A piece of perfection nestled off the coast of France - small with a true sense of identity and so much shout about.
I’m talking about Guernsey, the second largest of The Channel Islands It’s an absolute gem of a a place, stunning, with so much to offer.
Guernsey oozes pride. Whether through its spotlessly clean, picturesque streets, its wild and rugged, unspoilt coastline or through its rich history and heritage, it shines. I was lucky enough to take a whistle-stop tour of the island to find out more about this beauty.
Flying from Manchester with its own airline Aurigny, we landed in just over a hour. It took less time than the train ride to Manchester Airport.
I travelled light, so walked straight through the airport to be met by one of the island’s extremely knowledgeable guides.
The first thing I learned about this intriguing island, was the number plates on the cars. They are black with white numbers, no letters, and the lower the number, the more expensive the plate, reaching up to tens of thousands of pounds (the Bailiff of Guernsey, who is the leading citizen, has number one).
Driving away on this short adventure, down the narrow lanes lined with tall hedges, it did remind me of northern France – not too much of a surprise considering its proximity – but its terracotta roofs and palms among the deciduous trees, it evoked a continental feel. The flowers around the island are stunning, whether cultivated in gardens or growing wild in the fields, they are abundant, quite exotic and the reason for this, I am told, is because it’s an island it completely escapes the frost.
Our first stop was The Little Chapel, one of Guernsey’s best loved landmarks. The chapel is very
well known throughout the world because of its striking decor and charm.
I have never seen anything quite so intricate – tiny pieces of porcelain adorn the walls with a beautiful pebbled floor. It is thought to be smallest consecrated church anywhere in the world.
Guernsey cows were grazing nearby, distinctive because of their tanned coloured noses. Their milk is famous for its richness and the butter and cream take on a golden hue as Guernsey cows are unable to digest carotene.
Zipping through the island’s parishes brought us to Bruce Russell and Son – a fourth generation gold and silversmith which manufactures jewellery and silverware. The jewellers can be seen at work in the workshop and showroom and visitors can take a stroll through eight acres of award-winning grounds.
Our journey continued along western coast of the island, the quieter side (not that it’s that busy anywhere on the island) which winds its way past some of the most stunning beaches.
We stopped at the Imperial Hotel overlooking Portlet Beach for lunch where we tucked into the delicious daily specials. With a view of the bay, Gaby, my guide, began to explain about the island’s rich history and its wartime story.
Guernsey was under German occupation for five years and that historic period is evident all around. The Channel Islands were the most fortified sections of the Atlantic Wall and most are still standing today.
For those interested in the island’s heritage, including those five tempestuous years, they can research it in depth, through a whole host of museums.
We had a browse at three – La Valette the Underground Museum, the German Occupation Museum and the Underground Hospital, which is not technically a museum but a swathe of underground tunnels which were used as a place to treat wounded soldiers.
It’s grim, to be honest. It’s almost exactly as it was in the war years, cold, damp and unsettling. But the workmanship that went into tunnelling miles of corridors is remarkable and well worth a visit for that alone.
The German Occupation Museum was extremely informative and detailed. Many of the exhibits are the private collection of Richard Heaume, who started collecting memorabillia as a schoolboy.
Also worth a visit is Victor Hugo’s home during his exile from France. It’s fine gardens and elaborate interior is now open to see. There are also manor houses to ponder, farmer’s markets and the quaint town of St Peter’s Port.
I stayed at the Pierre Park Hotel, a fabulous hotel with a newly refurbished spa, just on the edge of town. The rooms were spacious and very well equipped and cared for.
We dined at JB Parkers for an evening meal. It’s an absolute must, interesting food with a buzzing open kitchen.
And you should check out the Octopus bar too, right on the edge of the coast.
To start planning your trip, go to http://www.visitguernsey.com
Fly: Aurigny from Manchester and the new Leeds Bradford route www.aurigny.com. Return Aurigny flights from Leeds start from £166 per person and from Manchester they start from £186 per person
Stay: Pierre Park Hotel, Rohais Saint-Pierre-Port www.handpickedhotels.com
Eat: JB Parkers, St. Peter Port www.jbparkers.com; Imperial Hotel, Rocquaine Bay, www.theimperial.gg; Octopus www.octopugsy.com