In September, Alex and I had our “big” honeymoon, in Mauritius and Réunion. We’d taken a break to Skye immediately after our wedding last February. But we decided also to have a bigger getaway — the sort of holiday we don’t normally have.
I’m certainly not normally the sort of person to go on a sunny beachy type of holiday. But neither of us wanted to spend a week and a half lounging in the sun. The result was a holiday that perfectly balanced adventure and chill.
Saturday 14 September
We drove to Glasgow Airport to catch our first flight, to Gatwick, where we would have a couple of hours to kill.
I still hold a grudge against Gatwick airport since I was caught by their Oyster honey trap. I had tapped onto the train with my Oyster card, but when I tried to tap off at Gatwick a man with a card machine was waiting for me, and others like me.
He gleefully told me that Gatwick is not in London, it is in West Sussex, and therefore I now had to pay a fine. He wasn’t able to explain to me why they had Oyster readers there, but chose to switch them off and instead employ someone to hoover up the fines.
Having to spend some hours in this rude airport, we did a bit of last-minute shopping in Boots. On a whim, we bought a disposable camera. Some of those shots are featured on this post. But we kept on forgetting about it, so most of the photos were actually just taken on the last day.
We had a beer and then went to Wagamama. We discovered that Wagamama do breakfast. Since we would be in Gatwick at breakfast time on the way back, we already knew where we would go for breakfast.
It would certainly beat the breakfast I got on the British Airways flight to Mauritius. When booking the flights, Alex had listed my dietary requirements, which meant I had dairy-free meals. My breakfast bizarrely consisted of a rather dry chicken breast. This followed on from my dinner the previous night of… a rather dry chicken breast.
It was all the more disappointing because at first I thought the chicken was a poached egg. It turns out I was eating the egg’s mother. That famous breakfast meat: chicken. I suspect the dairy-free option also doubles up as the halal option.
That wasn’t even my only onboard refreshments fail. When I asked for a beer I was disappointed to be handed this can of piss. Luckily Alex came to the rescue and made a more specific request: Brewdog.
I had been dreading the 12 hour long flight. I am not a brilliant flyer, and I had never been on a flight anything like this long.
In the event, it passed by rather comfortably, and I slept well. I watched the three episodes of This Time with Alan Partridge that I hadn’t seen yet, then book-ended my sleep with the Bros documentary, When the Screaming Stops. Many laughs were had, probably to the annoyance of the passengers around me.
Sunday 15 September
After landing in Mauritius, we took our transfer to our hotel, Lux Belle Mare, which was just over an hour away from the airport. We would be staying in Mauritius for just one night, before flying to Réunion for a few days, then going back to Mauritius.
The driving standards in Mauritius are seriously hair-raising. Our driver was rather a risk-taker, and a couple of times I thought I was going to meet my fate in the face of an oncoming vehicle. In moments of calm, I looked at the armco barriers separating us from the Indian Ocean, and noted how many of them had been destroyed and left unrepaired.
Just before arriving at Lux Belle Mare, we passed Salt of Palmar, which is where we would be staying later on in the holiday. We did not realise that the two hotels we’d booked are essentially next door to each other.
We booked the honeymoon in parts, some by ourselves and some by a travel agent. So it was a bit unfortunate that we didn’t realise, and on reflection it would have made better sense to stay for this evening in a different part of the island.
The beach was sickeningly stunning.
We had a nice lunch — I had spaghetti with mussels and Alex had a fish burger. I enjoyed a Lux colada — basically a blue-coloured frothy piña colada.
We explored the beach for a bit.
Because it was our honeymoon, the hotel kindly gave us a bottle of fizzy something-or-other, which we enjoyed as the sun set.
A little later, we we gleefully participated in a rum tasting. We were fed rum after rum after rum. The significance of each was explained to us, but none of the explanations mattered as much as consuming the rum.
At one point, Alex decided to get us glasses of water from the water station. She brought back what turned out to be two full tumblers of coconut flavoured rum. Alex was mortified for helping herself to so much rum. But the barman seemed unworried, saying that someone last week had done the same thing! Perhaps he should label his deceptive rum station.
