques and spoken by a small community of Muslims.
English is a compulsory second language as part of the French school curriculum, but as in mainland France, English fluency is rare. German and Spanish are offered as a third language. Tamil is also taught as optional language in some schools.Public health
There are no public health threats. In 2005–2006, Réunion experienced an epidemic of chikungunya, a viral disease similar to dengue fever brought in from East Africa, which infected almost a third of the population due to its transmission through mosquitoes. The epidemic has since been eradicated. See the History section for more details.Culture
Réunionese culture is a blend of European, African, Indian, Chinese and insular traditions.
The most widely spoken language, Réunion Creole, derives from French.
Local food and music blend influences from Africa, India, China and Europe, resulting in a unique, diverse culture.Transport
Roland Garros Airport, handling flights to Madagascar, Mauritius, South Africa and Europe serves the island. Pierrefonds Airport, a smaller airport, has some flights to Mauritius and Madagascar.Media
- Journal de l'île de La Réunion
- Le Quotidien
The Internet Movie Database lists three films as having Réunion as their filming locations:
- Mississippi Mermaid
- the documentary Johnny Backstage
- the documentary Réunion Island: An Overview
- Antenne Réunion
- Réunion 1ière
- Télé Kréol
- James Rogers and Luis Simón. The Status and Location of the Military Installations of the Member States of the European Union and Their Potential Role for the European Security and Defence Policy . Brussels: European Parliament, 2009. 25 pp.