I’ve been coming on holiday to Guernsey off and on since early childhood: I think my first visit was during the Summer of Love in 1967. As an adult I’ve made a handful of visits since 2004. In the sixties and early-seventies, the Channel Islands were a popular holiday destination, before cheap flights allowed more people to go to Europe. It was abroad, but not quite: it’s closer to France than England. It’s part of Great Britain, but not the United Kingdom.
When I visited in 2004, not much seemed to have changed in the intervening thirty years since my last visit; not on the surface anyway: St Peter Port was how I remembered it, and the beaches were the same. I wouldn’t have been aware of it as a child but it had gone upmarket. Where locals worked on the sea or on farms, they were now investment bankers. Guernsey is now part financial centre, part holiday destination. The tourist market isn’t big: probably because it’s so expensive: people can fly to Alicante for the price of a slap-up lobster meal here. Locals and visiting bankers have high standards, so it’s London standards and prices.
St Peter port is a lovely little town. Outside town it’s narrow country roads and beautiful chocolate box houses. It’s how Americans imagine England is like. There’s little crime or unpleasantness. People are very trusting. Some people sell home-produce in hedge stalls. Various fruits and veg items are placed in boxes by the side of the road and you’re trusted to put your money in a cash box.
There are ferries linking the other Channel Islands, England and France. Jersey is the biggest island. I’ve never visited. I’m curious, but I’d feel disloyal if I visited Jersey to the detriment of Guernsey. Guernsey’s quaint enough, but the tiny islands of Herm and Sark are something else. No cars are allowed on either island (cycles aren’t even allowed on Herm). You walk everywhere on Herm. On Sark you can rent bikes or hire a horse-drawn cart. On arrival at the harbour, local farmers will drive you up the hill to the village centre on a tractor known as a “toast rack” for £1.50.There are beautiful unspoilt beaches on both islands. I have a special place in my heart for Shell Beach on Herm, and on Sark, La Coupee is the single most impressive sight you’ll ever see. It’s basically a long bridge that links Little Sark with Big Sark, looking down on little beaches on either side.
We paid £476 for four nights at the mid-range Duke of Normandie Hotel. It’s a stylish place we’ve been to twice before. Our next four nights were taken at the Pandora. It didn’t quite have the style, but was comfortable, and a little cheaper than the Duke. Our last night was taken at the best place I’ve stayed in on Guernsey, Les Douvres. Les Douvres is a rural hotel with a fine pub/restaurant. This was probably the only time I’ve ever been in an outdoor swimming pool this side of the Med. It was £120 well spent.
Several new restaurants have opened since our last visit in 2014. Our first meal was taken at the wonderful Slaughterhouse. The name refers to the building’s previous use as an abattoir. Meat hooks and other artefacts abound. It sounds grim, but it’s a very modern and stylish conversion of an unique building. Our meal portions were huge and it’s not exorbitant by Guernsey standards. We went back for lunch the following week.
Another new and impressive place was the Octopus. On our last visit it was a seafront caff. It’s now a modern fine-dining restaurant with a French feel.
We always have a meal at Le Nautique. The fine-dining ambience is more hushed here. This is where we come for a seafood blow-out towards the end of every holiday.
There’s a good bus service and they’ll take you anywhere you want to go to. There’s often walking involved visiting the smaller bays on the south and east coasts. We love to visit the small sheltered bays of Saints Bay and Fermain. Both require long hilly walks from the main roads. Facilities are limited to one café and one toilet block at each site.
It’s all low-tech, small-scale; but that’s what I like about Guernsey. The restaurant scene is another matter. Few chain places that we’re familiar with in England exist: there’s no McDonalds, Pizza Hut, or Wetherspoons. In fairness there’s not a lot for the budget traveller. We go there knowing we’re on a gourmet food holiday and that’s fine with us. To me, it’s the best place in the world. I can’t afford to go every year, mind.