Glorious Guernsey is such a surprise

St Peter's Port, Guernsey

St Peter's Port, Guernsey

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Those long car journeys in search of beautiful beaches in the West Country may be over for me.

I’ve discovered a dazzling little gem of an island just an hour from Portsmouth which can boast everything Cornwall has and, I have to admit, I had no idea how glorious it was.

It was a last-minute trip to Guernsey, a 30-minute plane ride from Southampton airport, and one I wish I’d done years ago.

The stunning coastline of dramatic clifftops and clear blue waters was punctuated only by half-covered concrete fortifications – a reminder of the devastating German occupation of the Second World War.

It led to thousands of children being evacuated, near-starvation for the island’s population and the disappearance of the French/British patois spoken widely at the time.

A novel about the occupation, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, has put the tiny island of 65,000 people on the international map. And rightly so.

Its rich history, which has seen it allied to France and now the UK, but self-governed, is something the warm and welcoming islanders are proud of.

The Liberation Day celebrations which were held the day before we arrived are huge and I kept bumping into Chelsea Pensioners and even had the pleasure of listening to a Gurkha tinkling on a grand piano.

Guernsey’s beauty captivated Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables, who made it a home for him, his wife and his mistress. A visit to his home, Hauteville House in bustling St Peter’s Port, is a must.

I visited during the annual walking festival and took a three-hour hike through the parish of St Andrew. A stop half-way in an orchard for traditional Guernsey cider and a singsong was a joy.

The walk revealed hedge veg along the flower-filled lanes, complete with honesty boxes. Bluebells, foxgloves and camellias were beautiful when I went in early May and the smell of garlic flowers – or stinking onions – wafted every now and then.

The granite of the picture-postcard cottages and fine townhouses changes from pinks, browns and blues depending on where it was quarried.

Make sure you look out for the Little Chapel in St Andrew that is made entirely of shells.

There are some fabulous restaurants on the island, including Pier 17 and L’Auberge and the seafood is second to none. We sat and watched fisherman bringing the day’s catch from the warmth of Pier 17.

But the meal I’m still dreaming of was from a simple beach kiosk.

A delicious fresh crab sandwich was followed by lashings of rich Guernsey butter on gache, the island’s famous fruit bread.

It was the perfect fuel for a hike around the coast and for kayaking round the island’s beautiful coves as dusk was just about to fall.

A little adventure I will never forget.

For a taste of true Guernsey hospitality, visit Saumarez Manor. The genial host, Seigneur Peter de Saumarez, gave us tea and cake in the drawing room of his ancestral home and showed us around the sculpture park in the large grounds. It features work from around the world.

For the less arty there’s also pitch-and-putt, a weekly farmers’ market and a traditional iron forge.

Family-owned Herm Island is a short ferry ride and just lovely.

And it’s all so easy to get to from Portsmouth.

I can’t wait to go back.

ESSENTIALS

Flybe (flybe.com) flies to Guernsey several times a day from Southampton, with one-way prices from as little as £60 plus taxes.

Flybe also offers flights from Exeter, Birmingham and Norwich (seasonal route).

Bed-and-breakfast accommodation at the four-star St Pierre Park Hotel (01481 728282, stpierrepark.co.uk) starts at £57 per person, per night.

For information on Guernsey see VisitGuernsey.com or call the Guernsey Information Centre on 01481 723552.

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