Channel Islands, United Kingdom
An island with a story to tell
37 people found this review helpful
Beautiful sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, forts, canons, secret coves, prehistoric tombs, folklore and German occupation. All these can be found on the warm and welcoming island of Guernsey, in the Channel Islands. Indeed, this island has much to share.
We decided to take up a great 5 day package deal from the Telegraph to Guernsey, which included flights, B&B (with one dinner), and car hire. Having only ever visited Jersey many years ago, I was interested to see what Guernsey had to offer.
It was near the end of September and the weather was still pretty warm. The departure airport was Southampton, only a 40 minute car journey away. As a bonus, we even managed to get a reduction for parking the car. It was an early 8.30 flight with Blue Islands airline. There was a slight delay of getting luggage onto the aircraft, as the terminal belts had broken down and had to be transferred by hand onto transport. We had front row seats on the plane and were served with complimentary drinks. Having a propeller, the plane was rather noisy, but comfortable and the journey only took 35 minutes, touching down at 9.15am. The airport in Guernsey is in the parish of Forest, about a couple of miles from St Peter Port.
We collected a Fiesta car from Avis which included half a tank of fuel and asked to take it back empty! I can understand why only half a tank – even though we used it every day, we still had some fuel left on the last day! We had to pay insurance and took out full cover. Just as well, because the day before returning, we had a minor incident with the wing mirror. The roads are so very narrow with lots of walls each side. There is a maximum speed limit of 35mph. On the approaches to St Peter Port town and some other Parish centres, a 25mph limit applies.
Armed with a map, we set out to book into the hotel situated on the West Coast, 10 minutes from the airport. This was not an easy task as you had to rely on the road names written on walls mostly, as they lacked many signs as we are used to. La Grande Mare Hotel, Golf and Country Club has views of both the sea and their 120 acre woodland and golf course. It has great facilities, recently renovated with large, modern rooms, wi-fi and new state-of-the-art health suite. It even has a 'Presidential Suite' on the top floor.
We were upgraded to a ground floor studio apartment overlooking the golf course. We were well pleased when we walked through the door. It was well equipped, spacious, clean and tastefully furnished with kitchen facilities. The hotel food was excellent and staff very polite, friendly and helpful. Certainly to be recommended.
We wanted to take advantage of the time we had and try to see as many attractions as possible. On the first day of arrival, after settling in, we walked up to Fort Hommet, constructed by the Nazi Germans between 1940 and 1945. It is a 105 mm coastal defence gun casement bunker. Fully restored, members of the public have access on certain dates. We didn't get access that day, but did get an opportunity to look inside on another day.. It was a wonderful bright, warm afternoon and we were able to walk back to the hotel along the wide, sandy beach, which later turned into a 'surfers paradise' when the tide came in. We had a wonderful evening meal and I had a seafood starter followed by venison.
The next morning our first stop was the island's reservoir situated in the rural interior of the island. It offers picturesque scenery and has a great woodland habitat for the local wildlife. If you have the time (about an hour), there is a Millenium Walk which takes you on a peaceful path around the reservoir.
We then visited the Gold & Silversmiths not far from the airport. Founded in 1887, Bruce Russell & Son is a fourth generation gold and silversmiths who manufacture fine jewellery and silverware. They create stunning ranges of platinum, gold and silver jewellery. Housed in traditional stone buildings, the showroom and workshop are set in 8 acres of award-winning grounds. You can watch the craftsmen at work, it's quite fascinating! We spent a little time watching a woman re-sizing a ring. There is a nice little restaurant/tea room called the 'Mint Brasserie' where you can sit outside in the sun and enjoy a coffee and cake, home made scones, ice cream, or a meal. Outside is an old cider press and a winding stream trickles along through the garden with bright, colourful flowers, enhancing the walkways.
It was 1pm when we reached our next landmark – The Little Chapel at Les Vauxbelets, in St Andrews. This is certainly a visitor attraction, not to be missed. It was started in 1914 by Brother Deodat of the religious order of the de la Salle brothers (the third chapel to be built on this site). It was based on the Grotto at Lourdes and is decorated with shells and broken china. It sits prominently on a bank-side, clearly catching your eye as you approach. It is said to accommodate only 1 priest and 5 congregation, which is easy to see why once you get inside.
The German Underground Hospital and Ammunition Store was next, which I wasn't too keen to explore. It opened at 2pm and was manned by a senior gentleman in a woolly hat, no doubt to keep out the cold and damp. It was first opened to the public on July 29th 1954 and had a maze of tunnels covering approx. 75,00 square feet. It was built under a low hill in the countryside. Hundreds of slave workers of several nationalities helped build it, working for the Todt Organisation. It took about three and a half years to excavate, concrete and equip the place. It was only in actual use for about 9 months! Thousands of tons of ammunition were stored there. The hospital part was only used to accommodate troops brought from France – those wounded in action against the Liberating Forces. Designed to accommodate 800 patients, but could have housed three to four times that number. It was ready for use in 1944 with at least 6 German female nurses. The one and a quarter miles of corridors and rooms were excavated out of solid rock. One big rock fall caused the deaths of 6 Frenchmen. The islanders refused to work any longer and were transferred elsewhere. Foreign slaves were forced to work, or starve. I made a lot of notes in my notebook which I usually take everywhere I go, so there is much I could include. Must move on!
