In Episode 22 of my travel podcasts I visit the Channel island of Guernsey for a spring break with my family. We enjoyed walking the cliff paths and stopping at beach cafes for a crab sandwich or a slice of Guernsey Gâche. We discovered how the German Occupation of the island during World War Two led to great hardship and about the film that’s due to be made of the best-selling novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society. We took the ferry to the Isle of Sark, where there are no cars and cycled around the island for the day, enjoying locally caught lobster for lunch and visiting the Seigneurie Gardens. On our final day we joined the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations at Castle Cornet for a 21 gun salute and visited Hauteville House, the amazingly decorated home of the 19th century French novelist Victor Hugo. We found that Guernsey has a flavour of both French and English but a character that’s all it’s own.
Day 1 – Our arrival on Guernsey
We flew into Guernsey from Bristol and spent the afternoon exploring the rocky southern coastline with cliffs and a few beaches, although the bigger beaches are on the north coast where the shoreline becomes flatter. You can walk along the cliff path from St Peter Port and find beach cafes where you can sit in the sun and have a cream tea or ice cream. Our first impression of Guernsey was that it was a bit like stepping back in time into a vision of England that doesn’t exist any more, with picturesque countryside, narrow lanes and well kept old stone houses. As we drove along the road we saw hedge veg stalls where people sell their fresh produce outside their houses and you leave the money in a box. We spotted a sign for goat’s cheese in St Pierre du Bois so stopped to find the Le Douit Beuval herd of Golden Guernsey Goats kept by Mandy and Peter Girard. We bought some goat’s cheese from a fridge in the greenhouse at the back of the farmhouse and stroked the inquisitive goats in the field.
Finally, we ended up at Portelet Harbour on the south-west corner of the island and sat in the garden of the beach kiosk eating crab sandwiches overlooking the sea. There’s plenty of seafood on Guernsey such as crab and lobster and if you look out to sea you can spot the orange buoys bobbing up and down with crab and lobster pots, waiting for the fishermen to come and check their catch. Later that afternoon, we checked into our holiday accommodation at Albany Apartments where a large merchant’s house has been divided into holiday apartments with a large garden and swimming pool at the back.
Day 2 – A walk from Sausmarez Manor to Fermain Bay
As the sun was shining we decided to walk along some of the coastal paths we had seen the day before. We parked at Sausmarez Manor, that made a convenient starting point for our walk using my Cicerone guide to Walks on Guernsey. We followed the small wooded path down to Fermain Bay, a popular beach as it is one of the first beaches you get to if walking from St Peter Port. There’s a cafe set above the beach beside the loophole tower with slit windows for all-round defence, built in the 18th century when Guernsey feared attack from French. The cafe has an excellent reputation for food, but it was a bit early for lunch so we had a coffee and then continued our walk around the headland. The cliff path passed through stands of pines, giving it a South of France feel, with the turquoise sea sparkling below. We reached Jerbourg point where there are gun emplacement and German fortifications and then turned inland along the lane back to Sausmarez Manor. In the tearoom I tried the local speciality, Guernsey Gâche, a fruit loaf spread with Guernsey butter. Sausmarez Manor is a beautiful Queen Anne manor house and there are guided tours on certain days, but not while we were there. The gardens around the house are free but there is also a sculpture trail that I visited which is like an outdoor art gallery, with sculptures set in a woodland setting beside a lake. (Sculpture trail £6, Tours of the house £7)
Day 2 – The Little Chapel and the German Occupation Museum
Next we stopped at The Little Chapel – a tiny chapel just a few paces long covered with broken crockery, shells and mosaic. The chapel was built by a local religious brother modelled on the grotto at Lourdes and the first couple of versions didn’t make the grade so this one was built in the 1940s. This labour of love was decorated over some years but it’s quite small and so you’ll probably only be there half an hour.
