Travelogue Reunion 4: Saint Pierre

SAINT PIERRE

02-03 January 2019

Following the windy-windy route from Cilaos back to the coast, you’d never guess it was only 45 km; it was a good hour and a half’s drive. You can only imagine how remote the Cirque must have been before that route was formalised – in 1927 if my French correctly translated the info at Roche Marveilleuse – and tarred!

Saint Pierre was quite the opposite. A vibey beachtown with actual congestion along the beachfront, as everyone inched along eagle-eying for a parking space. With the row of shops, snackbars, restaurants and holiday flats and everyone in swimwear, it was reminiscent of the Durban of yesteryear, before it got all the fancy promenades.

Our hotel was right on the beach. Like, *right* on the beach, to the point that our ground level suite’s round windows were like portholes. Our neighbour was the hotel’s snack bar, whose equivalent portholes were serving hatches to their customers on the beach side.

We were hot from the drive so wasted no time putting on our swimmers and sampling the view. The hotel provided beach chairs and umbrellas and we were soon set up on the other side of our bedroom window.

The sea in Saint Pierre wasn’t as blue nor the water as warm as what we’d experienced this far, but it was popular. Safety is a big issue in the sea on Réunion beaches with both strong currents and sharks a real concern. The water in the ocean lagoon was about thigh-high for a couple of hundred metres before shallowing further on a reef bank, so relatively immune to both hazards.

We left a full beach behind when we decided on a change of scenery for sundowners and took a long walk down past the marina to the fishermen’s village.

Not much was open – either too early for the dinner setting or closed for the holidays – but there is always somewhere to get a cold Dodo and the little slice of golden sand at La Petite Plage was as good a place as any to watch the sun melt into the sea.

I’d been quite disappointed at the poor show in the fishing village, hoping for a nice fish ‘n chips. It was not to be. What we did find though, was a buffet-style dinner that had all sorts of seafood and Creole dishes so we loaded up on salmon, magret (duck; both hot and cold), jambon, mussels… And… And… And… A veritable feast!

THURSDAY

In advance of our trip up the volcano the next day, Thursday’s mission was to see the effects of the volcano from the beach road. We would be roadtripping around the Southern bit of the island (also, interestingly, the southernmost tip of the EU).

We had planned to brunch on our first stop, Saint Joseph, which was a bit of a disappointment as a rather functional and light industrial little town with a disproportionate representation of mechanics shops, tyre dealerships and, oddly, banks.

That didn’t stop us grabbing a quick burger though, drawn in by an “extra extra bacon” sign and free WiFi. Not pretty in the conventional sense, but attractive enough!

We made up for our utilitarian meal experience with our first real taste of sightseeing, at Cap Mechant.

As a young volcano that regularly erupts (more than 200 times in the last 350 years), Réunion is literally still growing and the Route des Laves – the road that runs across where the lava flows from the volcano to the sea – bears testament to the awesome power of nature when it has an agenda.

Cap Mechant, at the start of the Route des Laves, is a cove where waves crash against storeys-high black lava cliffs formed by the lava castings over several eruptions. The resultant seaview effect, along with signage warning of sharks and sure-death currents is quite dramatic – in stark contrast to the clifftop where we were walking, where, presumably from the minerals from the lava, the grass was bright green and as flat and fine as a golf green!

Back on the road, our next 2 stops were intended to be Saint Philippe, a speck of a town, and then blink-and-miss-it Le Tremblet. Neither worth stopping at, we soldiered through to the last stop, Coulee de Lave 2007, which required veering around a traffic circle of sorts formed around a tree in the middle of this national road (vindicating our assessment of the previous two towns being easily missable).

The Coulee on the other hand was not a landmark easily missed, with the hardened lava cutting a long grey strip from as high as you could see (the customary afternoon clouds had rolled in, obscuring wherever the top was) right down into the ocean. The rich, thick forests on either side created stark contrast, as did the bright green saplings that had finally pushed their way through. Like at Cap Mechant, the new greenery seemed brighter than the rest, either fed by the lava’s nutrients or just an optical illusion against the dull terrain.

The end of the road for the day’s adventure, turning around and getting back to Saint Pierre was a much quicker affair since we’d only covered 46km in total, which was less than an hour on the national (tree-free) road.