Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of France, is a glorious little gem which punches well above its weight in culture, history and attractions. I recently had a trip to Guernsey and here are a few of my favourite things to see and do.
1. Hear the Noon Day Gun at Castle Cornet, St Peter Port
Noel Coward may have sung about the Noon Day in Hong Kong, but Guernsey has one equally as impressive at Castle Cornet, overlooking St Peter Port, the island’s pretty capital. Get there well before midday to have a look round the five museums which give a fascinating insight to Guernsey’s amazingly varied life. If sea-faring history is your thing, then make time for the Maritime Museum and culture vultures should enjoy the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery in the flower-bedecked Candie Gardens.
2. Discover why Victor Hugo wrote ‘Les Miserables’ in Guernsey
One of France’s most famous literary icons lived here for 15 years, and the Victor Hugo House, in Hauteville, tells the tale of his exile from France and his writing journey. Every inch of the house is decorated and adorned with objects owned by the author; it feels as if he has just stepped out of the house to get some inspiration in the garden. Do make sure you check the opening times and ideally book in advance. Tours – alternately in French and English – get booked up quickly in the busy holiday period.
3. Go local by the roadside
Dotted along many of the country lanes are ‘Hedge Stalls’, selling whatever seasonal produce locals have grown in the very fertile Guernsey soil. Bag some tiny new potatoes, a bunch of carrots with frilly green tops, a punnet of sweet raspberries, a couple of pots of herbs or a bouquet of fragrant colourful flowers. Just leave your money in the honesty box alongside the stall.
4. Find the royal family in the Little Chapel
Hidden in the sunlit Little Chapel are hundreds of tiny ceramic pictures in amongst the pottery pieces, various sized pebbles and shells that decorate this quirky church. See if you can find King George V & Queen Mary. Dating back to the start of the 20th Century this shrine to the Virgin Mary is bedecked with offerings from pilgrims and visitors from all over the world. If you’ve time, there is another charming little chapel no too far away, dedicated to St Apolline, Patron Saint of Dentists,
5. Discover WWII relics at Pleinmont Point
The five-storey Pleinmont Tower on the southwest corner of Guernsey is a concretely ugly reminder of a Germany’s occupation 1940-45. It was from here that German observers controlled the island’s coastal artillery, with a system of communication instructing gunners where to direct their fire at incoming British aircraft. A large gun has been restored in its original position highlighting just how effective this fortification would have been. Today it is an often desolate, windy peninsula overun by a riot of wild flowers showing just how effective nature is at restoring a floral status quo.
6. Step back to prehistory in ancient tombs
This island’s human history goes back to Neolithic times and visitors can get a sense of that period in rock tombs dotted all over. One of the most impressive is Le Dehus Dolmen, a perfectly preserved passage grave, beyond lovely Lancresse Bay. Its small, wooden door leads into the tomb’s interior with an impressive wall painting of the Guardian of Le Dehus. This unknown bearded man, armed with bow and arrow speaks of a long-gone era – possibly carved into the stone more than 4000 years ago.
7. Relish the French Connection eating out in style
There are numerous enticing places to eat and drink and the French influence is apparent not just in places names and signs, but also in the superb cuisine to be sampled throughout the island. A popular place for locals and tourists is Le Petit Bistro in St Peter Port. (Book before 7pm and try their excellent Menu Special avec beaucoup de atmosphere!) Due to the island’s close connection with the sea there is an abundance of delicious seafood to be had. For what is possibly the best crab sandwich in the world, grab a table at the Cobo Bay Tearooms at sunset – perfect.
8. Go to the beach
Guernsey’s beaches are a real treat where people of all ages can enjoy the simple pleasures of swimming, sailing, diving, surfing, sunbathing and pootling about in tiny rock pools teeming with life. Petit Bot Bay is a popular bathing spot with little streams running down to the sea that used to power paper-making mills. Rocquaine Bay has safe swimming and quaint little boats bobbing about – if the weather takes a turn you can pop into Fort Grey, the Shipwreck Museum. If the tide’s out, walk to islet of Lihou and for windsurfing (and surfing generally) Vazon Bay is a must.
9. Sail over to one of the other Channel Islands
Jersey, Herm, Alderney and Sark are all only a ferry trip away. I spent a magical day on car-free Herm, which has a quirky charm all its own. Easy to walk round, squealing sea birds are a big attraction for twitchers world-wide and colourful wild flowers provide a natural floral tapestry. Shell Beach, Belvoir Bay, Le Manoir village and Herm Harbour are some of the photographic highlights and the White House Hotel provides excellent refreshment and accommodation options, with the Guinness Book of Record’s ‘Smallest Jail’ in the grounds.
10. Take home a Guernsey jumper from ‘Les Tricoteur’
Join the illustrious ranks of Guernsey knitwear fans including Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh, Admiral Nelson and Mary Queen of Scots (said to have worn Guernsey stockings when she was executed). The warm, comfortable and hard-wearing jumpers have been worn by fishermen and many others for over 500 years and you can still see them being made at ‘Le Tricoteur’ in a tiny workshop on the south coast. If you can’t run to a jumper then there are smaller knitted items for sale made with the same care and dedication.
I stayed at the luxurious Duke of Richmond Hotel, highly recommended for very friendly staff, excellent food and great cocktails! Many thanks to Visit Guernsey which provides excellent information on all the wonderful things to see and do on the beautiful island of Guernsey.