We went to the Indian buffet and ordered ourselves some cola to water down the rum. We were only a little bit too drunk.
Monday 16 September
We checked out of the hotel, and we were rather ritualistically given little bracelets with the Lux logo on them. I kept mine on for the rest of the holiday.
Our taxi back to the airport was a little less stressful than the previous day’s ride. Our driver was friendly and chatty. Halfway through he informed us that he used to participate in illegal street racing all over the island! Despite his background, his was actually the safest driving we experienced in Mauritius!
In the airport, we saw this extraordinary dodo-shaped bottle of rum for sale. Our immediate reaction was that it was a bit naff. But truth be told, we’ve regretted not buying it, at least as a gift for someone!
Time for a beer before the short flight to the island next door.
We landed in Réunion under the clouds. It felt very different to the sunshine paradise we had just left.
It was quite a novelty to be re-entering the EU all the way out in the Indian Ocean. We knew that Réunion was part of France, but we were not prepared for just how much it would feel like we were in France. Our taxi driver spoke almost no English. It was much busier and more heavily developed than we had expected. The roads were designed and built to the usual high French standard.
Leaving Saint-Denis, we saw a lot of construction work. At first I thought it was a flood defence, but it became clear that it was in fact a massive road bridge. Alex asked our driver about it, and he used Google Translate to inform us, with mixed success.
The new coastal road, as it’s known, was described to us by one person as the biggest project in Europe. And it’s not even in Europe! It is estimated to cost €1.66 billion, and to take seven years to complete. But it’s deemed necessary because the existing road is highly susceptible to falling rocks, often killing people trying to get from A to B.
Our destination was Saint-Gilles, a glorious lagoon on the west of the island. Once again we were staying in a Lux hotel, but this one felt rather different to the one in Mauritius.
We were astonished to arrive at our room finding it adorned with flower petals and a couple of swan/heart-shaped towels on our bed. And another bottle of fizzy something-or-other!
We were also treated to a romantic dinner on the slightly breezy beach.
Tuesday 17 September
It was an early start as we had booked a volcano tour that departed at 7am. We shared a car over great distances with two other British couples, one of whom was also from Edinburgh! Unfortunately, we were all rather tired and reserved, and chat was at a minimum. I felt sorry for the tour guide who seemed to have a tough gig, and kept on noting how no-one was asking any questions or even speaking at all.
The tour would last until after 5pm. Our guide took joy in pointing out that the distance of our trip was in fact longer than the entire coastal road in Réunion. A long day for him.
This volcano and wild south tour centred around Piton de la Fournaise, one of the most active volcanos in the world. It most recently erupted on 11 August.
The first stop was to view the Vallée de la Rivière de Remparts, a huge valley caused by a collapse of the earth following the release of magma.
We seemed to be a very long way up. Our guide noted: these look like bushes, but they are trees 20 to 30 feet tall. The river in fact runs underground and apparently there are also subterranean forests as well.
We wound our way towards the summit of the volcano, driving through huge, awesome Martian landscapes.
This is the volcano itself: Piton de la Fournaise.
We stopped to look at the wide variety of vegetation in these largely uninhabitable areas.
Incredible Martian landscapes.
Then we moved on to the Church of Notre Dame des Laves.
This was surrounded by lava flow in 1977, but “miraculously” the church was not destroyed.
But it’s not quite as dramatic as it looks. Apparently all this lava rock has been added more recently for show.
From there, we drove a short distance to the coast to see where that lava flow met the Indian Ocean to increase the size of the island.
This stunning black beach was definitely unlike any beach I’ve been on before.
Then we stopped off to view a location where you could see two separate lava flows overlapping each other.
The difference in two was highly noticeable, with lichen covering the older flow, and vegetation gradually reclaiming all the land.
It was only when we got to lunch that we started getting to know our fellow tourists a bit better. Despite the length of the trip, lunch was the last event of the day, making it a long, hungry morning.
Lunch was at a homely farm restaurant called Le Palmiste. We were served authentic creole food that felt very home-made. We were also offered lots of free rum and red wine.
