In 2014 I fell in love with Reunion Island. I visited the small Indian Ocean island three times last year and explored every angle - from high up in the air in the seat of a microlight to below ground in the lava tunnels created by the volcanic eruption of 2006. A short four hour flight from Johannesburg, with no visa restrictions for South Africans, crystal clear water and year-round warm weather, it’s a destination that I am sure I will return to many times in the future.
Reunion Island is incredibly diverse, with an active volcano, warm Indian Ocean lagoon teeming with marine life, over 1000km’s of lush hiking trails and a fascinating local culture. Home to just over 800 000 residents, Reunion’s religious and cultural landscape is a melting-pot of African, Asian and European influence.
On the island’s calendar of events and holidays, you’ll find Tamil holy festivals, Chinese New Year, Diwali celebrations, electronic music festivals, adventure film festivals and more. I’ve always thought that living on the island must mean a lot of public holidays, which is probably what adds to the general air of laid-back, chilled-out island life.
In December of 2014 I went over to celebrate the Festival Liberté Métisse; a celebration of freedom and the abolition of slavery. It’s a weekend-long event, which showcases local artisans, musicians and artists and culminates in a day of sultry Maloya music, dancing and festivities.
Hosted on the black volcanic sand on the beach in L' Etang-Sale, hundreds of cars line the streets as locals head to the beach to watch some of their favourite artists perform on the huge festival stage. All over the island, smaller gatherings are hosted at Kabars - small stages or outdoor music venues where traditional and local music is performed.
We were invited to the Kabar at the home of local musical icon Danyel Waro, where a small group of locals were dancing and celebrating barefoot in the mud after some uncharacteristic rain. I slipped off my shoes off and stomped around in the mud with revelling islanders - celebrating our shared history of oppression and freedom. Young and old and even kids were stomping and swaying and slipping as Waro and his band performed his songs that tell the stories of the Creole people’s battle against slavery and the joy of freedom.
In 2015, I hope to head back to the island for the world famous Sakifo Music Festival, where musicians from all over the world will take to the stage in the beachside town of Le Hermitage from the 23rd to the 25th of May. It’s hugely popular with thousands of locals and visitors soaking up the hot days and warm nights as musical acts from Africa, Europe and beyond play late into the night.
Here is a full list of 2015 events and festivals on Reunion Island.
CHINESE NEW YEAR (19 February 2015)
Year of the Goat - Traditionally celebrated between January and February, the Chinese New Year is an important cultural event for the Chinese community of Reunion. While the dance of the lions, traditional meals and colorful parades represent the festive side of this celebration, the New Year is also a symbol of spirituality and religious fervor in Chinese pagodas.
TAMIL NEW YEAR (13 April 2015)
On the day of Tamil New Year, Reunion’s Hindu community congregates at the temple, where a priest gives a reading of the annual forecasts for Pandjagom (Tamil calendar). They then celebrate the New Year around a vegan meal, alternating sweet and bitter foods to symbolize joys and sorrows. The various public festivities organized for this occasion are open to the general public.
FESTIVAL OF GUAN DI
The festival of Guan Di is an event dedicated to Chinese culture, expressed through its dishes and street artists. Dragons, dance troupes and lions bring the streets to life, especially near the pagodas in Saint-Denis, to the delight of visitors. Guan Di is an opportunity for us all to learn more about Chinese culture. A fun and festive introduction to this community, with a show by acrobatic and dance troupes as well as presentation of artistic handicrafts. www.guandireunion.com
DIWALI (All over the Island)In the Tamil religion, this colorful festival represents the victory of Light over Darkness. The parade at sunset is a beautiful sight to behold. Diwali is a major event in the Indian calendar and one of the island’s inescapable events.
An electronic music and visual arts festival. Eclectic, urban and festive, this event, with an emphasis on sustainable development, reinvents itself every year.
