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Guernsey

The Bailiwick of Guernsey (French: Guernesey, Guernesiais: Guernési, Sercquiais: Gyernëzi) is a group of islands in the English Channel, part of the Channel Islands. Guernsey itself is the main island, some 50 miles west of Normandy; it's about 6 miles long by 3 miles wide, with St Peter Port as its chief settlement.

In 1066 William Duke of Normandy gained the crown of England, so his descendants ruled many parts of France as well as ruling England. A series of wars, and peace treaties followed by more wars, wrested control of French territory away from England to the growing kingdom of France, until all that remained were the Channel Islands. And so they remain today. The Bailiwick of Guernsey, like that of Jersey, is therefore a "Crown Dependency". The Channel Islands are not subject to the UK parliament or legislation or - crucially - taxation in any way, but they cede control of defence and most international affairs to the UK. The rules of this arrangement are unwritten and all parties have shied away from testing them.

Guernsey grew up as a fishing port but from 1700 found that smuggling paid better, as mainland taxes rose sharply. Even more lucrative was piracy (illegal) and privateering (much the same thing, but legal if it was against the King's enemies). The islands were occasionally fought over (eg during the English Civil Wars), but more often they were heavily fortified against invasions that never came. One such phase was during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, another was during the German occupation of the Second World War. So as they weren't attacked, the fortifications remain in good condition, and provide some of the main sights on Guernsey.

Post-war development was faltering: light industry, tomatoes & horticulture (undercut by the Dutch), and offshore finance (risky even when legitimate). Mass tourism never really started, and so Guernsey has concentrated on high-end tourism. Come here and feel like a swell.

Islands

  • Guernsey itself is the main island, with St Peter Port the capital of the Bailiwick, largest town, and traditional point of arrival. The built-up area straggles north to St Sampson and south to St Martin, and less densely west across the whole island. There's not much open countryside on Guernsey, but it's an attractive bucolic landscape.
Lihou is a tidal island with a ruined priory, reached by a causeway from Guernsey.
  • Alderney is ringed with Victorian forts, and has a lot of accessible open countryside.
Burhou, a tiny island off Alderney, is a bird sanctuary. Les Casquets are uninhabited rocky islets west of Alderney with a lighthouse.
  • Sark is the last feudal society in Europe, which means no traffic. Its main area of Grande Sark is linked by a precipitous walkway to Little Sark.
Brecquou 100 yards west of Sark is privately owned by the Barclay twins, the media tycoons, and you can't visit.
  • Herm is a small, charming island close to Guernsey.
Jethou, a tiny island close to Herm, is privately owned and you can't visit.

Get in

Entry regulations are the same as for Jersey, see Channel_Islands#Get_in.

See Alderney, Sark and Herm for routes to those islands. Unless you have your own boat, Herm is always reached via Guernsey; reaching Alderney and Sark is usually so but they do have some connections to Jersey and the UK & French mainlands.

By plane

Aurigny are based in Guernsey and fly direct from London Stansted STN and Gatwick LGW, Bristol, East Midlands, Southampton and Manchester, plus seasonally to Leeds Bradford, Norwich and Grenoble. They also fly to & from Jersey and Alderney, and a day trip is possible.

The Jersey airline Blue Islands is now part of Flybe. They have direct flights to Guernsey from London Heathrow LHR and Southampton, plus through-flights touching down in Jersey from Birmingham, Bristol and Exeter. There are several flights each day to & from Jersey and a day trip is possible. They also have connecting flights from several other cities.

1 Guernsey Airport (GCI IATA) is in the south of the island. Bus 71 runs to St Peter Port M-F 06:30-20:30 every 30 mins, hourly Sat & Sun, taking 30 mins, flat fare £1. A taxi to town should be under £10.

By boat

Condor Ferries sail to Guernsey from Poole (3 hours) and Portsmouth (7 hours) in England, St Malo (1 hour) in France and from Jersey (1 hour). These ferries are year-round and take vehicles, with daily sailings in summer, but the fast-cat from Poole is more likely to be cancelled in bad weather. Day-trips are possible to & from Jersey.

Manche Iles sail to Guernsey from Diélette in Normandy. These are for foot-passengers only and are scheduled for day trips from Normandy, with one outward sailing in the morning and one return late afternoon. They likewise have day-trips from Guernsey to Jersey (weekends July-Aug) and Alderney (weekends May-Sept).

All ferries land at 2 St Peter Port. With your own boat, moor at Victoria Marina the small inner harbour. The pontoons can accommodate boats up to 42ft (12.8m) with a maximum draught of 6ft (1.8m). It's accessible about 2.5 hours either side of high water.

Get around

Buses ply most of the island roads, all converging on St Peter Port, for a flat fare of £1, just pay cash on the bus. To tour around the island (eg to circumnavigate it on Routes 91 or 92) you need a Day Pass, one day for £5 or two for £8.50. There are three late night routes, to Bordeaux Harbour, Grandes Rocques and Pleinmont, flat fare £2.50. A Puffinpass is a pre-payment card for £15, topped up in multiples of £5.

