September 30, 2014

Five reasons to visit Reunion Island

In the third of our five reasons to visit series, we hop over to a little French island in the Indian Ocean, Reunion Island. If you’ve never heard of it or are wondering why it’s so special, read this traveller’s Reunion Island experience. Here are just 5 reasons why it’s a must-visit…

1. No visa needed! 
Reunion Island only really appeared on the South African travel radar a year ago, when the need to get a visa was scrapped. Since then the Reunion Tourism Board has put a lot of effort into attracting South Africans to visit their little paradise.

2. The volcano. 
There aren’t many places in the world where you can safely stand right in front of it and watch a volcano erupting. The island’s Piton de la Fournaise is one of the safest and most active volcanoes in the world. It’s also the same type of volcano as you would find in Hawaii so Reunion is the much more obvious choice to visit!

3. A world in one
The sheer diversity of landscapes blew my mind. From stunning lagoon beaches and deep green valleys in the cirques to the lunar landscape of the volcano and mountain top villages, it’s the whole world in one little island. Some parts might remind one of Hawaii, the rainforest, the Drakensberg, the Alps, other Indian Ocean islands like Mauritius and tiny French villages, all with the same excellent road network and infrastructure you would expect in mainland France.

4. The cuisine
Diversity is what Reunion does best. From the landscapes to the people, it’s no wonder that the cuisine is a melting pot of different cultures. French croissants, macaroons and pastries to Creole caris (their version of our curries), with lots of vanilla, rum and sugar infused in it all.

5. A short flight
There are direct flights from Johannesburg on Air Austral twice a week and you can look forward to fantastic airline food (Air Austral is often complimented on their delicious in-flight dining). Read about a flight with Air Austral here.

Book your flight with your Sure Travel consultant here.

Read five reasons to Paris here and Venice.

September 29, 2014

My Reunion Island MascaRun experience

From the 7-14th September, 24 South African travel consultants and media representatives flew to Reunion Island to take part in the first ever MascaRun South Africa. I was one of the lucky few to take on the challenge and even got to bring home a MascaRun trophy, being part of the winning team!

Organised by the Reunion Island Tourist Board, with their partners Air Austral and LUX* Island Resorts, the MascaRun was a chance for those of us in the travel trade to discover what Reunion’s all about. The MascaRun involved 4 days of various challenges. From cocktail mixing competitions and essential oil, jam and rum tastings to treasure hunts and races on trikes, Segways, transparent kayaks as well as 6 metre high river jumps and Maloya dance-offs, it was an awesome challenge for the body, mind and even the soul.

Before my visit, I had read as much as I could about this little French island on the Reunion Island Blog and social media. The photos looked great and I thought I knew what to expect. Was I wrong! Reunion Island blew my every (high) expectation out of the water.  Like the Reunion Tourism Board tagline, it really is so much more than I could ever have imagined.

Looking at photos or videos online can give you a good idea of what things look like. But not much could have prepared me for how I would feel when standing in front of the Piton de la Fournaise volcano, surrounded by nothing but a lunar, deep chocolate-to-black desert of dunes. If that isn’t cool enough, you are literally walking above the clouds. At 3071 metres high, the volcano floats above the sea of clouds formed at 1900 metres below.

I couldn't have predicted how I would feel as my stomach dropped for a second (at the same time as my jaw) as our helicopter skimmed over the top of a mountain top and plunged into another world. A “rainforest meets Lord of the Rings” landscape of forest, mountains, waterfalls and green valleys, otherwise known as Cirque de Salazie.

The delight of spotting humpback whales as our coach drove along the excellent “very French” highways right next to the ocean, the island’s version of Cape Town’s Chapman’s Peak. The sore legs, and the resulting high, after finally reaching our lunch spot high up in the Mafate cirque after a 3+ hour hike. And then not having to hike back down, but getting a lift by helicopter!

Enjoying the quiet sounds of nature while floating down the calm river, interspersed only by the screams and cheers of us MascaRunners jumping off cliffs. Having a good laugh and hip shaking as we all attempted to out-Maloya dance the other teams. Licking my lips after tasting Reunion Island’s fast food special; the delicious bouchon gratinĂ© - a huge baguette topped with pork dumplings and melted cheese. Smiling at the bright colours, textures and relaxed faces of locals and tourists while browsing the market in Saint-Paul.

Swimming in the warm, clear, completely calm waters of the lagoon. Wiggling my toes in the sand watching the sun set with a traditional “dodo” beer in hand. Breathing the fresh mountain air in the “Swiss Alps” – the spa town of Cilaos high up in the mountains of Cirque de Cilaos. Sampling sweet potato cake lovingly made by a local family while gazing out over their lentil fields and the deep valleys below. I loved everything about Reunion. So. Much. More.

And after all that, the shock and then joy as my team (named Mafate but nicknamed Team Chocolat after our Cadbury coloured t-shirts) was announced the winner! Team-mates Johnathan Hollard, Tamarin Seymour and myself get to go back next year to compete in the Mega MascaRun with travel industry members from around the world!

