Even though the island is known at least since 1450 (and probably even before), the settlement of the island started much later. Saint Paul has a rich past as the history of the settlement begun here.
Why Saint Paul? The bay was the easiest point of entry in the island. The first vestiges of habitation dating from 1648 and are located at “Grande Fontaine”, a little district of Saint Paul.
In this area crossed by the “tour des roches”, a cute little road going from “les rampes” (the windy road heading to Plateau Caillou) to Savanna, you can stop by the “ Moulin à eau” (water mill) where local kids love to play in this refreshing water, especially during Summer. If you head North, then you will reach Savanna and the “Etang Saint Paul” (Pond of Saint Paul), which is a protected area and where people go to unwind along the pond banks.
You can also do some kayaking and water-skiing there. On the other side of the city, at the Southern entry of the city “La grotte des premiers français”. After two episodes of mutineers exiled on the island from Fort Dauphin in Madagascar, who came back after a few years healthy, the authority decided to send two volunteers and ten slaves to see if a settlement could be viable.
They settled down near the cave as it was a natural shelter and clear water was abundant thanks to the waterfall nearby. After 2 years, thos volunteers left the island while 20 settlers disembarked to start a settlement in “Grande Fontaine”.
Just opposite the cave, the marine cemetery. Located on the seashore, the cemetery is beautifully maintained, flowered and filled with history.
Famous characters of the island’s history such as the pirate “La Buse” (who died hung and left behind a treasure that no one ever found since then) or the poet Leconte de Lisle are buried there. From the cemetery and following the sea to the North, you will reach the “debarcadère” (landing stage) where old buildings and cannons can be seen, evidence of the turbulent past of the city.
Nearby, a huge parking facing the sea becomes, every Friday (all day) and Saturday (morning) a lively and colourful farmers market, where tropical fruits stand alongside handicraft and other local products.
Saint Paul: Things to Do
This market is certainly the most famous of the island. If you keep heading North, a nice kid playground area would be an option for parents with young kids to let them off steam, further, a swimming pool and fitness trail could also do the trick.
At 2190 meters above the sea, Le Maïdo is one of the most impressive sight of the island. Indeed, the panorama over Mafate is simply breathtaking. The forest below the viewpoint is also a must see.
You can stop for a picnic as equipped areas are spread along the road. A few tips: the temperature up there can be much lower than on the coast. If you want to stop in the forest for a picnic, barbecues / kiosks areas are literally invaded during summer and Reunioneses don’t mind getting there early morning to get the best spots.
In Petit France, just below the Maïdo, you can visit workshop where geranium or vetiver are distilled to get essential oils, pure fragrance of those plants, used for example to make perfumes.