Car hire is available at the airport from Hertz, Avis, Europcar and Hallmark. Best pre-book as their fleets are small and will sell out in peak periods.

Bike hire is available from Adventure Cycles. Other shops do sales and repairs but don't hire.

Talk

Overwhelmingly English is spoken, but Norman-French Guernesais is taught in schools in a bid to preserve it.

See

  • 1 Castle Cornet, Castle Pier, St Peter Port. Apr-Oct daily 10:00-17:00. First built in the 13th century on a tidal island, which was later incorporated into the harbour breakwater. It's been variously besieged, blown up, added to, garrisoned and used as a prison. Adult £10.50.
  • The Royal Courthouse on St James St is a working court, so you just admire the exterior.
  • 2 The Town Church (Parish Church of St Peter Port), Church Square, St Peter Port GY1 2JU,. M-F 08:15-18:00, Sa 09:00-18:00, Su 07:30-19:30. Built from 13th C and completed by 1466. It's Anglican and the interior is mostly Victorian.
  • 3 Hauteville House, 38 Rue Hauteville, St Peter Port GY1 1DG, ? hugohouse@cwgyFORMAT. Apr-Nov Th-Tu 10:00-16:00. Victor Hugo lived here 1856-1870 whilst in exile from France - and buying it meant he couldn't be deported from Guernsey. He wrote several of his best-known works here including Les Misérables. His descendants gifted it to the City of Paris, who now manage it. It was closed for refurbishment from 2017 but re-opened in May 2019. On four levels with garden, it's mobbed by Hugo's readers and admirers so you must book a visit by email, and their turnaround time for emails is a week.
  • The Tapestry Gallery depicts a thousand years of island history. It's in town centre, open M-Sa 10:00-16:30.
  • Guernsey Museum & Art Gallery, Candie Gardens, St Peter Port GY1 1UG. Feb-Dec daily 10:00-16:00. Museum of island life from prehistory to present day. Set in the pleasant Victorian Candie Garden. Adult £6.50.
  • German Naval Signals HQ is a museum in a bunker along St Jacques Rd, open daily 12:30-16:30.
  • Chateau des Marais or "Ivy Castle" is what's left of a Norman moated castle, with the ruins variously used as a pigsty, liquor distillery and bunker. It's a mile north of town and set in a nature reserve.
  • La Vallette Underground Military Museum is a collection of occupation memorabilia in wartime tunnels half a mile south of town.
  • Guernsey Aquarium in the same complex of tunnels is open daily 09:00-17:00.
  • 4 Sausmarez Manor, Gardens & Artpark, Route de Sausmarez, St. Martin GY4 6SG. Daily 10:00-17:00. The oldest part of the manor dates to 13th C, but it's been continually and erratically rebuilt, and most of what you see now is sublimely botched Victoriana. The manor itself can only be visited on guided tours, April-Oct M-Th at 10:30 and 11:30, with F & Sat and 14:30 tours June-Sept, adult £7.50. However most visitors come for the Subtropical Gardens and the Artpark, both open all year, £6.50 apiece or £12 together. The Artpark is a sculpture trail with some 200 contemporary works by 80 UK and overseas artists; it's mostly for sale and the display is renewed annually.
  • 5 German Underground Hospital, even bigger than the one on Jersey, was built during the occupation against an Allied attack that never came. It's on La Vassalerie Road, St Andrews GY6 8XL and open May-Sept daily 10:00-16:00, in April & Oct F-M 10:00-16:00; adult £4.
  • The Little Chapel half a mile west of the underground hospital is an oddity, just 16 ft long by 9 ft wide, covered in a mosaic of seashells, pebbles, and broken china. Its creator Brother Déodat Antoine was aiming for something like Lourdes, but twice demolished his work as unsatisfactory; the third and present version was built 1923-1939.
  • German Occupation Museum, Les Houards Forest GY8 0BG (just south of airport), ? +44 1481 238205. Apr-Oct daily 10:00-16:30, Nov-Mar daily 10:00-13:00. Depicts the occupation of Guernsey by German forces during World War II. £6 cash only.
  • 6 Jerbourg Point. There are several scenic clifftop strolls along the south and east coasts, but the best is here at the southeast tip. It's an obvious defensive position and Jerbourg's structures range from the Neolithic to the occupation of World War II.
  • Bastions and gun emplacements are dotted all around the coast. Fort Grey on Portelet Beach is a Martello Tower with a shipwreck museum within.
  • 7 Lihou is a small tidal island off L'Erée headland, reached by a 1300 ft / 400 m causeway at low tide. Lihou and L'Erée are a wetland nature reserve, and access to some parts may be closed during the seabird nesting season, eg to the adjacent islets of Lissroy and Lihoumel. The main sight on Lihou is St Mary's Priory, established in the 12th C but ruined after the 16th C dissolution of monasteries. The farmhouse is modern.

