The compact and vivacious island of Guernsey has masses to offer, including beautiful beaches, foodie treats and outdoor activities, says Caroline Wheater
By air, from London Gatwick, Guernsey is only 45 minutes away, but it feels a world apart. This elegant Channel Island, which includes Herm, Sark and Alderney in its Bailiwick or jurisdiction, is closer to Normandy than mainland Britain, a fact that’s reflected in the local patois, Guernésiais, and the charming French street names. Fringed by 27 sandy beaches and pebble coves, it’s famed for its seaside, while above the ocean are clifftop trails and a network of hedgerow flanked lanes – ruettes tranquilles – to walk, cycle or drive along.
You can get your bearings by taking the round island sightseeing route, the Guernsey Vaeux, served by bus. If you’ve been inspired by the recent film, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a two hour guided walk around the capital, St Peter Port, reveals locations used in this tale of German occupation during World War II. Wherever you go on the island, seafood features prominently on menus, ranging from locally caught bream, mackerel and mullet to scallops, crabs and ormers. St Peter Port is at the heart of the foodie scene and from May to September holds themed Seafront Sunday events at the harbour where stalls and pop-ups offer great food.
For more information on travel, accommodation and sightseeing in Guernsey, go to visitguernsey.com.
4PM UP, UP AND AWAY
First impressions are good as I taxi transfer from the airport to hilly St Peter Port, my base for the weekend. We nip up streets with pretty French names and pass tall Regency houses. I’m warmly welcomed at the Duke of Richmond Hotel and hunker down in my spacious room. The location is quiet and a short walk to the centre of town – perfect.
5.45PM GOURMET TREAT
I head out early for the evening. Navigating St Peter Port’s cobbled streets, I arrive at JB Parker’s bar and restaurant for a two-hour wine tasting session in the atmospheric, 300-year-old cellar. Manager David Legoupil is our tutor and we set about tasting five bottles, ranging from £5 to £25, among them a viognier from New Zealand, a pinotage from South Africa, and a biscuity fizz from Reims. As we swirl and savour each mouthful, David comments on the appearance, nose and flavour of the wines. It’s fun and educational, and in between bottles we nibble on charcuterie and cheese (£35 per person, jbparkers.com).
8.15PM FOODIE FLOURISH
Somehow I find room for dinner at JB Parkers’ restaurant upstairs, a tasty fish pie and stir-fried greens, but forego pudding. Afterwards, I walk down to the harbour for some sea air – St Peter Port feels magical as halyards clink against yacht masts and a galaxy of stars twinkle in the inky black sky.
9AM ISLAND HOPPING
The island of Alderney, only eight miles from the Normandy coast, used to be accessible only by plane and a ferry every other day but a new fast ferry service from St Peter Port has opened it up to day visitors. Down at the harbour, I board the Little Ferry Company vessel, a decommissioned lifeboat, for a trip there. The individual seats gently bounce as we whizz across the 23-mile divide and I’m glad I took a seasickness pill. There are dolphin pods in the area and I fancy I see cetaceans arcing through the water (£40 for a day return, April to Oct, thelittleferrycompany.com).
10.15AM HISTORIC ALDERNEY
We moor up in Alderney’s Braye Harbour and I gulp down some tea at Braye Beach Hotel before joining a two-hour mini-bus tour of the island, run by ex-policeman John Horton. This rugged place may be small – it measures just 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide – but it packs historical punch. En route, John points out the many relics of Nazi occupation during WWII. Alderney was part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall and has a legacy of 600 concrete bunkers. The most menacing is the ‘Odeon’ range-finding tower, which, built by slave labour, is a poignant sight (£15 per adult, April to Oct, alderneytours.co.uk).
11AM BIRDS GALORE
John is also the island’s Bird Observatory Warden and lifts our spirits with tales of the seabird colonies to be found on Alderney – shags, gannets, storm petrels and puffins. Twenty different wildlife habitats also support 20 species of butterfly, 100 species of moth, 27 species of slug, and clusters of rare albino hedgehogs that rustle elusively across fields and gardens. Who would have guessed it?
12PM DELICIOUS PITSTOP
Tour over, John drops us off in the island’s only town, St Anne. It’s lunchtime and I meander up Victoria Street, lined with independent shops, to find The Georgian House hotel. The menu is varied – fruits de mer, seabass and samphire, crab sandwiches – and the dishes reasonably priced. I plump for a scallop and fennel starter, £9, and a hearty fish soup, £7. Both are excellent (georgianalderney.com).