We continued to the nearby German Occupation Museum that houses a collection of artefacts from German Occupation during World War two . The museum is housed in a traditional whitewashed building that is bigger than it looks. There is interesting information about how Guernsey survived the German occupation, as there was a lot of hardship and food got very scarce. At the end of the war after D day there could be no re-supply from France, and the people would have starved had it not been for a Red Cross ship coming in to bring food parcels. The Germans were severe in their punishments and you could be imprisoned or deported for having a radio or painting a V for victory sign. The three Jews deported from Guernsey were sent to Auschwitz and never returned. Upstairs in the museum is a street scene with vehicles and models dressed as if they were queuing outside a shop for rations. There is a big fishing boat in the museum and fishing was restricted as many of the beaches were mined and you had to have a special licence to fish and take a German out in the boat to prevent people escaping to England.
After our look around the museum we walked around the harbour of St Peter Port to see the yachts with flags flying and bunting for the Royal Diamond Jubilee weekend and explored some of the winding streets on the hill behind the harbour.
Interview with Gill Gerard about the history of the German Occupation
I interviewed Gill Girard who is a guide on Guernsey and has recently been doing tours on the theme of the bestselling novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which is set on Guernsey. Many streets and buildings in St Peter Port are mentioned in the book and the heroine, Juliet’s arrival by sea to St Peter Port for the first time is well described. The book is a fictional account in the form of letters about peoples’ experiences during the Second World War when Guernsey was occupied by the Germans. The book is set during and just after the war and the heroine, Juliet eventually comes to Guernsey to visit the people she has been writing to and is shown many of the things we can see today, such as the Little Chapel, the Dolmans and the witches’ seats built on the outside of local houses for the witches to sit and keep warm. The German fortifications, towers and tunnels mentioned in the book are still here and there are museums such as the German Occupation Museum and La Vallette underground military museum in St Peter Port for visitors to see.
Gill’s family have many stories from this period of Guernsey’s history. Gill’s grandmother and her children were evacuated but her grandfather got left behind as he stayed to close down his business in St Peter Port expecting to follow his family but the boats didn’t come back. Gill’s husband’s parents stayed on the island throughout the evacuation and had a farm so they were not as hungry as some people and Gill’s father-in-law was a headmaster so he ended up educating the children left on the island during the occupation. It is hoped that the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie book will be made into a film and Gill was recently showing film director Kenneth Branagh around the island while he was researching film locations. Although it isn’t yet certain that the film will be made they were told that Kate Winslet has been cast in the leading role of Juliet although they don’t know who the hero will be.
Day 3 – Cycling around the Isle of Sark
The Isle of Sark is another smaller channel island, close to Guernsey, that can easily be reached by taking a ferry from the harbour at St Peter Port. We had booked for the 10 o’clock ferry, waiting in the White Rock cafe on the quayside where everything seemed to be served with egg and chips. There around 60-100 people on board for the 45 minute ferry ride across to Sark and when we arrived the cliff loomed above the landing pier. We went through the stone archway in the cliff wall to where carts with bench seats known as ‘toast-racks’ were waiting to take us up the hill at a cost of £1 per person. The 5 minute ride pulled by tractor took us up to the main village of Sark with a bank, some cafes and shops where you could stock up with provisions.
A well-known feature of Sark is that the island has no cars, as the residents have made a conscious decision to keep it that way, so all transport is by horse drawn carriage, bike, walking or tractor. There are horses and carriages waiting for hire but we decided to hire bikes from Avenue cycle hire, one of the several bike hire places on the island. The island is only 3 miles long but there is a surprising amount to see, especially if you want to stop for lunch, so although we returned on the 4pm ferry we could have easily stayed on a couple more hours until the 6pm ferry.
We cycled off in the direction of little Sark and on the way, we turned down towards Dixcart Bay, a beach that I’d spotted on the map. At the end of the road was Stock’s Hotel but after a while the wooded lane became too narrow for us to push our bikes and we had to leave them to reach the fantastic beach with cliffs and rock arches where we found a family having a game of cricket on the sand. Walking back up the path we continued on to Little Sark, a small part of the island that is joined to the rest of the island by La Coupee, a small strip of land with a sheer drop on either side. We got off our bikes to cross La Coupee – until the Second World War the path was not fenced and could be quite dangerous to cross in bad weather.
