Guide: Reunion's Ancient Cities

June 20th 2023 in Facts
Guide: Reunion's Ancient Cities

The History and Culture of Reunion's Ancient Cities

Reunion is a French island in the Indian Ocean that is known for its stunning natural beauty, diverse culture, and volcanic activity. But did you know that Reunion also has a rich and fascinating history that dates back to ancient times? Reunion was uninhabited until the 17th century, when French settlers and colonial subjects arrived and established plantations. They were followed by slaves from East Africa and indentured laborers from Asia, who contributed to the island's ethnic and cultural diversity.

Reunion's ancient cities reflect its colonial past and its multicultural present. They offer a glimpse into the island's history, culture, and attractions. In this blog post, we will explore some of the most interesting ancient cities in Reunion, their history, culture, and attractions. Whether you are a history buff, a culture lover, or a curious traveler, you will find something to inspire you in these timeless destinations.


Saint-Denis is the capital and largest city of Reunion, located on the northern coast of the island. Saint-Denis was founded by the French East India Company in 1669 as a trading post and a military base. Saint-Denis became the administrative center of the island in 1738 and grew into a prosperous city with elegant buildings, churches, and gardens.

Saint-Denis's old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as part of the network of French colonial cities in the Indian Ocean. You can admire the architecture and monuments of Saint-Denis's old town, such as the Barachois, the seafront promenade with cannons and statues, the State Garden, a botanical garden with exotic plants and animals, the Natural History Museum, a museum with exhibits on Reunion's flora and fauna, the Cathedral of Saint-Denis, a neoclassical church with stained glass windows, and the Prefecture, a former governor's palace with a Creole-stle garden.

Saint-Denis is also a modern and vibrant city with a diverse culture and nightlife. You can enjoy the local cuisine at one of the many restaurants and cafes along the Rue du Maréchal Leclerc or in the Carré Cathédrale. You can also catch a show at the Grand Théâtre or visit one of the many cultural events and festivals that take place throughout the year.


Saint-Paul is another ancient city that dates back to French colonization. Saint-Paul was founded by François Cauche in 1649 as the first permanent settlement on Reunion. Saint-Paul was the capital of the island until 1738, when it was replaced by Saint-Denis. Saint-Paul was also the site of several historical events, such as the landing of Jacques de La Borde in 1665, the first governor of Reunion, the arrival of Mahé de La Bourdonnais in 1735, the founder of Port Louis in Mauritius, and the visit of François de Surville in 1769, the first French navigator to circumnavigate New Zealand.

Saint-Paul's old town is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as part of the network of French colonial cities in the Indian Ocean. You can explore the history and culture of Saint-Paul's old town, such as the Marine Cemetery, a cemetery with tombs of famous people such as Leconte de Lisle, a poet from Reunion, and Pierre Poivre, a botanist who introduced spices to Reunion, the Market Hall, a covered market with stalls selling local products and handicrafts, the Villèle Museum, a museum housed in a former plantation house with exhibits on Reunion's history and art, and the Grotto of Premiers Français, a cave where the first French settlers lived.

Saint-Paul is also a popular seaside resort with beautiful beaches and a mild climate. You can enjoy the sun and the sea at Boucan Canot, a sandy beach with waves for surfing, or L'Hermitage-les-Bains, a lagoon beach with calm waters for swimming. You can also explore the nearby Mafate Cirque, a natural amphitheater surrounded by mountains that is accessible only by foot or helicopter.


Cilaos is another ancient city that is located in the heart of Reunion's mountains. Cilaos was founded by runaway slaves in the 18th century, who sought refuge in the remote and inaccessible valley. Cilaos was later colonized by the French, who developed the cultivation of coffee, geranium, and lentils. Cilaos is also famous for its thermal springs, which were discovered by a French doctor in 1815 and attracted many visitors seeking health benefits.

Cilaos's old town is a charming and picturesque place that preserves its Creole heritage and traditions. You can discover the culture and attractions of Cilaos's old town, such as the Church of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, a church with a wooden bell tower and stained glass windows, the Embroidery House, a museum and workshop that showcases the art of Cilaos embroidery, the Wine House, a museum and shop that sells the local wine made from grapes grown on volcanic soil, and the Thermal Baths, a spa that offers treatments with mineral water from the springs.

Cilaos is also a paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers, who can enjoy the stunning scenery and activities of the Cilaos Cirque, a natural amphitheater formed by volcanic erosion. You can hike, bike, or drive along the winding roads and trails that offer breathtaking views of the mountains, waterfalls, and forests. You can also climb, paraglide, or zipline over the cliffs and gorges that challenge your adrenaline.

Reunion’s ancient cities are more than just historical relics. They are living and breathing places that offer a unique blend of past and present, culture and nature, tradition and innovation. Whether you want to learn about the history, admire the architecture, enjoy the cuisine, or relax by the sea, you will find something to suit your taste in these amazing destinations.

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