In honour of Bastille Day, Verve takes a look at the best of France, outside of France, with a run down of some our favourite (sometimes former) Gallic islands and outposts.
1. Réunion Island
This Indian Ocean offering, Réunion Island (classed as part of France meaning you can fly 11 hours from Paris and technically still arrive in the same country) is as unusual as it is spectacular.So enormous are this volcanic island’s craters that towns have been built inside them (do take a helicopter ride to appreciate them from above), including Hell-Bourg officially the most beautiful French village that’s not inside France. Réunion also hosts Piton de la Fournaise, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth with more than 150 eruptions each year (ditto about the helicopter ride). The island is home to the highest point in the Indian Ocean as well, Piton des Neiges, a 3,069-metre cloud-piercing peak that takes a day to hike with jaw-dropping views of the verdant paradise and azure waters beyond.
2. New Caledonia
Less than a three-hour flight from Auckland sits the tropical Pacific paradise of New Caledonia. The merging of French and Melanesian cultures on an archipelago awash with white sand beaches lapped at by crystal waters that contain coral, shipwrecks and underwater caves and canyons, and regularly visited by wondrous marine life, including turtles, whales and the third largest population of dugongs on Earth. New Caledonia’s cluster of lagoons are listed by Unesco, noted for their spectacularly varied ecosystems and for cradling one of the world’s most extensive reef systems. Not only are these islands a diving, snorkelling, sailing and kayaking mecca, but a leading destination for the likes of rock climbing. The chefs of Nouméa, the capital city, are revered for their experimental dishes that riff on both French and Caledonian classics—don’t bid au revoir without sampling some vanilla crème brûlée.
3. Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
Positioned off Canada’s east coast, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon remains the final French territory in North America. A big part of the charm of these pair of island groups is that what they lack in reliably good weather, they more than make up for in cultural treats—they really are essentially a transatlantic extension of France. The 7,000 or so citizens speak French (and some speak English begrudgingly!) and the currency is euros. You’ll even find the continent’s only real-life—and actually used—guillotine in L’Arche, one of many excellent museums, in the larger principality, Saint-Pierre. The seaside setting combined with the French flair and penchant for seafood makes for some exquisite dining experiences—it’s a real taste of France, minus the tourists. When you’re done with soaking in the culture, you can take a soak scuba diving the abundance of shipwrecks resting around the shores. Fun fact: Saint-Pierre was also used to store masses of alcohol by Al Capone during Prohibition.
So taken by the Indian Ocean archipelago of Mauritius was Mark Twain that he wrote that heaven must have been modelled on it. The mountainous island nation, carpeted in tropical rainforest surrounded by sugary white beaches that spill into turquoise seas is the ultimate holiday destination, soaked by sunshine all year round and home to world class gold courses, Unesco sites, awe-inspiring hiking and biking trails and countless watersports. Known as the Isle de France during the French rule of 1710-1814, the Gallic influence remains strong in the cuisine with dishes such as bouillon and coq au vin, as well as the abundance of colonial architecture. French also remains the most commonly spoken language here.
Akoroa, Aotearoa’s very own slice of France, is nestled upon the Banks Peninsula, just outside Christchurch. It’s a most charming settlement whose street signs are still French-themed, while some of its 600 residents are descendants of the first immigrants who arrived on the ship Comte de Paris in 1840—you can learn all about it at the local museum in the historic cottage, Langlois-Eteveneaux. The handsome lighthouse at Akaroa Head, too, is a must-do photo op, and don’t leave without exploring the surrounding waters. Akaroa’s harbour represents the flooded remains of an ancient volcanic crater and its marine reserve is so rich with wildlife that it hosts up to 80 percent of New Zealand’s underwater biodiversity. There are ample opportunities for cruising and kayaking and even swimming with dolphins.
An intoxicating blend of French and Caribbean culture awaits on the volcanic island of Martinique—with further intoxication available courtesy of the delicious local rum! The former capital city of St Pierre was considered the Paris of the Caribbean until the devastating eruption of Mt Pelée killed all but two of its 30,000 residents in 1902. The island, birthplace of Napoleon’s bride to be, Empress Josephine, is the sister island of the more well-known St Lucia, surrounded by serene seas that invite the likes of snorkelling, deep sea fishing and dolphin-watching. Its rugged rural beauty is complemented by the most sophisticated of city scenes with fine dining eateries serving delicacies like sea urchin sharing streets with roadside vendors offering delectable local dishes like grilled fish with steamed rice and ratatouille—and at bargain prices.