A volcano, sea turtles, sugar cane, impressionist paintings or fleur de sel... As tourist and cultural sites, the four regional museums and the three departmental museums on Reunion Island, along with the Museum of Natural History, offer a practically exhaustive collection of the island's natural and patrimonial treasures.
1500 m3 of tanks in which graceful turtles are evolving in incredible colours...welcome to Kélonia, the environmental awareness centre focussing on the marine turtles found in Saint-Leu to the west of the island. Here one can participate in the programmes for the research and protection of the marine turtles and their habitats in Reunion and the Indian Ocean. The centre also welcomes injured or sick turtles, with a view to releasing them into the sea once they have recovered.
Not far away, the Departmental Museum of Salt at the Saint-Leu Pointe au Sel (Salt point), charts the secrets of salt harvesting at the saltworks: this activity has been taking place since the 18th century!
After water... fire
Renovated by the Reunion Region from 2010 to 2014, the City of the Volcano on the Cafres Plain opened its doors to the public on 5 August 2014. This tourist attraction is also an international centre of teaching and science. The facilities, spanning 6000 m², enable visitors to discover the secret of volcanic activity and its impact on the sub-aquatic environment, thanks to innovative technical devices: augmented reality, holograms, large-format digital surfaces... within a museography that has been adapted to suit all members of the public, including very young children.
Currently undergoing renovation work, the Stella matutina muesum in Piton Saint-Leu is no longer open, with the exception of the free exhibit entitled, Du sucre et des hommes [Sugar and Men]. Simultaneously a centre for the interpretation of the cane and sugar agricultural industry, a museum of history and a mirror to the past, it will chart the epic history of sugar cane cultivation on the island from 1815 onwards. The Gol sugar refinery (in Saint-Louis) and the Saga du Rhum [Rum Saga] (in Saint-Pierre), both private museums, have the same aspiration.
The fourth of the regional museums, the Madoi (Museum of decorative arts of the Indian Ocean) located in Saint-Louis on the Maison Rouge Estate, houses a very rich collection of objects of Indian, Chinese, European, African and Madagascan origin. It is also the last coffee-growing estate of the French overseas territories to have retained the original layout of the buildings, terraces and courtyards (classified as a historic monument). The opportunity to discover 5,000 pointed Bourbon plants, the ultra-chic coffee made in Reunion !
In Saint-Denis, a visit to the Léon-Dieux departmental museum, dedicated to the fine arts, is a must. The museum was created at the beginning of the 20th century by two Creoles (Georges Athénas and Aimé Merlo, known under the literary pseudonym Marius-Ary Leblond). Opened on 12 November 1912, since its creation it has borne the name of Léon Dierx, a Reunionese artist. Its collections address the major artistic trends of the 19th century. The impressionists Caillebotte, Eliot, Laprade, Mauffra... and the school of Pont-Aven (Gauguin, Émile Bernard...) are represented thanks to the Vollard fund, named after the famous art dealer Ambroise Vollard, born in Saint-Denis in 1866.
Finally, at the heart of the State Garden in Saint-Denis, one can admire the collections of the Museum of Natural History, which exhibits the wildlife, past and present, of the Eastern Indian Ocean, and precious works such as the complete works of Linné, Buffon, Cuvier... In particular, you can get a glimpse of the dodo, a species of large turkey that was massacred by the first colonists and then resurrected as the emblem of Reunion's most popular beer: Dodo !
The Villèle Museum of History, created in the former Panon-Desbassayns residence in the Saint-Paul Commune is an essential visit for anyone who wishes to understand the Reunionese past. Within the beautifully reserved interiors, furnishings, paintings prints... and temporary exhibits tell the story of this family, who greatly influenced the history of Reunion Island in the 18th century, and allow visitors to acquire an intimate understanding of servitude, displaying the relationship between master and their slaves, and subsequently their hired workers. The Chapelle pointue [pointed chapel], classified as a historic monument in 1970, houses the tomb of Madame Desbassayns, who left behind the memory of a formidable woman, managing her huge plantations with an iron fist, but who also commissioned the construction of a hospital for her slaves...