A meander around St Peter Port and our stay at Albany Apartments – Guernsey
St Peter Port, the capital of Guernsey in the Channel Islands is quaint as can be; cobbled streets, attractive old townhouses and a sailor’s paradise with endless yachts to watch bobbing in the marina. Albany Apartments was an excellent base for our long weekend, although to be honest, it doesn’t really matter where you locate yourself on the island, as it’s so small that nowhere is more than about 20 minutes drive away. We hired a car but if you decide you don’t want one, the bus service is regular, reliable and covers most of the island.
Things to do in St Peter Port, Guernsey
As the name suggests, all routes in St Peter Port seem to lead down the hill to the Port. We were there during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend so all the masts of the boats were decorated in cheerful bunting and with several marinas to choose from, the sailing enthusiast could easily while away a few hours, admiring the boats bobbing up and down, dreaming about journeys to far shores and pottering around the coastal waters. It’s also worth walking along the two large piers to see what you find. On our way back from the ferry to Sark, we stopped at a farmer’s market, one of many on the island with stall holders from Normandy selling everything from crepes to French cheeses to cider. From the seafront it’s also pleasant to wander up through the old streets on the hill behind the port area and shop without paying VAT – although I don’t think it was that cheap otherwise.
We visited Hauteville House, where the 19th century French novelist, Victor Hugo lived for some years in exile on Guernsey, pouring his creative energies into decorating and beautifying his house with an amazing assortment of fine antiques, old wooden sea chests, gilding and mirrors, tapestries and silk embroideries. The house is a very popular place to visit, especially for French visitors so you should make sure that you arrive early, as the guided visits are by timed entry only and get booked up in high season or at weekends.
We arrived at 11am and the next tour was at 12.30 although you can look around the gardens behind the house freely and with no time restrictions. When you arrive at the tall townhouse on the hill, you’d never guess that behind it lies a large, country-style garden with views over the bay, herbaceous borders, yew hedges, climbing roses and fountains. I really enjoyed discovering Victor Hugo through Hauteville House; his life on Guernsey; the outspoken political views that led to his exile; his marital arrangements with both a wife and mistress who seemed to be very much part of the family and his wonderfully exotic decorating style.
At the end of one of the port is Castle Cornet, an old Fortress that is now a collection of museums. On the Jubilee Bank holiday it was free to go in and we had a look around one of the museums, learning about the life of the soldiers in the barracks. There were re-enactors dressed up as the kings and queens of England and ready to give an account of their life to any curious person. It’s worth trying to be there when the noon-day gun is fired and because it was the occasion of the Queens Jubilee there was a 21 gun salute while we were there, which was quite deafening. Castle Cornet would be an ideal rainy day option (it was pouring that day!) and great for school age children who are interested in the maritime history of Guernsey.
More things to do in St Peter Port
There are plenty more things in St Peter Port that we didn’t have time to see, such as the Candie Gardens, the Guernsey Tapestry, the Randalls brewery that has regular tours. There is also a pleasant & popular walk along the coast to Fermain Bay, where there is an excellent beach cafe and you can sit overlooking the beach beside the old Martello tower built in the 18th century for defence, when Guernsey feared invasion from France. Although we didn’t walk from St Peter Port, we did follow the path on from Fermain Bay along the south coast as far as Jerbourg point.
Albany Apartments – our self catering apartment in St Peter Port
Albany Apartments, where we stayed, is set on the hill above the town of St Peter Port, but within walking distance of the harbour, on a residential road full of big, beautiful merchants’ houses. Most were probably built for the families of the wealthy merchants, not to mention a few pirates and corsairs, who made their money from the tax free trade passing through Guernsey. This large Georgian house has been divided into holiday apartments, some of which are in a modern wing at the back, overlooking the garden.
Most of the apartments have their own little veranda or balcony area and ours gave out through French windows onto a metal walkway with room for a table and chairs. The large garden has an outdoor swimming pool, some children’s play equipment and a few more tables and chairs to relax outside in good weather. The apartments are entered through a large open hall area with a couple of sofas, plenty of information leaflets, books and games. Our apartment had two bedrooms which were furnished in a pleasant and homely way, one with a double bed, the other with 2 singles, perfect for a family of four. There was a living room with French doors onto the balcony, a dining table for four people, two big, comfy sofas and a flat screen TV and DVD player with DVDs to borrow from the book-case in the hall.
Each of the bedrooms had its own shower room, so we didn’t have to fight with our teenagers over the bathroom in the morning. The kitchen was quite compact with no window, but it was well equipped with everything we needed, including a microwave, to cook our supper in the evening. Guernsey doesn’t seem to do corner shops so the nearest place to get a newspaper was a garage a little way down the road and for major shopping there was a Waitrose a 5 minute drive away. Of course we were out and about for most of the day, so at lunchtime we would eat at a beach kiosk, tea room or cafe where we tried all the Guernsey specialties like crab sandwiches or clotted cream teas.
The lovely thing about Guernsey is that you can pick up locally produced food as you go, so if you see an interesting sign by the road-side, make sure you stop and check what’s on offer. We spotted a sign for Goat’s Cheese when we were driving through St Pierre du Bois and stopped to buy some of the flavoursome soft cheese from the back of the farmhouse. We were able to have a chat to the owners, Mandy and Peter Girard and stroked the inquisitive goats whose milk is used to make the cheese – now you can’t do that at Waitrose! Everywhere there are Hedge Veg stalls with fresh eggs, newly dug potatoes, carrots, fennel, beans or other produce that you can cook for your supper that evening which makes a nice change from the supermarket. In the spirit of adventure, you never quite know what you’re going to find when you stop.
Albany apartments made a great base from which to explore both St Peter Port and the whole island and I’d especially recommend these self-catering apartments for families, as the garden and swimming pool make them ideal for summer holidays.
More things to see in Guernsey
Visitor Information for Guernsey and St Peter Port
Accommodation on Guernsey – In addition to our stay at Albany Apartments in St Peter Port, we also stayed at St Pierre Park Hotel, a pleasant, 4 star hotel with golf course set in parkland beside a lake. To check hotel options and compare prices for Guernsey hotels visit Hotels Combined.
Getting to Guernsey and Around – 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. We picked up our hire car from Hertz at the airport, who are also able to deliver your hire car to your holiday accommodation.
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
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey