With its stunning scenery, rich history and fabulous food, Guernsey is bursting with things to see, do and discover
Guernsey may be small – measuring nine miles by 12 – but, as a holiday haunt, it’s perfectly formed.
Just 80 miles off the coast of Weymouth and 30 miles from Normandy, the island isn’t part of the UK or France, but shares similarities with both. They drive on the left and accept sterling, but with French road names, more sun than here and a slower pace of life – the speed limit being 35mph helps – there’s undoubtedly a continental feel.
After an hour-long flight, I began by going the long way round to my hotel – The Old Government House in the capital of St Peter Port – via an island tour.
Exploring with an accredited guide (guernseyguidedtours.com) is a wonderful way to familiarise yourself with all Guernsey has to offer and learn captivating details of its history.
One of the biggest attractions is, ironically, one of the tiniest. The Little Chapel is possibly the world’s smallest place of worship. A mini version of the grotto and basilica at Lourdes, it’s decorated mosaic-like inside and out with broken china, shells and pebbles.
Not what I’d expected to find by the roadside, but Guernsey, I discovered, is full of surprises.
Take Hauteville House, for example. With eccentric decor concocted from junk shop finds, the theatrical former home of French author Victor Hugo paints a fascinating portrait of a creative genius. He wrote Les Misérables standing at his study desk.
Hugo isn’t the only bookish connection.
The 2008 novel The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, recalls life during the 1940-45 Nazi occupation.
You can’t go far without stumbling over reminders. On a sunny day, when the only sound is birdsong, it’s eerie to walk trenches that echoed to the march of jackboots at Batterie Dollmann.
One of many concrete fortifications (including an underground hospital) too well-built to be destroyed. The German Occupation Museum is even more poignant with its portrayal of life interrupted by war.
Take the slow lane
Guernsey’s size means nothing is far away.
Hire a car, catch buses, use the bike-friendly Ruettes Tranquilles or walk the marked paths around the island’s perimeter. They’re dotted with kiosks and cafes – Hotel Jerbourg’s had the biggest scones I’d ever seen – and the clifftop views are something else.
Admiring the vista with us was a peregrine falcon; the place is a birdwatcher’s paradise. And spots to sunbathe and swim abound.
The south offers secluded sands flanked by breathtaking cliffs. Petit Port is especially beautiful, but a climb down 270 steps, unless you arrive by boat.
Vazon and Cobo to the west are flatter and wider and ideal to watch the sunset with fish and chips or a BBQ. Buy a disposable barbie along with your sausages, steaks and spider crabs at butcher/fishmonger Surf & Turf.
Dining out is a real treat with excellent independent eateries using local ingredients. At The Duke of Richmond Hotel’s Leopard Bar & Restaurant, I savoured juicy scallops with apple purée, black pudding and pickled rhubarb. The Hook – serving seafood, steak and sushi – dished up an exquisite rib-eye.
The Guernsey International Food Festival runs from 23 September to 2 October with tastings, cook-offs and demos showcasing restaurants, hotels and artisan producers.
One of those is Mandy Girard, whose Golden Guernsey goats produce award-winning cheeses available on menus, in delis or at her back door, where you can pet and feed her incredibly bouncy goat kids.
I then discovered how the perfect accompaniment is made with a tour of family-run Rocquette Cider. After sampling delicious brews with cheese, crackers and fruity dollops of chutney, you won’t leave empty-handed.
Picnic-packing couldn’t be easier.
To your cheese and bottles of cider, add bread rolls and a slice of Mrs Fisken’s Pâté from Tapenade deli. Then stop for salad and fruit at one of many roadside ‘hedge veg’ stalls complete with honesty boxes.
If you’re partial to a G&T, don’t miss Bella Luce Hotel’s Gin Experience. They produce their own flavours and, even as a non-gin drinker, I acquired a taste for the pink grapefruit and rock samphire variety. Delicious.
After a day’s adventures, it was a pleasure to recuperate at The Old Government House Hotel. Five minutes’ stroll from the quay, it offers elegant charm and views of St Peter Port – one of the prettiest harbour towns you’ll ever see with cobbled streets and floral displays.
It also has great shops – with no VAT.
With Guernsey, there’s no question that good things come in small packages – and this one is definitely worth unwrapping.
Great for spirited adventurers
For all ages and abilities, kayaking round the coastline gives a different perspective of the island and its flora and fauna. Or take the plunge (literally) and try coasteering – rock scrambling, jumping and swimming. Visit outdoorguernsey.co.uk
Great for culture vultures
You’re spoilt for choice with museums and galleries. There’s Fort Grey Shipwreck Museum and Asterix – the only seagoing Roman ship to survive outside the Med. Not to mention the Guernsey Folk and Costume Museum, the Diamond Museum and the Guernsey Tapestry Gallery, to name but a few.
Aurigny flies direct to Guernsey from across the UK. Return flights from London Gatwick start at £98 per person. Classic double rooms at The Old Government House Hotel start at £214 per night, including breakfast.
Offers are available. For more info, go to visitguernsey.com