Association LES ELECTROPICALES: firstname.lastname@example.org
ADVENTURE FILM FESTIVAL
From extreme adventures to more low-key activities, there is something for everyone. Various films are up for competition, in the presence of the adventurous protagonists themselves. Association “Au Bout du Rêve”, organizer of the Adventure.
Film Festival in Reunion: www.auboutdureve.fr
LEU TEMPO FESTIVAL (Saint-Leu)
Leu Tempo Festival is the oldest and largest performance arts festival in Reunion, combining circus acts, street theatre and puppet shows. Held every year in Saint-Leu town Centre.
EUROPEAN NIGHT OF MUSEUMS (All over the Island)
Just like the rest of Europe, the island’s museums open their doors to the general public at night.
SAKIFO FESTIVAL (Ravine blanche Saint-pierre)
This festival is now synonymous with the island’s cultural music scene. The International Festival represents the very best of Reunion: a melting pot of different musical genres, including World Music, up-and coming French artists, stars of pop, rock and funk, and local artists, who come together for this 3-day open air event at the Ravine Blanche in Saint-Pierre, at the ocean’s edge. An eclectic festival in a warm and friendly atmosphere, packed with unforgettable experiences.
GRAND BOUCAN (Saint-Gilles)
Kids and grown-ups alike eagerly await this annual carnival (20,000 spectators), held during the austral winter. It consists of a parade of colorful floats in the main street of Saint-Gilles-les-Bains, and ends in the early evening with the ceremonial burning of the Dodo King on the beach of Les
WORLD MUSIC DAY (All over the Island)
For this event, popular in France, the island’s cities come alive for this day dedicated to music and its dedicated fans.
EUROPEAN HERITAGE DAYS (All over the island)This day is the chance to visit the museums, Creole houses and other monuments that make up the rich heritage of Reunion.
KALOO BANG FESTIVAL (Saint-Denis)
An eclectic music festival held in Saint-Denis, at the Parc des Expositions and the Barachois at the end of the month. Its aim is to reflect the diverse and multi-cultural image of the island and its capital. www.kaloobang.re
TAM TAM FESTIVAL (Saint-Paul)
International Festival for Puppet Shows and Performance Art. This festival combines culture and heritage. It has also been granted QAM (Quality Artistic Event) status, and approved by the Ministry of Culture and Budget. Entertainment for all age groups and educational and cultural activities for school children, children on holiday, training for professionals (artists, educators, entertainers, prisoners).
ZOT MOVIE FESTIVAL (Saint-Gilles)
Film Festival for extreme sports (short films). Video competition with awards for the best productions.
REUNION FILM FESTIVAL (Saint-Paul/Saint-Gilles)
This film festival has been held every year on the island since 2005, at the beginning of the month. This important cultural event, created, organized and chaired by Fabienne Redt is centered on the Multiplex Cinema in Saint-Paul and the Brisants beach in Saint-Gilles-les-Bains, where films are screened for free. It celebrates and rewards films by French directors, awarding prizes for first and second place.
LIBERTE METISSEThis event celebrate Abolition of the Slavery in Reunion Island. It takes part of the 20th December's festivities and it's synonym of liberty and recognition of the mixed culture. Liberté Métisse is: concert, theater, parade, screening of short film, animations, exhibition.
20TH DECEMBER FESTIVAL (All over the island)
Also known as “la Fèt’ Caf” or “La Fèt’ de la Liberté”, in memory of the abolition of slavery, this date is the island’s most celebrated festival (apart from Christmas), and one in which the entire population participates. Set to the rhythms of Maloya music, it is a popular jubilee, a chance to share stories and legends, prepare typical dishes (cari, rougail, etc.) and dance around the island.
OUTDOOR AND SPORTS ACTIVITIES
The route for this race crosses the heart of Reunion and forms a loop around the Piton de Neiges, across the three cirques of the island. A 53 km trail in the very Centre of the UNESCO
LE GRAND RAID
From 23 to 26 October 2014, across the island from south to north. This is the biggest sporting event of the year, eagerly awaited by thousands of local, national and international runners. It is aptly nicknamed “La Diagonale des Fous” (The Madman’s Diagonal), due to its extreme difficulty, and crosses the island from south to north. It features the island’s most beautiful trails over a course of about 150 kilometers, and 9000 meters total elevation gain. The 22nd edition of the Grand Raid will be held from 23 to 26 October 2014. The 16th edition of the Trail de Bourbon will be held on 25 and 26 October and the 4th edition of La Mascareignes on 24 October 2014.
