Even if the most beautiful memories that you retain of the island are, first and foremost, the superb landscapes and the unparalleled friendliness of the Reunionese, you will take pleasure in slipping a few of the souvenirs produced by the island’s master craftsmen into your luggage: embroidered fabrics, tortoise shell jewellery, wickerwork made from woven ‘vacoa’, items made from bamboo, lava rock or perfumes made from natural geranium essence…
A wide range of handicrafts
Alongside your travel photos, the other pleasure of a stay here is without doubt the search for souvenirs to bring home in your luggage… In spite of a certain level of standardisation with regard to lifestyle, Reunion has a lively and diverse handicraft scene. When browsing around the markets you are sure to find some souvenirs: however, you should watch out for products imported from Mauritius or Madagascar. Sometimes it is best to find the items you wish to take home with you locally.
Cilaos, one of Reunion’s cirques, boasts all three of the island’s specialities: wine, lentils and “jours”. This refers to embroidery that is not superimposed on top of the fabric, but that is created by removing threads from the weave of the fabric and thus producing openwork (ajouré) ornaments. With great subtle delicacy and requiring great attention to detail on the part of the embroiderers, the ‘jours’ of Cilaos are highly sought after. Saint-Philippe has become a town specialising in the weaving of vacoa (a small palm tree, the leaves of which are used to flavour cari): mats, “bertels” (bags with a very long handle) and “soubiques” (two-handled baskets, drawing inspiration from Madagascar) are sold directly by the producers or in the store of the ‘Cass’ le coin’ association. In the village of Entre-Deux, it is choca (a type of agave) that is woven, while in the cirque de Salazie, bamboo is preferred by the artisans. Finally, on the Plaine-des-Cafres, on the path to the Piton de la Fournaise (Furnace Peak) (thus named because the Marrons, blacks fleeing slavery and the plantations, sought refuge there) the lava rock is processed to produce decorative items: this is your chance to purchase that stone pestle with which to make mango rougail home !
In accordance with the Washington Convention (which regulates the international trading of species of fauna and flora that are threatened with extinction), the work of the craftsmen working with tortoise shell from Reunion Island is guaranteed by a decree enabling them to use stocks of tortoise shell logged prior to 1984. A former farm for the breeding of tortoises, the Ferme Corail (Coral Farm), has provided a stock of shells that comply with the legislation. This semi-precious raw material, similar to ivory, is used by a handful of artisans whose work is highly technical: using lighting, marquetry, lacquer… Tortoise shell lends itself well to many different projects.
In Sainte-Anne, you will find bars of soap in every, or almost every, scent, and in Tampon there is a master blacksmith, Samuel Hoarau, who sells knives produced entirely by hand, using local woods. Once sculpted, the woods form delicate friezes along the roofs of the traditional Creole houses: lambrequins. In addition to their aesthetic appeal, they act as drip edges preventing the rain from running along the external walls that are covered with wooden shingles. Tampon is also home to the Coopérative agricole des huiles essentielles de Bourbon (Bourbon Agricultural Essential Oils Cooperative), which offers the chance to discover the world of perfume. Following an introductory journey in the “jardin des Senteurs ” (Fragrant Garden) and a short film, you can assist with the distillation process, discover the principles behind the development of perfumes alongside a master perfumer and create your own personalised eau de parfum. In the store you will find one of the wonders of the island: essential oil of geranium and vetiver. Grown in the uplands, the “péi” (local) geranium, is nothing like the creations of the nurseries that adorn the balconies in the mainland !
This is a plant with tiny flowers, the leaves of which give off a complex, enchanting and precious fragrance that, after several hours of “cooking” in still, produces an essential oil that is extracted by the Grasse perfumers and haute couture fashion houses to create their perfumes. This scent is without doubt one of the most long-lasting memories that you can take with you from the island !