When I asked a couple of people about Saint Denis in Reunion, I didn’t get that many positive responses. It’s the capital of the island and while I wouldn’t say it has a bad reputation, it doesn’t seem like people are rushing to visit the city for some reason. I was determined to find something about the city that I loved by spending a day wandering the streets.
Luckily, I managed to prove that it’s definitely worth a visit to this historical centre to see the traditional Creole architecture, spend some time amongst urban locals and generally enjoy the public spaces in Saint Denis.
We decided to catch a public bus from Boucan Canot. Another misconception that I had been lead into was that the bus system on the island was complicated and non-existent. While I would definitely recommend hiring a car to explore the more remote parts of Reunion, catching a bus into Saint Denis was perfectly convenient and inexpensive. For EUR2 we were taken all the way through to Le Barachois, the main waterfront of the city, complete with antique canons keeping guard at their posts.
We climbed off at this stop and made our way along Avenue de la Victoire. This really is the main avenue in the city and all the way down, boasts buildings that have since been destroyed or renovated to their former glory with informative plaques on their gates. There is a courtyard just a few blocks down from Le Barachois which has some local cafes that really are ideal for a lunch stop.
Continuing down Avenue de la Victoire, you’ll come across the Visitor’s Information Centre which is filled with pamphlets and ideas on things to do across the island and a couple of monuments and other buildings of interest.
We never crossed the river to see Notre Dame de la Delivrance (pictured below), mostly because it was way too hot to walk that much further and my zoom was sufficient enough. P and I had spent so much time in churches and cathedrals in Italy that the memory is still a little fresh to tour all of the Reunionese churches too.
At the end of Avenue de la Victoire lies the Jardin de l’Etat, a pretty botanical garden that lies in the centre of the city. While there isn’t too much to see here, it was a great space to stop and have a short rest from the heat before carrying on through Saint Denis. The Christmas decorations were still up in the garden, as well as a few mechanical kiddies rides. This is a great spot for a picnic if you want to avoid spending a fortune in a restaurant over lunch.
We crossed down to one of the streets running parallel with Avenue de la Victoire and made our way back towards the waterfront, but turned right onto Rue Marechal Leclerc instead. This road has been closed off to road traffic and acts as a high street of sorts for shoppers looking for anything from high-end goods to basic clothing and a whole lot of other things in between. The high-end shops are definitely closer to Avenue de la Victoire, but we chose to walk along this for two reasons: to head back to the bus terminal in the late afternoon and to catch a glimpse of the Tamil Temple which is sort of wedged between some stores on the Eastern side of the city centre.
I personally wish we had been able to visit a Tamil Temple on our visit. The carvings and colours of the architecture is just so exquisite, but between our timing and our casual dress, this sadly wasn’t an option.
This route is a bit deceiving on the map. It looks like a really long one, but it was ideal to occupy for most of the day. We didn’t time our day as well as we could’ve and missed the early bus, which resulted in us waiting at a bus stop for two hours (we should’ve checked the schedule earlier) and therefore also missed the gap for lunch. Our Lonely Planet guide helped immensely and really helped in creating our own little walking tour of the city centre.
This route will fill up the better half of a day and can be done at a relaxed pace with plenty of photo and snack stops along the way. I’m sure I missed out on a whole lot of photo opportunities and I have to say thanks to my P who was gracious enough to deal with my terrible mood in the heat!