By Helen Moffat
We caught our first glimpses of Guernsey as we left the ferry and made slow progress through the Friday afternoon traffic of the capital, St Peter Port, and immediately began forming our impressions.
“I think it looks like France,” said my 10-year-old. “I think it looks like the seaside,” said my seven-year-old. “It’s certainly very pretty. More modern than I was expecting,” said my husband. I’d imagined Guernsey would be a bit like olde worlde England, a little bit of English quaint just off the coast of France. And while at times it was, it was also much, much more.
I was really pleasantly surprised at how close it is. We are used to going to Brittany, and the long overnight haul from the south coast across to France, but this was a mere hop, skip and two and a half hours – barely time to get through our free muffins and coffee in the Club Class lounge of our Condor Ferry.
We travelled from Weymouth, and had a wonderfully relaxed crossing there, but storms and high winds on our return. We really appreciated the peace of Club Class then, as it was evening, and we wanted the children to sleep. Our chairs were large and comfy and the staff were really attentive, asking if we needed more blankets or drinks for the girls, and coming to check they were OK when the turbulence made one turn slightly green.
Things to see
So on to the island. There’s no denying the beauty of the place. We were only here for a long weekend, so we made the most of the good weather on our first two days and spent time visiting beaches, exploring along the fabulous north and west coastline and unearthing a treasure around every corner.
Whilst doing a suggested walk from Torteval we had a proper Famous Five moment, and came across a network of tunnels built into the hillside. It seemed every beach had an ancient castle or fortress, and not surprising for an island which spent most of the second world war occupied by the Nazis, there’s fortifications of some kind everywhere.
There’s almost as many beach-side kiosks, too. They’re a real feature of the coastline, ensuring you can’t go too far without being in reach of some delicious golden coloured Guernsey icecream or the island’s staple Gache cake – a kind of fruit loaf - and a cuppa.
We were also intrigued by the amount of produce we saw for sale outside people’s houses. Living in rural Staffordshire, we’re used to seeing people selling gluts of garden produce from their driveway – but not on this scale.
Hedge Veg, as it’s known, relies on the honesty of buyers, who simply drop their money in a box, and turns a walk or drive into a vast wander through a fruit and vegetable market. We made a game of seeing who could spot something new whilst we were out and about each day.
We were tempted by some jams we spotted in a box at the end of a beautiful large house as we walked from Torteval and bought some apple and blackberry. If the lady or gent responsible is reading this – thank you, it was delicious! And we’ll be trying some ginger and lemon the next time we’re over ...
And we will be over again, I’m sure. Having done a bit of homework in advance, we’d quickly realised our to-do list was too vast for a two and a half day visit, and scaled it down, promising we’ll see more on our return.
We had made the German Occupation Museum a definite must-visit, and were glad we had. It’s one thing to trot out the school-learned facts about the island being occupied by the Nazis, but quite another to see this remarkable collection of memorabilia, read islanders letters and newspapers, and see footage from the time.
It made me think about how painful it must have been over the years for people who lived through those times to see the constant reminders of the war on Guernsey – the gun placements, the watch towers – but there’s no disguising that this is an island which makes the best of what it has, and where these relics can be used to good these days, they most certainly are.
We climbed the Pleinmont Observation Tower, and saw the tremendous views it gives across the island and the sea, and also read the newspaper cuttings there which shows how the people of Guernsey used a massive former gun placement to build a sunken playground for children, and successfully reclaimed their island after the war.
St Pierre Park Hotel
We stayed at the St Pierre Park Hotel, just on the outskirts of St Peter Port – a beautiful leafy location, next to its own golf course.
Our family suite was spacious and comfortable – the children had their own twin bedroom with ensuite, and its own TV, noted immediately on arrival with much excitement - and allowed us all a little privacy whilst still being together.
The Nespresso machine was a nice touch, giving us freshly brewed coffee each morning and at the end of our busy days, and our room certainly felt like a home from home we looked forward to coming back to.
Our balcony overlooked the large play area and tennis courts, whilst a view of the lake to the far right – which we looked out on each morning during breakfast. The buffet had a huge selection of hot and cold food, and I really can’t imagine there’s anything you’d wish for for breakfast that wasn’t there. The staff in the restaurant, as throughout the hotel, were so warm and welcoming, helping my youngest to spoon fruit into her bowl, and our eldest to perfect the toaster.
We didn’t manage to eat at the hotel besides breakfast, as we spent so much of our days out, but the menus looked delicious, and reasonably priced, and the two restaurants looked busy each night when we returned. Maybe next time?!
It’s maybe next time for the German Military Underground Hospital we’d really wanted to visit too, and the little chapel, and the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery, and Castle Cornet … I think it’s fair to say you are not going to run out of things to do on a visit to this island, no matter how long your stay.
There’s certainly no shortage of places to eat either, whether you’re looking for a lunchtime sandwich, afternoon snacks, an early tea with the children or something more grown-up at night. St Peter Port was busy and vibrant on the evening – and we quickly realised on the Friday night that we should have booked a restaurant in advance. But we still found a lovely pub to eat in, with something on the menu for the children too.
The choice across the town, and indeed, Guernsey, was vast – with quality fish restaurants, as you’d expect on an island, to culinary influences from around the globe. Still, we couldn’t visit the seaside without enjoying fish and chips, and we tucked into ours overlooking the majestic Cobo Bay.
So what were our impressions as we got back onto the ferry? The island is a little French, a little old England, a little modern day and a lot, well, Guernsey. It has a quirky and really attractive uniqueness, a feel all of its own , and I can’t wait until our next time. No maybes.
Disclaimer: Helen and her family travelled to Guernsey courtesy of Condor Ferries and stayed on the island courtesy of Visit Guernsey.