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Green fields, English country gardens and idyllic sea views… Jane Labous unearths the delights of Guernsey
First published in BBC Homes & Antiques
IT'S the tractors parked outside the houses that first hint you're in the Channel Islands. Or maybe it's the road signs saying 15 miles per hour, or the crowd of chattering ducklings crossing the road as we trundle through St Martin's, or the hedgerows bursting with poppies and cowslips lining the country road that’s the main route across the island from the airport to its capital St Peter Port.
Whatever it is, these islands are a world away from hectic, congested England. Guernsey in particular seems to function at a different pace; washed by the clear Atlantic ocean and basking in bright, off-shore sunlight, it’s populated by a rugged, sea-loving population who, if they're not crewing a boat, surfing or gardening (look out for Hedge Veg – the locals grow such an abundance of vegetables that they sell them outside their houses), can be found enjoying fresh seafood or drinking local brews in the bustling little bars surrounding the marina in St Peter Port.
And if Guernsey isn’t isolated enough for you, you can always hop on the boat to Sark, a tiny island which can only be navigated by bicycle or tractor - the seigneur, or governor (it literally means God!), is the only one who’s allowed a car. In high summer it’s idyllic – lush green meadows waving in the breeze, wildflowers tumbling out of ancient stone walls, deserted coves with rock pools and cliff paths and stretches of golden sand without a footprint. Trundling along on your bike you may find yourself wondering if you’re in a Famous Five adventure. Just don’t forget to bring the ginger beer…
More information from VisitGuernsey on 01481 723552 or www.visitguernsey.com
How to get there:
Aurigny flies four times a day from London Gatwick to Guernsey, fare from £59 return inclusive of taxes. Also from London Stansted, Bristol and Manchester. Call 0871 871 0717 or www.aurigny.com. Flybe (www.flybe.com) and Blue Islands (www.blueislands.com) also operates direct flights from Gatwick and Stansted.
You can also go by sea and take the car. Regular Condor Ferries services operate between the south coast of England, and from north-west France. Go to www.condorferries.com.
The ferry to Sark leaves daily from Guernsey (St Peter Port) and takes approximately 45 minutes. Returns cost £22 for adults, £11.20 for children. Go to www.sark-tourism.com for details.
When to go:
The best time to visit Guernsey is between May and September when you’ll have typical English summer temperatures (hopefully!) and lots of sunshine. The climate is the same as mainland Britain - although because you’re off-shore, you may find the light is brighter and there’s more sunshine than the mainland. The average temperature in July is normally around 15 degrees C, although it will often feel hotter. Average December temperatures reach 7 degrees C, so best to go in summer unless you want to sit around the log fire!
Guernsey pound G£1 = £1 (bear in mind that Guernsey pound notes are not accepted in the UK, so make sure you spend them before you leave. Larger notes will normally be accepted.)
Where to stay:
For plush pampering:
Old Government Hotel, St Ann's Place, St Peter Port, Guernsey GY1 2NU, T: 01481 724921, www.theoghhotel.com
The elegant, four-star Old Government House hotel in St Peter Port is five minutes from the town centre, with a decent pool and a luxurious spa with Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. Rooms start from £95 per person, per night on a bed and breakfast basis.
For splendid isolation:
La Sablonnerie Hotel, Isle of Sark, Channel Islands GY9 OSD T: 01481 832061
This gorgeous hotel on Sark has rooms furnished with antiques and a vivacious owner who’ll make you very welcome. There’s a croquet lawn, tea garden and first-rate cream tea! Rooms from £145.
For island elegance:
The White House Hotel, Herm Island T: 01481 722159, E: email@example.com
A few minutes walk from the beach, this luxurious yet old-fashioned hotel has no clocks, telephones or TVs – all the better to enjoy the views. Stay in the Crow’s Nest Suite, with amazing views of the sea, or enjoy Harbour Cottage, which has its own garden. After hours play croquet, tennis or just relax with a gin and tonic in the garden. Bliss! Doubles from £85
Where to eat:
The Auberge, Jerbourg Road, St Martins, Guernsey T: 01481 238485, www.theauberge.gg
Set high on the cliffs above St Peter Port, this chic restaurant is a wonderful place to watch the sun set over the islands of Sark and Herm. Main courses include fresh monkfish, lobster or local lamb, and desserts are definitely worth a try. Mains from £15.50.