Our tour guide seemed a little stressed making sure we all had enough food and drink. But I also got the sense that he lives for this lunch. It’s the perk of his long day driving and talking.
Back at the hotel, and after a couple of piña coladas we had dinner in a slightly more sheltered area than the previous day.
One interesting thing about this hotel is the number of cats that wander around, seeking scraps of food from the guests, more like dogs. This particular cat even climbed its front legs straight on to a guest’s chair to request a bite to eat.
Wednesday 18 September
Our volcano tour was pretty adventurous, but we had something even more exciting in store — a helicopter tour of the island. This was my second time in a helicopter, the first time being just a month previously.
We arrived at Helilagon, staring at these incredible shiny-looking blue helicopters. They looked really cool, and I was excited to be riding one!
Then they told us it was time for us to board. We turned the corner, and we were ushered to this slightly more regular-looking helicopter with a rather 1990s livery
Oh well! A helicopter is a helicopter.
The other bit of a bad news was that our planned tour had to be changed because of the weather conditions.
The weather is highly variable across the island, which we got a big sense of on the road trip the previous day.
Although things were usually hot and sunny at sea level, up at the volcano it was below 10°C, cloudy and rainy.
We were told there was too much cloud cover over the volcano, so we wouldn’t be able to go there.
That was a shame because it was kind of the point of taking the trip!
However, this helicopter ride was definitely the highlight of the holiday for me.
I thought I was going to die at least twice, and I’m still here to tell the tale.
I don’t really know where we went, so I will just let the pictures speak for themselves.
Unfortunately I was sitting in the middle, so these pictures aren’t brilliant.
The helicopter flew through a cavernous valley, leading up to a stunning waterfall.
The pilot did a few manoeuvres to rise above the top of the waterfall.
Eventually I stopped taking photographs.
I realised my shots from the middle seat couldn’t really do it justice.
We still took loads too many photos to feature here though!
Heading back to land.
We still had most of the day to relax.
So we took a walk along the beach and found a restaurant/bar to eat at.
I ordered the creole plate — a selection of Réunion’s eclectic cuisine.
I had to be careful not to accidentally eat crustaceans though. Despite shrimp paste being a very common ingredient here, many people didn’t seem to know what a crustacean is, even when I said “crustacé”.
We played a bit with the disposable camera on the way back.
We returned to the hotel and watched a stunning sunset over the Indian Ocean.
Before dinner we played a game of pool. It was one of the worst pool tables I’d ever played on. There were 6 red balls and 8 yellow ones. It took Alex a while to figure out that her cue didn’t have a tip.
For dinner, we had more creole food!
It was kind of similar to what we’d been having for the rest of our stay in Réunion. But we weren’t complaining, even if our eyes were larger than our stomachs.
Thursday 19 September
It was our last day in Réunion.
We breakfasted with the cats.
The weather was good so we sat on the beach for a few hours in the morning.
We went snorkelling, which wasn’t brilliant for me because I’m not a happy swimmer. I crashed into the coral a few times.
A few weeks after we returned from our honeymoon, a news story flashed up on my phone. Someone’s hand had been found inside a shark at Réunion. The rest of the man had not been found. The hand was recognised due to a distinctive wedding ring.
We later discovered that not only was the man from Edinburgh, but he’d also been staying in the same hotel as us, and he’d been snorkelling in the same lagoon as us.
Shark attacks are known risk of going to Réunion, although it is assumed that swimming in a lagoon should be safe. There are signs telling people where the humans should swim and where the sharks should swim. Seemingly the sharks didn’t read the sign on this occasion.
A group of sharks were found swimming where they were not expected to be. These sharks were killed for “research purposes”, which is when the hand was found.
Some people think the authorities in Réunion play down the risk of shark attacks to avoid denting the important tourism industry.
Back to our honeymoon, Alex enjoyed wearing her stunning new hat. She posted this lovely coupley picture of us on social media. Literally every comment was about her hat.
For lunch we took our final opportunity to have some beer from Réunion — Bourbon, nicknamed Dodo beer.
I had it with this excellent tuna tataki.
Before long, it was time to take the short flight (and two longer drives) back to Mauritius.
I’ll publish that blog post in the next week.