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Saturday, January 10, 2009


In the 1640s, Réunion was occupied by the French, displacing the Portuguese, who in 1513 had been the first European arrivals on the island. The island became prosperous during the 18th century when it lay on the shipping routes which carried trade between Europe and Asia. Sugar plantations, worked by slaves imported from Africa, formed the other main economic sector. Réunion was ruled as a colony until 1946 when it was granted the status of an Overseas Department of France, under which it is an integral part of the French State, which is represented on the island by a commissioner. Much French culture has seeped into the island's day-to-day life, intermixing with Réunion's African, Indian and Chinese influences, and creating a wonderful tropical twist. The predominant spoken language is French, the architecture leans towards the French models; but this is also a land of volcanoes and cyclone seasons. Equally, French dishes may be on the menu but they are usually subverted: you may well be served duck curry rather than the canard à l'orange you were expecting! It is little wonder that Réunion is a much-kept secret, since the French presumably want to keep this little gem of an island to themselves.Although this is an island of exceptional and bright turquoise waters, its quantity of sharks mean that swimming and other watersports activities may not be the number-one reason why visitors might want to go to Réunion. Far greater are its stupendous trekking routes across mountain terrain. Cirques – large volcanic valleys surrounded by mountains, creating a natural amphitheatre of about 10km (6 miles) in diameter – sink into the ground, replete with magnificent waterfalls and other natural features