Gallic flair and a rich history win hearts and minds in Guernsey
When we landed on Guernsey, the second largest island in the Channel Islands, I had no idea what to expect.
Everything I knew about it came from the film The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, a love story in 1946 in which a writer living in London begins to exchange letters with the residents of the island. The film also offered a glimpse into life on the island during the Nazi occupation of Guernsey in WWII, something I wanted to learn more about.
The first thing I noticed upon landing was the strong French atmosphere. Although a British dependency, Guernsey is only 30 miles from the Normandy coast and there are many influences to see.
Many of the signs on shop fronts in the capital, St. Peter Port, are in French and the island has that quaint feel you’d expect from a traditional French village.
Throughout my visit, it was the island’s rich history that captured my heart.
First, we checked in at the picturesque Fermain Valley Hotel, which is situated in the beautiful and unspoilt Fermain Valley near St Peter Port, with superb cliff-top views of the neighboring Channel Islands.
We make our way to the nearby Bella Luce Hotel to learn all about Wheadon’s Gin. Crafted for over a hundred years by the local Wheadon family in their small batch distillery, the gin is made in traditional copper stills and features ingredients harvested on the island such as sea fennel from the nearby cliffs and tangerine limes grown in the local greenhouses to be grown.
In fact, during our 30-minute introductory experience, I discovered a new favorite drink—samphire and pink grapefruit gin.
Then it was off to dinner at Copenhagen Bar and Grill, a place that offers great views of St. Peter Port, Castle Cornet and Havelet Bay. I chose their seafood linguini and it did not disappoint.
After satiating our appetites, we spent the rest of the evening basking in the wonderful atmosphere of the restaurant over a few drinks. I even met a Cavan colleague who works there and is originally from a town a stone’s throw from where I was born. The world is really very small.
The next morning it was time to meet Gold accredited tour guide Gill Girard who brought the local history alive for us. We met Gill in the beautiful Candie Gardens, a jewel of a Victorian garden donated to the people of Guernsey by the merchant who owned it.
Gill gave us a whistle stop tour and showed us a statue of the famous writer Victor Hugo. It was presented in 1914 by the French government in thanks for the hospitality shown to the writer during his 15 years on the island.
Hugo had the Second Empire of Napoleon III. resisted and had been banished, first from France, then from Belgium, then from neighboring Jersey. But by 1855 he had found a home in Guernsey which he called “the rock of hospitality and liberty”.
It was in Hauteville House, now a museum, that the creator of The Hunchback of Notre Dame wrote some of his best works, including the five volumes of Les Miserableswhich is still being reinvented for theater and screen.
He also spent six years outfitting the home with Gothic flourishes, carved woodwork, ornate tiling, ornate chandeliers, and statues.
As Candie Gardens is only a five minute walk from the center of St Peter Port, we walked to our next stop, St Peter Port Harbour, for a 20 minute ferry ride to the island of Herm.
With wild cliff walks overlooking stunning beaches and breathtaking landscapes, I can understand why so many Guernsey locals would describe the sister island as a slice of paradise.
The first thing that struck me as we got off our ferry was the silence. It was the kind of absolute stillness that’s hard to find these days. There are no cars on Herm which certainly makes this a rare gem in today’s hectic pace of life.
We go for a leisurely coastal walk and enjoy the view. Be warned you can lose phone reception in certain areas of the island, but that’s all part of its charm and gives you the perfect excuse to really unwind.
We made our way around the island to Shell Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the Channel Islands, where millions of tiny shell fragments have been washed up by the Gulf Stream to give the sandy beach its name.
In the summer months you can rent kayaks and paddle boards or grab a snack from the beach kiosk and sit and watch the world go by.
If you were to travel further south from Shell Beach, you would come across the famous Puffin Bay, where you’re sure to spot bird rafts from early April through July.
After working up an appetite with a hike around the island, it was time for lunch at The Ship Inn, a casual eatery overlooking the bay that offers sumptuous fare and locally brewed beer. I opted for one of the specials of the day, a delicious sea bream.
Back in Guernsey, the next leg of our adventure took our group to L’Eree for a 2 hour bike ride to explore the west coast and its ancient monuments, military fortifications and lanes and hear fascinating tales of local history and legend.
During World War II, hundreds of islanders were deported or arrested by the Third Reich. There are many resistance stories, but one particularly intriguing relates to Frank Falla, who worked as a journalist for a Guernsey newspaper.
When radios were confiscated by the Nazis in 1942, the islanders depended on the work of Falla and his friends to hear the news about the war, which was secretly typed and sent out by newsletter.
I went back to our hotel to spend a leisurely few hours exploring the excellent facilities which include a pool and sauna.
Refreshed and restored I caught up with the group for our final evening which we spent at the fantastic Búho Restaurant just a short walk from the hotel.
After another delicious meal, it was time to enjoy our last night in Guernsey, with one of the restaurant staff kindly offering to take our group into town. It was just another example of how friendly the locals are on this island.
St. Peter Port is a lively place with many bars and restaurants to choose from. Everything is within easy walking distance so we strolled around for a while to explore the area and finally decided to have some nightcaps before hitting the hay.
The next morning it was time to say goodbye to Guernsey. We were taught a phrase some islanders still use, a few words of Patois French: “À la perchoine” – see you next time.
Elle Gordon traveled as a guest of Visit Guernsey; visitguernsey.com
Aurigny flies from Dublin to Guernsey three times a week; aurigney.com
The four star Hotel Fermain Valley offers rooms from £120 a night and free lifts to St Peter Port; fermainvalley.com
Gill Girard runs a variety of tours in Guernsey for more information; gillgirardtourguide.com
Copenhagen Bar & Grill; restaurantcopenhagen.com
Bella Luce Hotel (gin tasting is £25pp); www.bellalucehotel.com
Visit www.guernsey.com for more information
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/gallic-flair-and-rich-history-win-hearts-and-minds-on-guernsey-41622172.html Gallic flair and a rich history win hearts and minds in Guernsey