As much as I discovered already, the island has so much more that I cannot wait to experience. Au revoir ile de la Reunion… until next year!

Looking for more reasons to visit Reunion Island?

It all began when a 16-year-old Jenna got on a plane for the first time and headed to Germany for 2 weeks on a school exchange. Returning well and truly bitten by the travel bug, after finishing school she hopped on a plane and headed off to London. Since then, she has eaten her way through Eastern Europe, dozed in a hammock on a tiny island dotted in Lake Malawi, tracked Wild Dogs through the hills of Zululand, and explored the major sights of her first love – Europe.

September 26, 2014

Merville Beach Hotel in Mauritius

The second in our series reviewing the 8 hotels on our recent Sure Travel educational to Mauritius, is Merville Beach. Merville Beach is situated just a 10/15 minute walk from Grand Baie so it's ideal if you would like to be close to the action of Grand Baie, but far enough away to enjoy a more secluded beach.

Read about the Mauritius educational here and other hotel reviews here.

What I really liked about Merville is that you can't access the beach walking along the shore from Grand Baie which is great if you aren't keen on having people walking back to their hotels right past your lounger, while you're trying to relax on the beach.

View Merville Beach packages here.

Merville Beach is a 1 hour 15 minute drive from the airport. Classified as a 3* superior hotel, it is managed by the luxury hotel group LUX Resorts. As a result it has many of the little "LUX" details you could expect at one of the LUX hotels, such as the LUX* ME Spa, LUX toiletries, the cinema on the beach experience, phone home facility, etc.

The reception area

The reception area

The hotel has 169 air conditioned rooms, all sea facing or with partial sea views. The accommodation consists of a main hotel block, deluxe beachfront rooms (literally right on the beach) and thatched bungalows in the garden. I would recommend that if you can, opt for a deluxe beachfront or bungalow room rather than the entry level rooms in the main block. The main block just felt too much like a standard hotel/apartment block to me.

I got to enjoy a lovely room in one of the garden bungalows. There are just 2 rooms per bungalow - one on the ground floor and one up a short flight of stairs - so they feel private and peaceful. I was upstairs and had a spacious room with a huge balcony, large bathroom with separate shower and bathtub and a partial sea view through the garden trees.

Garden bungalow bathroom

Garden bungalow bedroom

Like all the LUX hotels, Merville has various environmentally friendly initiatives in place.

The bright and colourful welcome sarong placed on our beds.

Merville has a lovely, long sandy beach and is on a lagoon so is not affected by the tides. The hotel has all the usual facilities such as a kids club, a boathouse offering complimentary watersports such as windsurfing, kayaking, water-skiing, snorkelling and glass bottom boat trips and if you’re there for business, there is a conference centre that seats 100.

The view from the main hotel block.
I was impressed with the LUX* ME Spa that has a small private pool and a gazebo overlooking the sea where you can book a sunset massage. Stunning! If you must exercise indoors, the gym treadmills look right out onto the beach so this is a good view to have while you work up a sweat.

The LUX ME Spa with massage gazebo overlooking the sea.

View from the treadmills in the gym.

One of the facilities that we really loved was the "phone home" facility, in an old school phone booth complete with vintage phone. This is a LUX hotel feature that they have in all their hotels. You can phone any landline in the world for 3 minutes (they don't time your calls so if no one is waiting behind you, you can speak for as long as you like). The only rule? You aren't allowed calling the office! A good rule to have. I was also very impressed with the hotel's excellent Wi-Fi. It worked absolutely everywhere, even on the beach. Uploading photos to your Facebook to make all your friends jealous can be done with ease here!

Brenda from Thompsons & Charne from Sure Online enjoying the phone home facility.

I would recommend Merville Beach to anyone who is looking to be close to the vibe of Grand Baie, and who wants to be in a fun, "vibey" hotel. On weekend nights they have karoake, a DJ/disco and entertainment so there is a great party atmosphere to enjoy. The Grand Baie location is also ideal – close but not too close to the town.

LUX Hotels' wine range, charmingly called Scrucap, comes from Paul Cluver in the Western Cape.
A bright and happy lunch table setting.

We're not quite sure whether it was the architecture or the general relaxed and fun-loving atmosphere, but the hotel reminded us in a way of the MSC cruise ships. The special LUX features are also a nice finishing touch to the hotel. The staff are friendly and attentive and will go out of their way to make you feel welcome and “at home”.

A huge thank you to Sylvio and staff at Merville Beach for hosting us so wonderfully and ensuring we had a fun and fabulous time!

To book a holiday at Merville Beach, contact your Sure Travel consultant here.

Do you have a favourite Mauritius hotel? Let us know by commenting below.

It all began when a 16-year-old Jenna got on a plane for the first time and headed to Germany for 2 weeks on a school exchange. Returning well and truly bitten by the travel bug, after finishing school she hopped on a plane and headed off to London. Since then, she has eaten her way through Eastern Europe, dozed in a hammock on a tiny island dotted in Lake Malawi, tracked Wild Dogs through the hills of Zululand, and explored the major sights of her first love – Europe.