musee11devillele-creditirt-emmanuelvirin.jpgMusée de Villèle
©Musée de Villèle|Emmanuel VIRIN

Town of Art and History

Proud of its heritage !

Saint-Denis to the north, Saint-Paul to the west and the duo of Saint-Pierre/Saint-Louis to the south: on Reunion Island, no fewer than four communes (out of 24) have received the prestigious seal of approval awarded by the Ministry for Culture and Communication, in support of actions taken to enhance their heritage.

Awarded at the decision of the Ministry for Culture and Communication, for a period of 10 years after which it can be renewed, the “Villes et Pays d’Art et d’Histoire” (Towns and Places of Art and History) ‘label’ rewards the actions taken by communes or communities within the respective communes as a result of their policies promoting the enhancement of their built, natural and industrial heritage and their architecture. In Reunion, four municipalities have received this distinction.

Saint-Pierre and Saint-Louis, grouped together as the ‘Pays des Portes du Sud’ were the first communes on the island (and within all of the French domestic and  overseas territories) to be awarded the label, which they have held since 9 September 2000. This is a well-deserved reward for the two towns, representing a vital step in the process of acquiring an understanding of something that is an essential component, both of the island’s past and its industrial future: sugar cane.

What is there to see in Saint-Pierre?

The Town Hall, a former store owned by the French East India Company, this is the last remaining example of colonial construction from the first half of the 18th century, although it unfortunately had to undergo restoration after the Second World War. The Villa Motais in Narbonne (currently a sub-prefecture), a typical bourgeois house in the neo-classical style that was in vogue in Reunion in the middle of the 19th century. The covered market, the building of which dates back to the 1860s. Also unmissable, the Saga du Rhum (Rum Saga). This attraction, a holder of the Qualité Tourisme Réunion, Tourisme & Handicap (Reunion Quality Tourism, Tourism and Disability) label, is located at the heart of the island’s oldest distillery, that of the Famille Isautier (still in operation), and charts the epic history of sugar cane and rum production on Reunion Island.

What is there to see in Saint-Louis ?

The site of the former corn mill (today a cultural site) where each year the “baptême couteaux” is held, a mass of blessing for the success of the sugar harvest (cane sugar festival, rides on ox-driven carts); the chimneys of Gol les Hauts, remnants of the early days of the sugar industry, classified as historic monuments since 2002; the Gol aquaduct which has provided the town with water since the beginning of the 19th century. In the town centre, the Church of Saint-Louis (1853, listed); the Church of Notre-Dame du Rosaire (1900) [Our Lady of the Rosary]; the Chapel of Notre-Dame du Rosaire, the island’s oldest religious monument (1734, listed) and the ‘cimetière des Âmes perdues’ [Lost Souls Cemetery[, dedicated to the slaves. A fresco on the perimeter wall recalls the horror of their plight. The Pandal Hindu temple (the only listed Hindu temple in Europe). And finally, the Gol Sugar Refinery (, which is a Mecca of industrial tourism on the island.

What is there to see in Saint-Denis ?

The Island’s capital, Saint-Denis, acquired its label in November 2011. It is difficult to list all of its patrimonial treasures: nonetheless, it is worth mentioning the Prefecture (18th century) – a former colonial store and the  Governor’s residence (listed). The State Garden, a garden formerly used for the acclimatisation of  vegetal species imported into Reunion; the Museum of Natural History, which housed colonial council up until the time of the 3rd Republic; the military district, the cathedral, the Church of Notre-Dame de la Délivrance, [Church of Our Lady of Deliverance] and the former Town Hall decorated in the Napoleon III style, the only example found on the island…

What is there to see in Saint-Paul ?

Saint-Paul, located to the west of the island in a large bay, has held its label since 17 November 2011. Following two temporary occupations from 1646 until 1649 and from  1654 until 1658, the people who settled permanently on the island initially settled in Saint-Paul, in November 1663, which has since resulted in various archaeological discoveries, dating back to 1663 – the starting point on the time line of the history of Saint-Paul. Traces of this primitive occupation are visible in the cave used by the initial inhabitants. Also worth a visit: the Hotel Laçay, the Villa Rivière (both listed buildings) or even the Maison Serveaux (which would later house the Albany photographic archive, the oldest on the island). For a romantic stay that combines natural wonders and culture, choose a town that bears the Towns and Places of Art and History label – the promise of an absolutely wonderful visit !