Saint-Denis Travel Guide

Réunion's small but spirited capital, Saint-Denis, is a picturesque town flanked by three mountains and situated at the mouth of the Saint-Denis River. It boasts a mixture of sophisticated French-style restaurants, bars and nightclubs, as well as more traditional sights and sounds. Sadly, Saint-Denis is often sidestepped on trips to the island, used merely as a starting point thanks to its proximity to the airport. However, it is well worth taking some time to explore its charms before moving on.

The chic, upmarket seafront area known as La Barachois has a lovely promenade, and remnants of the small port that once existed can be found here. These remains include an old warehouse of the infamous Dutch East India Company that now houses the French Administration Offices. The Grande Marche (market) is a veritable treasure trove of Malagasy arts and crafts, fragrant spices and textiles, while smaller markets offer mouth-watering fresh tropical fruits and vegetables.

A distinctly French flavour blends with traces of African, Chinese, and Indian culture, creating a rich mélange that is evident even in the cuisine. Visitors should make sure to try a delicious cari (a meat or fish stew cooked in a sauce and eaten with rice) and rougail (a spicy tomato salsa), sample some excellent Chinese food from a tiny take-away or indulge in juicy mangoes or litchis off the stalk.

Saint-Denis boasts a fascinating mix of religious architecture, including mosques, Tamil- and Buddhist temples, and a cathedral, illustrating the cultural diversity of the island. There are several quaint old buildings, an interesting Natural History Museum, a modern art museum named after the poet Léon Dierx, and, as mentioned, remains of old VOC buildings.

Visitors should also get out of town and climb one of the three surrounding peaks for an unspoilt panoramic view of the town's scenic surrounds. Perhaps the most breathtaking of all is from Route de la Montagne (the Mountain Road), a steep track that winds up to the top of a lava cliff that drops dramatically into the sea.

Once the delights of Saint-Denis have been explored, the rest of the island paradise of Réunion awaits.