The commune of Saint-Benoît is the second biggest commune of Reunion Island after that of Saint-Denis, its capital and extends from the coast up to the Caverne Dufour at the foot of Piton des Neiges at a height of 2479 meters. It covers an area of 229.61 square kilometers and its population is of more than 35000 inhabitants who are called the Bénédictins. The commune gets its name from the forename of the governor Pierre-Benoît Dumas who made it into a parish.
The first settlers came to live there in the first half of the 18th century between 1720 and 1730. There, they cultivated Mocha coffee as well as plants and spices that the famous Pierre Poivre brought back from his voyages. Nowadays the commune is known for its culture of rice, spices, coffee, maize, sugarcane and for bichiques, the small juvenile fish that all islanders love to eat.
During your holidays in Réunion Island, maybe you will have the opportunity to visit some historical sites and landmarks of the commune of Saint Benoit such as: the Circuit des Ravenales, the Rivière du Mat distillery, the Saint-Anne church, Îlet Bethléem, the valley of Takamaka and the Bebour forest.
Circuit des Ravenales
The Circuit des Ravenales is a prized hiking trail of the region of Saint-Benoît. In addition to ravenala, which are also known as traveler’s tree, we can also find guava trees and rose apples. By going on this trail, you will discover lush vegetation and magnificent vistas.
The Rivière du Mat distillery
If you want to know everything about rum production In Réunion Island, you must visit the Rivière du Mat distillery. This distillery is one of the three distilleries that remain in operation in the island and produces more than 80000 bottles of liquor each day. During your visit, a guide will explain everything about the dilution of molasses, its fermentation, distillation and the maturation of Réunion Island rums. There, you will also discover the mascot of the company, the Tanglier, a mystical animal which combines the benevolence of the Tenrec with the power of the boar.
The church of Saint-Anne
The church of Saint-Anne is considered to be one of the most beautiful churches of Réunion Island. This is a baroque style church inspired by European cathedrals built in 1856. From 1921 to 1946 it was renovated by father Daubenberger, an Alsatian priest who incorporated cement flowers and other sculptures made by his catechism students to its interior and exterior decoration. The frescoes inside the church were also painted by the students under the supervision of the priest. In 1969 the church was figured in a film by the French director François Truffaut: the Mississippi Mermaid.
Îlet Bethléem is a place rich in history: in the 18th century, it was a place where Creole families took refuge from pirate raids in the island. In 1885 a chapel and a workshop which nuns used to teach to young girls of the region were built there. Since that time, the islet is a well frequented place of pilgrimage. Islanders and tourists also come there for leisure activities such as kayak, fishing, bathing or to catch bichiques each end of the year.
The valley of Takamaka and the Bebour forest
Another attraction of the commune of Saint-Benoît is the valley of Takamaka. This valley is home to the Bebour forest, a protected forest which has remained practically unchanged since people first started to settle in the island. Along the paths, you will not only see several tree species, ferns and endemic orchids, but also magnificent waterfalls. However you should be very careful along the way because the path may be very slippery: the region of Takamaka is the world record holder of rainfall with 600 centimeters per year.
Pictures courtesy of Wikimedia commons CC by 2.0 and http://www.flickr.com/photos/margouillat974/