Imagine an island which has stunning scenery as far as the eye can see, rugged clifftops and long stretches of sandy beach at almost every turn and you’ve just about summed Guernsey up in a nutshell. When we were invited to visit the Channel Islands by Condor Ferries, we genuinely didn’t know what to expect. The Channel Islands weren’t somewhere we would necessarily have considered visiting before; if you’d invited me to take a ferry trip I’d automatically think of visiting France. I’m sure I’m not the only one to feel like this but having been and experienced the delights of Guernsey, I can honestly recommend it as a place worth visiting.
Leaving the Port of Poole behind on a grey and cloudy June morning, we set sail aboard the Condor Liberation; Condor’s flagship ferry. It takes 3 hours to reach Guernsey and the boat follows a route which goes from Poole to St Malo via Guernsey and Jersey, and then back again. Boarding was an absolute breeze with our e-tickets and we had pre-booked seats in Ocean Plus which was accessed through use of a code given to us on arrival. There are wide windows everywhere you look in the Ocean Plus lounge and I imagine on a less foggy day the views would be panoramic and breathtaking. As it was, we could see very little until we began to reach the islands and the sky cleared. Both Meg and Eli preferred to be out on deck, despite the brisk weather, so I got to enjoy the peace and quiet of the lounge whilst James braved the elements with the children. Our journey was relatively stress-free although Eli suffered with seasickness on the way out. I have to say thank you to the member of staff who came back to check on us when I was stuck in the toilets with him, and to the two ladies who were very concerned that I not be there for the three hours! Luckily, we picked up some wristbands from the on-board duty free which we used to coax him out of his toilet cubicle and we used these on the way back as well, meaning we had no trouble at all on our return.
Seasick episode aside, the three hours flew by and when we began to dock at St Peter’s Port we were greeted with sunshine and beautiful blue skies. We had definitely left the miserable English weather behind! This was our first introduction to life in the Channel Islands; on every corner you see a unique combination of Franglaise culture and it began for us with the sudden turn in the weather. St Peter’s Port is a bustling and busy part of the island and is considered one of the prettiest harbour towns in Europe. With its cobbled streets and picturesque marina, it’s not difficult to see why.
We had just over two days to spend exploring Guernsey, from our arrival at midday on Friday until our ferry back to England at 2pm on Sunday and we planned to make the most of it. Determined to hit the ground running, as much as we would have loved to hang around and explore the Port our first stop once we alighted was to check into our hotel which was located on the north side of the island in Vale.
We were staying in The Peninsula Hotel in a family room. The room was light and bright with sufficient space for a family of four. I have to admit that when we travel we don’t usually stay in hotels; we prefer accommodation which offers a separate living and bedroom area so that we can chill at the end of the evening, whilst Meg and Eli sleep and I was initially worried about the problems with getting the kids to sleep whilst James and I were pottering about but we were all so exhausted each night that we tended to crash as soon as we made it back to our room, so this really wasn’t an issue.
After check-in, we decided to spend an hour exploring the area immediately surrounding the Peninsula. The hotel is just a short walk from the Rousse Headland so that is where we headed, indulging in some real Guernsey ice cream along the way. Rousse Headland is on the north-west of the island and is home to a Napoleonic loop-holed tower, a kiosk selling drinks, snacks, and most importantly ice cream!, a beach and a small harbour area. There weren’t many people about during our visit but we did pass a number of walkers. A little playing on the pebbled beach here and a quick scout of the nearby Rousse Tower was sufficient and we made our way back to the hotel to enjoy the rest of the sunshine by making use of the Peninsula’s outdoor pool. Our weather app (reliably it turned out) informed us that our first afternoon in Guernsey was going to be the only day with any sunshine so we really wanted to make the most of the sun’s rays whilst we had the chance.
A few hours wearing the kids out in the pool and then it was off to Cobo Beach; our most recommended destination. We were told by several people we know, and a number of people on the ferry, that watching the sun set on Cobo Beach was an absolute must. And I would have to agree! Parking was something of an issue as it was very busy, with the outdoor area of the nearby Cobo Bay Hotel absolutely rammed with people; we ended up parking a 5 minute walk from the beach. We also had to queue for quite a while to get food from Cobo Fish Bar (although it was totally worth it; I have been ruined for chips and gravy ever since!) but we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves and it was wholly worthwhile to relax on the golden sands and watch the sun go down. It may have only been our first night but watching the kids play happy and carefree, silhouetted against the beautiful backdrop of the shoreline was definitely a highlight of the trip for us.
