Guernsey - an island escape on the UK's doorstep

by jamestennet

Golden beaches, rolling hills, heavenly seafood - Guernsey has everything you could want from a far-flung island getaway. But this little slice of paradise is less than an hour's flight from the UK...

Thirty miles off the coast of Normandy, but less than an hour’s flight from London, the Channel Islands are a charming oddity, bridging the gap between the UK and mainland Europe. Guernsey is the island to choose if you’re looking for the comfort of modern amenities and developments, without sacrificing the simple pleasures; clean air, rolling green hills, and pristine beaches. For inhabitants of the UK, Guernsey is the most exotic location you can reach without the need for a passport.

Return flights from Gatwick to Guernsey cost as little as £65 (www.flybe.com) and provide that priceless feeling that you really are on holiday – an abundance of French sign posts, exquisite seafood cuisine, and the fact that you’re never more than a few miles from the sea, all combine to magnify this effect. With these low travel costs, it’s more than possible to make the most of a long weekend in Guernsey without spending excessively, and this guide will keep a tight budget in mind from start to finish.

Where to stay

There are a vast number of high-standard hotels scattered around the island. Stand-out accommodation options include Hotel Jerbourg, perched on Jerbourg point in the far South-Eastern corner of the island (Double room with seaview from £89/night. Jerbourg Point, St. Martins, GY4 6BJ) and the luxurious, 4* Fermain Valley Hotel (Double room from £140/night. Fermain Lane, St. Peter Port, GY1 1ZZ). My personal recommendation, though, would have to be Le Friquet Hotel (Rue du Friquet, Castel, GY5 7ST). Prices for a well-equipped, en-suite double room start at £70 (including breakfast). The hotel’s central location provides the perfect starting point for explorations all over the island, and the reception staff are more than happy to arrange bicycle hire (the longer the duration, the cheaper the price – 48 hours hire costs £7 per day, per person). There is also a handy bus service on offer – a pass for 10 single journeys is only £5.50 – but nothing can beat the sense of freedom and ease of movement granted by pedal power!

Cycling around

The biggest problem posed by having your own bicycle on an island with such an astonishing array of natural and man-made attractions, is deciding where to go first. For the best introduction to the wonderfully winding coastline, I’d recommend heading North out of Le Friquet Hotel, through Saumerez Park, and up to Cobo Bay. From here you can easily spend a number of hours leisurely cycling along the beachfront. Start with a little rock-pooling on the golden beaches of Cobo and Vazon Bay, then sweep along the coastline past Fort Hommett (one of many concrete coastal defence systems built by the occupying German forces in WWII), halting momentarily to contemplate the islands ancient inhabitants at Le Trepied Tomb and to take in a little more recent history at Fort Grey’s Shipwreck Museum (http://www.museum.guernsey.net/fortgrey.htm), before popping into Guernsey Pearl to treat a lucky, loved one to something shiny and special.

Time your expedition well, and you might get the opportunity to venture out over the periodically-exposed causeway to Lihou Island (being careful to return before your only exit is swallowed). A little further south, you’ll eventually reach Pleinmont Point, and finish your day revelling in the awesome panoramic views from Pleinmont Tower.

In and around St. Peter Port

For something completely different head to the island capital, St. Peter Port, to launch your second day of exploration. There are enough sites of interest in and around the town to appease even the most seasoned traveller, and a visit to the tourist information centre (just off the main seafront esplanade) is a smart way to start the day.

Undisputedly, Guernsey’s most eye-catching attraction is Castle Cornet (http://www.museum.guernsey.net/castle.htm). Standing proud at the end of a long pier, this domineering fortress has defended Guernsey’s vulnerable East coast since the 13th Century. Occupied over the years by English, French and German forces, the sprawling grounds are now home to four museums (one focusing on the history of the castle, a Maritime museum, an RAF museum, and the Royal Guernsey Militia Museum).