La Sablonnerie Hotel, Isle of Sark, Channel Islands GY9 OSD T: 01481 832061
Lunch at La Sablonnerie is a must if you visit Sark. Not only will you dine in an idyllic country garden amidst blooming flowers, fruit trees and overflowing hanging baskets, but the food is fresh and delicious – try the freshly-caught local mackerel, Sark lobster, or the superlative goat’s cheese salad. Mains from £10.
La Barbarie, Saints Bay, St Martin, Guernsey GY4 6ES T: 01481 235 217, www.labarbariehotel.com
According to Rick Stein, “the freshly caught lobster we ate at La Barbarie Hotel, covered in that wonderful Guernsey butter, was the best we’ve ever tasted.” And who can argue with him? La Barbarie is one of Guernsey’s finest restaurants, serving magnificent fish and seafood in a gorgeous country setting. The fixed price dinner menu is £18.95. Make sure you book!
Saltwater, Albert Pier, St Peter Port T: 01481 720823
One of the island’s best seafood restaurants, it’s right on the harbour with views over the marina. Dishes include baked salmon and seabass platter, and lemon sole Milanese style. And if that doesn’t float your boat, the banoffee cheesecake with toffee pecan sauce surely will… The set dinner menu is £25.
And don’t forget to have a cream tea…
Ah, the joys of a good cream tea – soft, plump, buttery scones; homemade strawberry jam; lashings of clotted cream… And there’s nowhere better than Guernsey to indulge – many tea rooms will only serve their tea in china cups, the scones are the size of footballs and the impossibly rich, local clotted cream comes in pint-sized pots. Cobo Bay Tea Rooms (Cobo Coast Road, Castel T:01481 253366) is a particular favourite with locals and the odd celebrity (Kate Garraway is apparently a fan), as is La Sablonnerie (T: 01481 832061) – its English country garden is the perfect setting for scoffing scones. La Barbarie (T: 01481 235 217, www.labarbariehotel.com) serves a very decent strawberry tea, as does the Saints Bay Hotel (t: 1481 238888, www.saintsbayhotel) on the southernmost tip of the island. If you’re on Herm for the day, make sure you take tea at The White House Hotel (T: 01481 722159, E: firstname.lastname@example.org) – this is England at its best!
1 Guernsey Gâche (pronounced Gosh). It’s a kind of fruit tea loaf, wonderful toasted and thickly spread with rich, yellow Guernsey butter
2 Sheep racing on Sark – known as the Sark Ascot, the event also includes competitions for Best Lady’s Hat and Best Men’s Waistcoat, plus some gorgeous cream teas. It draws crowds from all over the islands, and normally happens around July 8th. Contact the Guernsey Tourist Board for details.
3 A taste of the local beer. Local brews include Sinful, Wicked and Guilty, and there’s also a cider called Rocket. You have been warned…
4 A trip to Herm. The sand dunes, deserted beaches and hidden bays of this tiny island are irresistible. Shell Beach is a favourite spot, a stretch of brilliant white sand which, on a hot day, is almost Caribbean. Pick a scorcher, pack a picnic and take the boat over. The ferry costs from £8.50 return, leaving from St Peter Port. Go to www.herm-island.com for details.
5 The Victor Hugo museum. The French writer’s house in St Peter Port is a labyrinthine extravaganza of interior design. Even if you haven’t read or seen Les Miserables, you’ll enjoy Hugo’s quirky ideas and puzzles. Go to www.victorhugo.gg for details.
September 9 -17
Good Food Guernsey
A foodie’s extravaganza, with something to tempt every palate. Try local Guernsey Bean jar (a kind of bean and vegetable stew), Sark lamb, Guernsey Gâche and bright yellow Guernsey butter made by local farmers. Yum!
Things will seem cheaper on the island because there’s no VAT. It can shave a few pounds off hotel, restaurant, bar and souvenir bills…
Did you know…
1 Parking is free in Guernsey and bus journeys cost just 50p!
2 A healthy sibling rivalry exists between Jersey and Guernsey – Jersey people call Guernsey inhabitants ‘donkeys’, while Guernsey islanders call their Jersey counterparts ‘toads’. Nice…
3 Sark makes it’s own laws, and is home to the world’s smallest jail
4 You can often see dolphins, puffins and seals off the coasts of Guernsey, Herm and Sark
5 At full moon between May and September you may spot locals wading out to sea to collect ormer shellfish, a local delicacy – locals carry tidetables to check moon dates!
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