The island of Guernsey is perhaps best known for its German occupation in the Second World War (and especially thanks to the popularity of one of my FAVOURITE books which is now a movie) and there is evidence of this occupation almost everywhere you go. But there is also an older history to the island if you want to go back even further. On Saturday we headed to the south of the island towards the Pleinmont Headland and Table des Pions, otherwise known as the ‘Fairy Ring’ which hails back to the 1830s when it was used as a dugout picnic bench (kind of…) by officials who were inspecting coastal defences.
One of the things which struck us most during our trip was the fact that there was plenty to see and do, no matter what the weather was up to. You could be active, or take it easy, enjoy some sight-seeing or just keep the kids entertained for an hour or two. And being on such a small island meant that you were never more than 20 minutes drive from anything. It’s probably a good time to leave a small note on the roads in Guernsey; we decided to drive rather than use public transport, and it’s worth bearing in mind that they have slightly different road rules to the UK. There is an interesting ‘give-way’ system which is called a ‘filter in turn’ system; at these junctions all vehicles have the same priority. A large number of the roads we went on were also only about a lane and a half wide and we regularly had to mount the pavement to pass on-coming traffic. It’s generally okay if you take it slow, but I’m glad James was there to do the driving as I don’t think it would be for the hesitant motorist!
Parking is also rather quaint; all public parking in Guernsey is free. However there are various zones known as ‘disc zones’ around the island and drivers have to use a parking clock to indicate time of arrival. There are different time limits in different zones and these are clearly marked, from 1 hour through to 15+ hours.
We squeezed in visits to the German occupation museum, the Guernsey Aquarium, The Little Chapel, Cornet Castle and Pirate Bay Adventure Golf as well as a return visit to Cobo Beach. I could go into so much detail about each and every place we went to but there has to be a limit to my word count somewhere! On Sunday morning we explored the bunting-strewn streets of St Peter’s Port: each Sunday in the summer months they have a themed market. On the Sunday we were there the theme was ‘Arts’ and although the weather was against us it was lovely to see some local talent on display. Even reading that list makes me feel like we managed a lot and yet we left feeling as though we had only scratched the surface of everything this wonderful little island has to offer. If we were lucky enough to return then I would definitely want to explore some of the picturesque gardens or book a guided bike tour with Donkey Tours; we enquired about booking a tour but there was no availability for our dates. I can’t say cycling in the mist would have been the best way to see the island but on a clear day I imagine it would be a fantastic and fun way to experience Guernsey through the eyes of a local.
Then of course I can’t finish talking about our short break without mentioning the food. Guernsey is a seafood lovers heaven. As I mentioned above, we ate at Cobo Fish Bar the first night but two other places I wanted to specifically mention are the Terrace Garden Café which has impressive views over St Peter’s Port as well as delicious Thai food, and Crabby Jack’s which is a real must for families, although be sure to book a table in advance. We ate here on Saturday evening and it was absolutely packed to the rafters. We ended up being seated outside which we actually didn’t mind because the play area is outside but if you want to be indoors then you should bear this in mind. And of course you have to sample real Guernsey ice cream; it certainly got the seal of approval from Meg and Eli, who couldn’t even stop themselves from eating whilst we captured it on camera!
The final thought I want to leave you with, was the friendliness of the people. I was struck by how welcoming and chatty everyone was. The whole island has an almost ‘small village’ feel to it and it creates a relaxed and ambient vibe which permeates through everything. From being stopped on the street by someone who wanted to know where James’ coat was from to having people engage with the kids when we were visiting tourist attractions or just buying our lunch, there’s such a friendly atmosphere and it really brought an added element of enjoyment to our visit.
I am certain this won’t be our last visit to the Channel Islands and a huge thank you to Condor Ferries for inviting us along, organising our trip and inspiring such a fun adventure for us all.