We were staying at La Frégate, a delightful boutique hotel in St Peter Port. Warmly greeted by the charming and attentive Hotel Manager Simon Dufty, we were shown to our luxurious contemporary suite. Floor to ceiling windows and glass-walled balconies gave us breathtaking views over the harbour and, in the distance, the islands of Herm, Sark and Alderney. It was an easy stroll from the hotel down to the town and, after checking in, we set off to explore.
Aside from being one of the prettiest harbours in Europe, St Peter Port is steeped in . Originally built to defend Guernsey’s busy trading harbour in the 13 th century, Castle Cornet forms the backdrop of the capital and houses five museums, telling the story of the island’s rich and varied history. Nestled into the hillside is Hauteville House, formerly the home of the great French playwright Victor Hugo, where, among other great works, he wrote Les Miserables.
The picturesque cobbled streets of the town reflect the island’s French and English influences, teeming with small independent boutiques, jewellery shops, (no VAT makes shopping tempting), alfresco cafes and restaurants and refreshingly few of the usual generic stores.
After making an irresistible jewellery purchase, and taking a gentle stroll around the harbour, we headed back to La Frégate for dinner. The hotel restaurant is one of the best in St Peter Port and, after a glass of champagne on the romantic alfresco terrace, we enjoyed a delicious, beautifully presented, dinner of locally caught fresh fish served with crushed Jersey Royals.
A perfect end to our first day on the island.
After breakfast we met up with our tourist board guide, Sylvia, who was taking us to see some of the main attractions. An enigmatic walking Wikipedia on Guernsey, with a car boot full of astonishing props, (of which more later), Sylvia gave us an enthralling insight into life on the island. First stop on our tour was, The Little Chapel in the parish of St Andrews. This tiny structure, built in 1914 by Brother Deodat, a Roman Catholic monk, is the smallest chapel in the world. It is truly unique, constructed entirely from clinker (the residue from burnt coal), with walls and cavities clad in broken pieces of china creating an eclectic, ceramic jigsaw façade.
The chapel can accommodate only eight people at once, so visitors may have a wait during busy periods. Sadly the structure is in decline but remedial work is being carried out with the help of donations. We then drove on to the South coast of the island, where we walked along the dramatic cliff tops overlooking Petit Port, Sylvia pointing out colourful native flora along the way. Renoir was inspired by the beauty of this landscape and spent six months on the island producing some of his most famous paintings.
The German occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II was, of course, one of the most significant periods in Guernsey’s history. Many families were separated, as children were evacuated to the UK for safety. The occupation has left its mark on the island as the Germans built underground tunnels and strategic bunkers, which remain in evidence today. Back to Sylvia’s car boot, from which she produced a landmine, (de-fused she assured us), one of 72,000 the Germans planted around the island’s shores. Regaling us with stories of bravery and heroism, Syliva pointed out memorial plaques, sited around St Peter Point harbour, honouring those who had lost their lives.
The underground military museum is well worth a visit.
After lunch, we left Sylvia and took the 20 minute Trident ferry crossing to Herm Island, for the afternoon. Entirely unspoilt –
no cars, litter, or pollution, just lush countryside, glorious beaches and a spectacular coastline – it is aptly signed ‘Welcome to Paradise’.
The island is just 3.9 miles around the perimeter and 2.8 miles across. We did the perimeter walk, round the coastline cliffs and coves, stopping en route to enjoy the stunningly beautiful, Caribbean-white, sandy beach coves. Sadly, Puffin Bay was totally devoid of puffins, but we were under the flight path of the island’s swooping sea gulls! Accommodation on the island is limited.
There is one hotel, The White House, quaint holiday cottages and tented camp sites. There are four restaurants, beach cafes and two shops. Not surprisingly, the island is a popular getaway for Guernsey residents, and a perfect day trip for tourists.
All too soon our visit was over and it was time to return to the real world. Guernsey has a great variety of attractions for visitors of every age, with plenty of sporting activities on offer, especially water sports, cycling and walking. Travelling back from Guernsey airport was a joy – no queues, no rude security staff yelling instructions, just a friendly team to check you through, and a quiet airport lounge to wait in – travel bliss! My only regret was not being there long enough to fully embrace the tranquillity and the gentle pace of life – an absolutely perfect short break destination. We will definitely return – I still want to see the Puffins!
For more information, please visit www.visitguernsey.com
Double rooms at La Fregate Hotel and Restaurant are priced from £99.50 per person on a B&B basis. http://lafregatehotel.com
Return flights to Guernsey from Leeds Bradford are priced from £120 per person. Fare includes all taxes, 20kg hold baggage allowance and a complimentary drink. www.aurigny.com