The standard entry fee is rather steep (£8) but there are a couple of economical options for the more budget-conscious traveller. Visit in the final hour of opening (between 4 and 5pm) and you can ‘pop in for a pound’ – this doesn’t allow enough time to thoroughly inspect every nook and cranny, but is more than sufficient for the casual observer. Alternatively, if you plan to visit the Guernsey Museum & Art Gallery (http://www.museum.guernsey.net/candie.htm), Fort Grey Shipwreck Museum, and the Telephone Museum (http://www.museum.guernsey.net/Guernsey%20Telephone%20Museum.htm) as well, then a combined ‘holiday pass’ for all four attractions will only set you back £12.

Cliff walking

Once you’ve had enough of the castle, head down past Havelet Bay to a set of well-worn stone steps. Here begins one of Guernsey’s most breathtaking cliff top walkways. If you’re blessed with good weather you’ll be able to see for miles across the sea, maybe even catching glimpses of Sark, 8km to the South East. A short distance on, past Soldiers Bay, the path diverts inland slightly to meander through Bluebell Wood. I would strongly recommend planning your trip to coincide with the months these flowers are in bloom. You definitely won’t regret it: a delicate, shimmering bed of deep blue petals, interspersed only on occasion by a solid trunk or two. There’s something wonderfully magical about a secluded, bluebell wood on a bright, summer’s day – this is pure, natural bliss.

Spend a while immersed in the beauty of this wood and you’d be forgiven for assuming it is the highlight of the walk. However, continue around the next corner, and the true pinnacle will appear. The sheer cliffs drop away to reveal Fermain Bay – a small strip of unblemished, golden sand, massaged gently by an irresistibly inviting sea. Perfection is achieved with the inclusion of an unobtrusive but well-stocked beachfront café, offering intrepid visitors a wide-range of much-deserved refreshments.

Savouring an ice-cold glass of Guernsey Rocquette Cider, and frolicking around in the refreshing waters of Fermain Bay, is undoubtedly the perfect way to end the day. But for those with more time and energy to burn, or who can dedicate another day to walking, you can continue on the cliff path down to Jerbourg Point on the South-Eastern tip of the island. Rugged terrain and breathtaking views span the entire length South coast, from here all the way to Pleinmont Point – a highly recommended expedition.

Other attractions

Most of the activities and attractions discussed thus far are scattered along Guernsey’s 25 miles of coastline. However, there are worthwhile sites to visit inland, and off-island as well. Be sure to make a brief detour to the delightfully charming Little Chapel (http://www.thelittlechapel.org/) – constructed entirely from local seashells and colourful pieces of broken china – and the nearby Underground Military Hospital museum (both in the parish of St.Andrew).

A trip to Guernsey isn’t really complete without a half-day excursion to one of the neighbouring islands, most notably Herm or Sark. It can be a little pricey to visit both (£9.50 return to Herm, £22 return to Sark) but provides a rare insight into genuine island life and the opportunity to mix with the friendly, local communities.

Food for thought

So, now you know what to do, where to go and the accommodation to choose. But there’s still the pressing issue of how to keep hunger at bay. For authentic island cuisine, I’d recommend a visit to The Boathouse (Victoria Pier, St Peter Port, +44(0)1481700061). The seafood platters (from £29.95) are enormous – elaborately presented, incredibly tasty and perfect for sharing. Another great deal can be found at Hotel Le Friquet’s resident eatery, The Falcon Carvery. The Sunday roast is ideal for all those big meat-eaters, and costs only £12.50 for 3 courses and coffee. Lastly, if you’re looking for a suitable venue in which to enjoy a couple of drinks and some simple bar food, check out the Crow’s Nest (St. Peter Port Seafront, GY1 2NB, +44(0)1481728994). As the name suggests, the views from this smartly-refurbished bar are outstanding – the perfect place to sit on your final evening in Guernsey, gazing out across the water and watching boats drift slowly in and out of the Marina below.