1PM AROUND TOWN
With a couple of hours to fill before the ferry back to Guernsey, I join a guided tour around St Anne via the Visitor Information Centre (51 Victoria Street). We pass the museum, open daily from April to October, look at the soaring St Anne’s church designed in 1850 by Sir George Gilbert Scott, architect of St Pancras station, and potter along the back streets. With its driftwood sculptures, pots of flowers, and dolphin doorknockers, the town is a cutie and I make a mental note to return some day (£6 per person, visitalderney.com/visit/walking-holidays).
7PM FIVE-STAR DINNER
Back in St Peter Port, I stir my bones for dinner at the island’s only five star hotel, The Old Government House. I settle down in the cosy Crown Club bar for an aperitif – a G&T made with local Blue Bottle gin. Refreshed, I eat at the Brasserie Restaurant where I’m served impeccably cooked Guernsey crab tian, £13, and rack of lamb with fondant potato, £26, washed down with a glass of Châteauneuf du Pape, £13 (theoghhotel.com). What a treat.
9AM HIDDEN PLACES
Fired up with a hearty Duke of Richmond breakfast I spend my last morning discovering some Guernsey backwaters on a three-hour scenic drive with islander, Andy Taylor. His battle bus, an ex-safari park vehicle, goes at a snail’s pace down tiny lanes, with sides open to the elements and blankets to keep us snug. En route to the south west of the island we meet ‘La Gran’Mère du Chimquière’ or the ‘Guernsey Grandma’, a 4,000-year-old Neolithic standing stone at St Martin parish church, and trundle through idyllic countryside (£55 per person, tourguernsey.com).
10.30AM A FEW EXTRAS
On this bespoke trip, Andy has added in a visit to some beautiful Guernsey cows and their calves at Meadow Court dairy farm (tour £10 per person, meadowcourtfarm.co.uk), and, to finish off, a look around Rocquette Cider where we walk through orchards then sample cider and apple brandy (£20 per person, rocquettecider.com)
12.30 PM TWO WHEELS GOOD
With low traffic speeds and plenty of ruettes tranquilles to traverse, the cycling is great on Guernsey and I spend my last few hours peddling on a hired bike provided by Go Guernsey Land & Sea (bike hire from £13, go-guernsey.gg). Owners Trudi and Phil Le Poidevin are guiding a small group over to picturesque Portelet Harbour. We go via a WWII bunker on the coast, which we trot round – I find it eerie – and look over magnificent Rocquaine Bay to Fort Grey. Our brisk five-mile ride finishes in genial manner at the Portelet Beach Kiosk Café where a cuppa and a slice of buttered ‘gâche’, the fruited bread that’s an island speciality, await. The weekend has gone quickly and I’ve packed in so much yet I feel as though I’ve hardly scraped the surface of this lovely place.
NEED TO KNOW
The four star Duke of Richmond Hotel occupies a quiet spot in St Peter Port, but is 10 minutes’ walk from the centre of town and harbourside, with it’s great mix of shops, bars and restaurants. Double room from £250 per night, including b&b. Call 01481 726 221 or browse dukeofrichmond.com.
If being by the beach is your pre-requisite, the four-star La Grande Mare Hotel overlooks the west coast of the island at Castel. Along with beautiful beach views, there’s a health club, spa and indoor and outdoor pools. From £85 per person, per night, b&b. Call 01481 256576 or browse lagrandemare.com.
For a budget option, the Marton Guest House is set in Les Vardes, a residential part of St Peter Port, and has secluded gardens to the rear. Rooms are ensuite and guests are welcome to use the facilities at The Pandora hotel, a short walk away. From £36 per person, per night, b&b. Call 01481 720971 or browse pandorahotel.co.uk.
HOW TO GET THERE
Aurigny, Guernsey’s airline, offers flights all year from London Gatwick, London Stansted, East Midlands, Bristol, Manchester and Southampton; and seasonally from Leeds Bradford and Norwich. Return flights from £90 per person (aurigny.com). Flybe, Blue Islands and Loganair also operate flights to the island from the UK. Condor Ferries runs a year-round passenger and car ferry service from Poole to St Peter Port in Guernsey (condorferries.co.uk).