We decided to have lunch at La Sablonnerie Hotel on Little Sark, a long, whitewashed building that was once a farmhouse. Behind the hotel frontage there’s a lovely garden where you can eat lunch in fine weather and on the other side of the lane is a tea garden for drinks and ice creams. We chatted to hotel owner Elizabeth Perez, who told us that her parents had owned the hotel building and gradually started opening it to guests. We sat in the sunny garden where I had half a lobster, locally caught and topped with a frothy butter sauce. My daughter had Sark lamb which was very tender and presented in a classic French style with the sauce in a small copper saucepan.
We’d have liked to linger in the garden all afternoon but as we wanted to see something more of the island we crossed back over La Coupee. On the way we passed several scarecrows on display for the scarecrow competition with a Regal theme for the Royal Jubilee – there was King Henry the eighth, a Grenadier guard and the King of Kings at the church. We cycled toward La Seigneurie Gardens, the residence of the Seigneur or Lord of the island. The house is not open but the gardens are open on most days through the summer and there’s also a nice cafe for lunch with a cost of about £3.50 to look around the gardens. There is a walled garden with lovely herbaceous borders and fountains and a maze to get lost in. We wished that we had more time to explore the rest of the island would recommend that you try to spend longer than just a day on Sark – I’d love to camp there in summer and the pace is very relaxed and safe for families.
Day 4 – Castle Cornet in St Peter Port
Unfortunately it was raining on our last day on Guernsey and by 11 am we arrived at the Victor Hugo house in St Peter Port, but found that all the tours were by timed entry and the next tour was at 12.20. I decided to book for the tour and until it was time to return we went to Castle Cornet where it was free entry due to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. As it was still pouring with rain, we dived into the first museum that we could see, with different roomsets about how the soldiers lived in the barracks and people dressed up as the kings & queens of England. At this fortified castle there is normally a noon day gun but because of the Queen’s Royal Jubilee there was a 21 gun salute with red coated soldiers marching up and four volunteers to fire each cannon. Everyone put their fingers in their ears, as the noise was deafeneing and after that I ran back up the hill for the 12.20 tour of the Victor Hugo House.
Day 4 – Victor Hugo and Hauteville House
The 18th century French novelist and poet, Victor Hugo was exiled first from France and then from Jersey for his political views and finally settled at Hauteville House on Guernsey. The house is a former corsair’s house, set high up on the hill over looking St Peter Port. Victor Hugo threw his artistic energies into the decorations for Hauteville House, collecting carved wood antiques, rich tapestries and embroideries, tiles and glassware. The house is a cross between the Palace of Versailles and a darkly pannelled Tudor house where Victor Hugo used and reconstructed the antiques as he liked, with old panels, sea chests and benches from churches.
You can only see the house by guided tour and it was bequeathed to the City of Paris who now run it with French and English speaking guides who will take you on the hour’s tour of the house. After seeing the biliard room and dining rooms on the ground floor, you go upstairs to the exotic Chinese salon where he would entertain and his bedroom with the carved oak four-poster bed. At the top of the house is Victor Hugo’s hideaway, a glazed look-out on the roof where all the dark richness falls away with light and views over the bay. The house is a tall and narrow but the garden hidden behind is surprisingly large and planted in country style with roses, flower filled borders and fountains, overlooking the bay. I highly recommend that you try to to see the house but be sure to go early to book your tour, as it is clearly very popular.