Do

  • Beaches: over two dozen, those to the north and west being flat and sandy, those east rocky. The south has little coves beneath the cliffs, scenic (Renoir enjoyed painting them) but access is not as easy.
West, looking towards Lihou island, are Rocquaine & Portelet Bay, L’Eree, Vazon Bay (which has surfing), Cobo Bay and Grandes Rocques. North are Port Soif (beware currents), Portinfer, Port Grat, Le Grande Havre, Chouet Bay, Ladies Bay, and Pembroke & L’Ancresse Bays - these latter are breezy and popular for windsurfing. East around St Peter Port are Bordeaux, Belle Greve Bay, Havelet, Soldiers Bay, Fermain Bay and Marble Bay (Le Pied du Mur). South around St Martin are Petit Port, Moulin Huet, Saints Bay, Le Jaonnet Bay (the trickiest to access) and Petit Bot. Dogs are not allowed May-Sept on Fermain, Petit Bot, L’Eree, northern end of Vazon, Port Soif, Cobo, and L’Ancresse & Pembroke.

Buy

Money: The Guernsey pound is on parity with British £ sterling. Notes from Jersey, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man are also accepted in Guernsey. Guernsey pounds are not accepted in the UK, so change them for UK pounds before leaving the islands, although they can be paid in over the counter at British banks. Cash machines may offer a choice of which currency is dispensed - Local or Sterling.

Eat

  • Traditional Guernsey cream teas, to take to the beach or eat in, can be found at many outlets including Victoria Cafe in Candie Gardens, the kiosks in Saint's Bay, Port Soif or Portelet Bay (this one is more accessible for wheelchair users); or splurge at Old Government House Hotel.
  • Albion, Church Square, High Street, St Peter Port GY1 2JU, ? +44 1481 723518. M-Sa 11:00-00:45, Su 12:00-20:00. Friendly traditional pub serves food and ale.
  • Ship & Crown, St Peter Port Seafront GY1 1EJ (by Victoria Pier), ? +44 1481 728994. M-Sa 10:00-00:45, Su 12:00-00:45. Pub & restaurant, good food and atmosphere.
  • Terrace Garden Cafe, Cornet Street, St Peter Port GY1 1BZ, ? +44 1481 724478. Daily 08:00-22:00. Thai food, with views of harbour and town.
  • St Peter Port options also include La Fregate Hotel, La Nautique, Pier 17, Sawatdi, Mora's, Crow's Nest, White Rock Cafe, Le Petit Bistro and Da Nello's. For breakfast try Nelia's Bakery.
  • Out of town try The Rockmount at Cobo Bay or Crabby Jack's at Vazon Bay, for sunset dining. On the east coast, better early in the day, are Fermain Beach Cafe (booking essential in summer, +44 01481 238636) and Halfway Cafe at La Tonnelle.

Drink

  • The main strip of pubs is along the waterfront at St Peter Port.
  • Wheadon's Gin is a London-style dry gin from a micro distillery within Bella Luce Hotel. They offer tours and tastings Wed & Fri at 6 pm, £20, booking essential, tel +44 1481 238764.
  • Guernsey doesn't have a vineyard but has two breweries, both on St Georges Esplanade in St Peter Port: Randalls, and White Rock which is also a gin distillery. Tours possible, enquire locally.

Sleep

  • Best Western have two hotels: Moore's next to the harbour in St Peter Port, and the smaller De Havelet on the south side of town.
  • 1 Old Government House Hotel & Spa, Ann's Place, St Peter Port GY1 2NU, ? +44 1481 724921. Plush hotel with good food & service, the bigger rooms are worth the extra. B&B double from £300.
  • St Peter Port other hotels include Yacht Inn, Pandora, Ziggurat, Duke of Normandie, Duke of Richmond, La Fregate and La Piette.
  • Out of town hotels are mostly along the sandy western beaches. They include Cobo Bay, La Grande Mare, Driftwood Inn and The Imperial.
  • 2 Ellingham Cottages are self-catering cottages at Camps du Moulin, St Martin's.
  • Campsites are mostly to the north, at La Bailloterie, Vaugrat, Fauxquets Valley and Les Maingys.

Learn

There are plenty of opportunities to learn in Guernsey with everything from ceramics to surfing on offer. If you, or your child, want to try something creative while visiting there is a good gallery with art workshops in the older area of town. The Gallery (www.thegallery.gg) is at the top of a cobbled hill (Mill Street) which goes up from the old markets. There you can sign up for pottery, mosaic, painting and photography workshops. There are also plenty of fun and unusual things on offer for children.

Stay safe

The main hazards are natural, eg slippy rocks. Crime is uncommon but take usual care of your belongings and avoid the occasional idiot drunk.

You must have personal travel health insurance: the Bailiwick of Guernsey has no reciprocal agreements with the UK National Health Service, EU "EHIC" system, or any other nation. Medical treatment on any of these islands must therefore be paid in full.

Go next

To Jersey or to the UK or Normandy mainland are the choices.



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