It's wise to book well in advance, particularly in high season (both the mainland France and local school holidays, particularly July, August and from mid-December to mid-January). If you're planning a hiking trip in September, October or November, it's also imperative to book gîtes de montagne as early as possible.
- Hotels Range from two-star ventures to a few luxury resorts.
- Gîtes Range from basic mountain lodges to more comfortable options.
- B&Bs These small, family-run houses provide good value. More luxurious versions are more like a boutique hotel.
- Meublés de Tourisme & Locations Saisonnières Rental houses. A great choice for self-caterers.
Bad news for those who want to spend their holiday under canvas: there are only two official camping grounds, on the southwest coast at Étang-Salé-les-Bains and L'Hermitage-les-Bains. You'll also find a couple of camping chez l'habitant (informal, privately run camping grounds) in Îlet-à-Vidot and Bébour-Bélouve. The Cirque de Mafate also features a few simple camping spots.
You can camp for free in some designated areas in the Cirques, but only for one night at a time. Setting up camp on Piton de la Fournaise (the volcano) is forbidden for obvious reasons.
Chambres d'hôtes are the French equivalent of B&Bs. They are normally tucked away in the hills or in scenic locations and offer a window into a more traditional way of life. Options include everything from restored Creole houses or modern buildings to rooms in family houses. On the whole standards are high, and rooms are generally good value. B&B rates are from around €50 for a double room. Upmarket versions are more like boutique hotels. Breakfast is always included.
Many chambres d'hôtes also offer tables d'hôtes (hearty evening meals) at around €20 to €32 per person (set menu), but this must be reserved in advance (usually the day before). This is a fantastic way to meet locals and sample the local cuisine.
Chambres d'hôtes can be booked by phoning the owners directly.
Gîtes de Montagnes
Gîtes de montagne are basic mountain cabins or lodges, operated by the local authorities through the Plateforme de Réservation – Île de la Réunion. It is possible to organise a walking holiday using the gîtes de montagne only.
The gîtes de montagne in Réunion are generally in pretty good condition. Thanks to solar power, they all have electricity (in the communal areas only), and usually provide warm showers.
Gîtes de montagne must be booked and paid for in advance, and charges are not refundable unless a cyclone or a cyclone alert prevents your arrival. In practice, you won't be denied access if you just turn up without your voucher, but you may not have a bed if it's full. Last-minute reservations may be accepted, as there are often last-minute cancellations.
You can book (by phone or online) through the Plateforme de Réservation – Île de la Réunion Tourisme or through any tourist office on the island, including those in St-Denis, Cilaos, Salazie, Hell-Bourg, St-Gilles-les-Bains, St-Pierre, St-Leu, St-André, Ste-Anne, and Bourg-Murat. It's highly recommended that you book well in advance, especially during the busy tourist seasons, as there's only a limited number of places available. One night's accommodation without food costs between €16 and €20 per person.
When staying in a gîte de montagne, you have to call the gîte at least one day ahead to book your meals (or you can ask for this to be done for you when you make the original booking). Dinner costs from €16 to €20, and usually consists of hearty carris (curries). Breakfast costs around €7 and normally consists of coffee, bread and jam. Payment is made directly to the caretaker, in cash.
Sleeping arrangements usually consist of bunk beds in shared rooms, so be prepared for the communal living that this entails, although the more recently built gîtes usually have a few private rooms. Sheets and blankets are provided, though you might want to bring a sheet sleeping bag (a sleep sheet).
It's not a bad idea to also bring along toilet paper and a torch (flashlight). It can get quite chilly at night, so warm clothing will be in order. Some places will let you cook, but many kitchens are so basic that you probably won't bother.
On arrival and departure you must 'book' in and out with the manager, who will collect your voucher and payment for meals. In theory, you're not meant to occupy a gîte before 3pm or remain past 10am.
Gîtes d'étapes, sometimes simply called gîtes, are privately owned and work in roughly the same way as the gîtes de montagne, offering dorm beds and meals. Some places even have doubles. One main difference is that you can book these places directly with the owners. There are numerous gîtes d'étapes in the Cirque de Mafate, and others dotted around the island; most are in the vicinity of walking trails. The host will often offer meals or cooking facilities.
Local tourist offices can provide lists of gîtes d'étapes in their area.
Meublés de Tourisme & Apartments
Meublés de tourisme and apartments (also known as locations saisonnières) are private houses and lodges that families and groups can rent for self-catering holidays, normally by the week or weekend (but increasingly with only a two-night minimum stay, sometimes even one night in low season). There are dozens of meublés de tourisme and apartments scattered all over the island.
Most offer lodging for four or more people, with facilities of varying standards. Costs vary from around €60 to €100 per night. If you average out the per-person, per-week price and factor in cooking several meals in the house, gîte stays can actually be quite economical. Plus, the gîte owner often lives nearby and can be a mine of local information.
Apartments, locations saisonnières and meublés de tourisme can be booked online or by phoning the owners directly. A deposit of some sort is usually required in advance.
If you're after serious cosseting and ultraposh digs, you might be looking at the wrong place. Most hotels on the island are rated as one-, two- or three-star, and lots are unclassified. There is only a sprinkling of four- and five-star hotels.
Hotels are found in St-Denis and around the beach resorts of the west coast, though you'll also find some in the attractive mountain towns of Cilaos and Hell-Bourg.