If you need to cool off, there's no better place than Bassin Bleu, appropriately dubbed 'the lagoon of the east', at the mouth of a river, on the southern edge of town. It's a superb swimming spot, with crystal-clear water and big boulders. Take a plunge! Note that it's mobbed at weekends.
You can learn more about Cilaos wine at the Maison des Vins du Chai de Cilaos. A short film (in French) is followed by a wine tasting session. Take home a bottle from about €13.
St-Benoît & Around
Very few visitors have heard about Îlet Bethléem, a magical spot by the Rivière des Marsouins that locals would like to keep for themselves. Reached after a 15-minute walk from the car park, it features an old chapel (1858) – still a pilgrimage site – and a smattering of picnic shelters amid lush vegetation.
This working vanilla-processing plant offers an introduction to the process of producing Réunion's famous Vanille Bourbon via a 45-minute guided tour and a film on the history of vanilla cultivation. You'll find various vanilla products at the factory shop. It's worth a visit just for the dreamy smell.
For a more off-the-beaten-track experience, you can continue upstream from Bassin La Paix to Bassin La Mer, another cascading delight that can be reached on foot only. The start of the trail is signposted from the car park, and it's an enjoyable (though exposed and hot) 40-minute walk. Reward yourself with a dip in the swimming holes at the bottom of the fall.
A fabulous place to chill out is the aptly named Belvédère de l'Eden, in upcountry Bras-Panon. From Bras-Panon, take the road to St-André, then turn left onto the D59 (in the direction of Vincendo, Bellevue) for about 9km (follow the signs) until you reach a car park. From there, follow the meandering trail signed L'Eden.
The area is ideal for stargazing. The Observatoire astronomique offers stargazing programs from 9pm to midnight. It's best to call ahead to confirm the program is on.
St-André & Around
If you're after Réunion's Vanille Bourbon, head to Plantation de Vanille Roulof, a small family-run operation where you can buy vanilla pods at reasonable prices (€11 for 25g). You can also find out about the technique of 'marrying' the vanilla, a delicate operation in which the flowers are fertilised by hand.
Ste-Suzanne & Around
At Domaine du Grand Hazier you'll also find La Vanilleraie, where you can see vanilla preparation and drying processes and also purchase vanilla pods. The manager speaks English.
Ste-Suzanne & Around
Garden fans and architecture buffs will especially enjoy a visit to the classic Domaine du Grand Hazier, a superb 18th-century sugar-planter's residence 3km southwest of Ste-Suzanne. It's an official French historical monument with a 2-hectare garden planted with a variety of tropical flowers and fruit trees.
Notre-Dame de la Délivrance, which sits on the hillside across the usually dry Rivière St-Denis, is noteworthy for the statue of St Expédit just inside the door, dressed as a young Roman soldier.
On Rue Jean Chatel you'll stumble across the colonial building, the Ancienne Maison des Notaires.
St-Gilles-les-Bains & l'Hermitage-les-Bains
Further south of the Plage des Roches Noires, lined with casuarina trees, is another alluring place to fry in the sun. Both beaches are safe for swimming and extremely popular on weekends. Snorkelling is better at Plage de L'Hermitage.