After the tour we crossed the island to Fort Grey as my husband wanted to buy a Guernsey jumper from the shop next to Guernsey Pearl. The Guernsey jumpers are made on a frame, with the neck and arm detail being finished by hand. These closely knitted fishermans’ jumpers were once worn by all the children on the island, knitted by someone in the family and we were told that if the neck wears out in 20 years time it could be brought back for repairs. We had a late lunch at Cobo Tearoom in Cobo Bay which was the ideal place to shelter from the rain, with cheerful yellow walls, flowery tablecloths and a nice selection of home-made cakes. We ordered a crab salad with coleslaw and bread and Guy ordered the local speciality of Bean Jar which is the Guernsey equivalent of Cassoulet. Then we went on to the St Pierre Park Hotel where we were staying for our final night, a large 4 star hotel with a lake, gardens and golf course. The hotel rooms were very nice and we decided to eat in the hotel bar where I enjoyed my new favourite tipple of Rocquette cider which is brewed on the island of Guernsey.
Guernsey is a lovely place to visit in spring, summer or autumn with so much to see and do that you would need a week or more to see it all. The pace on both Guernsey and Sark is very relaxed and less commercial than you’d find in other places with lovely beaches, beautiful scenery and flowers everywhere. You’ll find a traditional way of life where you can escape the hustle and bustle and enjoy a very relaxed family holiday.
More things to enjoy on Guernsey
Music credits for the Guernsey Podcast
The opening music of the podcast was Venus as a girl by Andy McGee on Musicalley.com. Other music was from the Sarnia Cherie CD which is sold on Guernsey at the Visitor Centre, with kind permission from producer, Roy Sarre and included a piano version by Jeffrey Howard and the choral version by the Island Churches Guernsey Festival Chorus.
Sarnia is the old Latin name for Guernsey, so Sarnia Cherie translates to ‘Dear Guernsey’ and is the anthem of the island. The words of Sarnia Cherie were written by George Deighton and the music composed by Domenico Santangelo and it was first performed in 1911 in St Peter Port, Guernsey. The song became popular and was sung in celebration when British Troops landed on the island in 1945 to liberate the island after 5 years of German occupation. The Sarnia Cherie CD produced by Roy Sarre is a collection of 13 vocal and instrumental versions of the song, including a historic recording from 1945 when it was sung on the quayside on liberation day, 9 May 1945. The Sarnia Cherie is available for sale at the Guernsey Visitor Centre in St Peter Port, Guernsey.
Visitor information for Guernsey and Sark
Guernsey Information – You’ll find more things to see and do on the Visit Guernsey website , on the Visit Guernsey Blog and @VisitGuernsey on Twitter and on the Visit Guernsey Facebook Page. Gill Girard is a Guernsey tour guide and can be contacted through her website
Accommodation on Guernsey – We stayed on Guernsey at Albany Apartments in St Peter Port, for comfortable self-catering holiday apartments that are ideal for families and at the St Pierre Park Hotel, a 4 star hotel with golf course set in parkland beside a lake.
Getting to Guernsey – We flew to Guernsey with Aurigny Airlines who fly to Guernsey from Bristol and other UK destinations. You can also book flights with Blue Islands Airlines and take the ferry with Condor Ferries from Poole or Portsmouth.
Reading for Guernsey – For an enjoyable insight into the history of Guernsey I recommend the best-selling novel, the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which is planned to be made into a film in 2013. For walks on Guernsey, we used my Cicerone guide to Walks on Guernsey and a good general travel guide to Guernsey is the Landmark Visitor’s Guide to Guernsey, Alderney, Sark & Herm
Getting to Sark – We took the ferry to Sark from Guernsey with the Sark Shipping Company who have 4 sailings a day to and from Sark. The journey takes around 45 minutes and costs aprox £27 adults, £13 children return.
Getting around Sark – There are no cars on Sark and you can get around the island by walking, cycling or hire a horse-drawn carriage. We hired our bikes from Avenue Cycles, at the end of the Avenue in the main village area.
Accommodation on Sark – There is a wide range of accommodation on the island from hotels and cottages to guest houses and campsites – we didn’t stay on the island but we can highly recommend the locally caught lobster at La Sablonnerie Hotel on Little Sark where we had lunch. There is also a tea-garden at La Sablonnerie – the hotel looked lovely and they also have cottages to rent.
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