We could be entering a kingdom imagined by Tolkien. My fists clench as the chopper surges down a sheer gorge, skimming past the forested edges, a waterfall bubbling away beneath.
For such a small island – it’s the size of Dorset – Reunion makes you feel tiny. No wonder the French snapped it up in the 17th century.
In the Indian Ocean, 1,300 miles off the east coast of Africa, it is the EU’s very furthest outpost.
Reunion is located in the Indian Ocean, 1,300 miles off the east coast of Africa
It shares a bloodline with Mauritius, 140 miles away. Both burst into existence from the same volcanic hotspot, their mountainous hearts a reminder of violent beginnings. But they couldn’t be more different.
Beach-lovers don’t bother with the 30-minute flight from Mauritius to Reunion. And you’ll need more than a swimsuit on this island, which is made for adrenalin junkies.
No one encapsulates this spirit better than our runner and surfer guide Alexis Vincent, who I am following, gingerly, down 12ft of jumbled rocks into a narrow cave.
Using our headlamps we duck dripping stalactites. Are we traversing a centuries old cave? No. It’s the same age as Alexis: 31.
Hidden across Reunion, these lava tunnels form when the crust cools around a flowing core. They are the work of Piton de la Fournaise, one of the world’s most active volcanoes.
Reunion, which is a volcanic hotspot, is a showcase for nature at its most impressive
Back in daylight, we bound over fields of solidified lava, like wrinkled elephant’s skin, broken only by the crowns of trees poking through their basalt tombs.
Another volcano, lurking underwater off the coast, causes strange deep-sea fish to float, ready cooked, to the surface. But as we hike up to the breezy clifftops above Grand Anse beach, I spot the spout of a blue whale.
Reunion isn’t only a showcase for nature at its most impressive, it also delivers a flash of France. In…