At the airport when we picked up the hire car, I was given a card with a pearl attached. If you took it along to the Guernsey Pearl shop you could exchange it for a pair of pearl earrings. So that was our next port of call. This place has been an established visitor attraction for many years and has a wide variety of the 'gems of the sea' including simulated, freshwater and precious cultured pearls. They have an oyster tank where you can pick your own pearl.
We ended the day at the Folk and Costume Museum, but were too late for entry! Instead we enjoyed a walk through Saumarez Park and had something to eat in the nearby Italian cafe. The lasagne I chose was not too brilliant, it was stuck to the plate, to me, a sign it had possibly been re-heated in a microwave, then served! After that, we made sure we ate back at our own hotel.
On the Wednesday morning we headed out for The Dehus Dolmen and encountered some difficulty in finding it. This is a prehistoric passage and chamber grave about 10 metres in length. A tunnel opens up into a chamber, featuring 'Le Guardian du Tombeau,' a remarkable overhead carving of a bearded face, hands and bow and arrow. A group of schoolchildren were visiting and were highly excited by it all.
Then it was off to St Peter Port to see Victor Hugo's house, Hauteville House (Museum). On the way up Cornet street, you pass the Victorian Shop and Parlour, highlighting islanders home life of the past. It was one of the oldest town houses in St Peters Port, run by the National Trust of Guernsey. As well as National Trust goods, it sells traditional sweets and local crafts. The Victorian parlour show-piece has been set up behind the shopping area. Cornet street weaves it's way up to the top of Tower Hill which is steeped in folklore and tales of witches. Eventually, you find Hauteville, but initially we mistook a house which had belonged to his mistress who had lived close by. Hauteville House is a large, 4 storey, white building overlooking the sea, and remains today, just as it was left. Hugo was captivated by the island and spent many years there. From his look out he built in the top of the house, he completed Le Miserables (17 years in the writing and published in 1862). I didn't like the house but wouldn't have missed seeing it! It was very dark, particularly the lower floors. There is much to write about, but must remain brief on this occasion. Lots more background to tell … the strange furniture/ secret doors, and supposedly, ghost of a white lady!
While in St Peter Port, it was a good opportunity to visit Castle Cornet built in the 1200s by the English Crown after King John lost Normandy. The castle houses , 5 museums, 3 period gardens, a café and souvenir shop. The entrance fee was £8, but there is a lot to see. Allow at least 2 hours for a visit. The 210 Squadron Museum is unique as it is the only one open to the public. 'Guernsey's Own' 210 squadron is told through photographs, documents, aircraft relics, models and interactive displays. In the museums you will be taken back hundreds of years into the Castle's history.
After all this sightseeing, it was great to get back to the hotel and chill out for a while before the evening meal and muse over the places we had seen.
Thursday morning, a short journey from the hotel, we stopped off at the chapel of St Apolline. This is a small chapel seating 14 people in the parish of St Saviours. It dates from 1392, and was built by Nicholas Henry and dedicated to St Apolline (the patron saint of dentists). Originally the chapel was painted and quite a large portion of the 14th century work, showing the Last Supper, has managed to survive on the south wall. It was restored in 1972 – 78 and is now open to the public every day. It isn't clear what the connection to Guernsey is, but St Apollonia was one of a group of virgin martyrs who suffered in Alexandria at a time when there was a local uprising against the Christians prior to the persecution of Decius. Legend has it that her torture included having all her teeth violently pulled, out or shattered. This is the reason she is regarded as the patroness of dentistry.
From here we had a nice drive over to the Nature Reserve with its cliff top walks and wonderful scenery. We even spotted some birds of prey. They could have been buzzards, but not close enough to distinguish! On to the German Occupation Museum, owned and operated by Richard Heaume. As a young boy, Richard began to collect spent bullets in the fields after the plough had finished. In June 1966 his parents let him use the cottage opposite their house to display his collection. Gradually, extensions were added. In 1987 a tea room was added along with an 'Occupation Street.' 2001 saw a further extension which houses information about the islands deportees. There is an extensive collection of original Occupation items and documents including quite a lot of rare pieces. Half way through the visit, and as it was a beautiful day, we enjoyed a cup of tea and a scone in the garden. Again, certainly worth a visit.
We ended the afternoon with a trip to Jerbourg Point, which has a large hotel on top (Hotel Jerbourg). This point marks the end of the east coast cliffs and the beginning of the south coast cliffs, providing wonderful scenic views of the Little Russel and other islands. We walked along the cliff top path and passed a large German gun position and a formation of rocks known as 'The Pea Stacks.' It was out of this world, just sitting on the cliff side gazing out across the blue sea glittering and sparkling in the cloudless sky. Beauty, peace and nature, all at one!
Friday, we had an evening flight back, so just leisurely spent the time driving around some of the scenic spots, that is, until a mist came down and shrouded everything! Couldn't complain, we had had a fantastic 5 days of good weather.
While waiting to take off, we shown to a special area, cordoned off for Blue Islands passengers. Here we were given a complimentary drink before boarding. A nice touch, I thought!
After a great time which we thoroughly enjoyed, the only disappointment I had, was the lack of seeing Guernsey cows. Great Guernsey, butter, cream and cheese, yet only on one occasion did I see a few cows from a distance! So, I have written to the Guernsey press to ask where they are hidden?
There were still one or two places we didn't get round to visiting, but maybe another time … certainly from the hotel point of view. So much to see and learn about this beautiful little island!
37 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.