FRANCE PARAGLIDING CHAMPIONSHIPS (Saint-Leu)
With the pilots generally flying in clusters, the islanders loves to come and watch this spectacularly colorful air show, a truly magnificent sight. It is also a festive event where sport, music and cooking form the basis for sharing the emotions and thrills of paragliding.
The Mégavalanche is a downhill mountain-biking competition, wherein the participants all leave at the same time (in contrast to the individual against-the-clock downhill sprint) over a distance of 15-25 kilometers with a vertical drop of between 2 and 3 thousand meters. The race is open to both professionals and amateurs. Avalanche Cup: www.avalanchecup.com
GOLFING FORTNIGHT (Saint-Gilles-les-Hauts)
This event takes place across the island’s 3 golf courses, and includes several competitions. Every year brings a host of golfing champions and amateur players alike, for a professional and friendly event.
GARDENS AND NATURE
SALON FE PEI
In the first half of June, for 3 days, this local arts and crafts fair is held at the Parc des Expositions in Saint-Denis. Emphasis is particularly placed on the promotion of Creole heritage and identity. As well as the products, cultural and artistic life is also in the spotlight. www.nordev.re
EXPO BOIS (Rivière Saint-Louis)
One of Saint-Louis’s major annual events, this ten-day woodwork event is a chance to discover the work of local craftsmen. Don’t miss this opportunity to meet the craftsmen and share their passion and love for working wood.
ETOILES DU TERROIR (Les Makes/Saint-Louis)
Once a year, the public come to this Creole village to sample local products, try star-gazing in the observatory of Les Makes, enjoy leisure activities and learn about local tourism providers.
FLORE ET HALLE (Le Port)
The place to be for all nature lovers. Each year, the highlight of this event is an exhibition which visitors will find poetic, educational and fun, constantly raising awareness and stimulating the senses. Location: Halle des Manifestations du Port.
The commune of Tampon has the highest number of horticultural enthusiasts on the island, and is the venue for the traditional festival of Florilèges. Flowers and plants fill the stalls, while live music and entertainment in the city Centre ensure its success.
ARTS AND CRAFTS MARKET, HANDICRAFT VILLAGE OF EPERON
In the abandoned buildings of the former sugar mill, numerous workshops and boutiques have set up shop. A lovely place for a stroll, meeting with craftsmen and designers who will share their passion. (There is also a night Craft Market in Eperon every 2nd Saturday of the month, at Place du villaz‘Artizanal de l’Éperon - with a different concert every month).
For the sixth consecutive year, Le Makassar, the gourmet restaurant at the Palm Hotel & Spa is organizing this festival, whose aim is to highlight the art of table decoration and dining, with a focus on food and wine. For the occasion, the great names of French cuisine and renowned winemakers representing different French wine regions will come together. www.palm.re
FETE DE LA CUISINE
Reunion Island boasts a rich and diverse cuisine. It is a subtle mosaic of European, Chinese, Indian and Madagascar inspiration. Also, the "Club de la Restauration Reunionnaise", with the help of its partners, including the IRT, organizes a special day every year dedicated to food. Restaurant owners come up with a “starter-main-dessert” menu with 50% discount for customers. www.reunion.fr
For more information on places to stay and things to do visit www.welcometoreunionisland.com, or visit blog.welcometoreunionisland.com. Book discounted tickets to Reunion Island with Air Austral’s. From 1 – 28 February 2015 they will be offering a special rate on their twice-weekly flights from Johannesburg to Reunion for travel during the period 29 March to 3 May 2015. Fares on return tickets start at R4 457, including taxes.