In the English Channel, just a few miles off the coast of Brittany, lie the Channel Islands, comprising the islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Herm, Sark and Alderney. As bailiwicks, these self-governing British Crown Dependencies retain a form of government that has been in force for 1000 years. The Bailiwick of Jersey is a separate entity, while the three smaller islands are parts of the Bailiwick of Guernsey. Furthermore, Sark is ruled by a Seigneur, the last remnants of feudalism in Europe.
Visitors to the Channel Islands can expect quaint islands with stunning scenery, friendly people and a Mediterranean pace of life. On the three smaller islands especially, it’s as if time has stood still. There are no large resorts with swimming pools, no constructed, artificial attractions. I imagine it must have looked much the same in the 1950s, beautiful, quiet, and with a slow tempo. For a city-dweller, it’s almost painfully slow at first. But before you know it, you’ve been drawn into that tranquil pace of life, ready to enjoy a few days (or weeks) of stress-free existence.
Getting there and around
Jersey and Guernsey are well-served by plane from various cities in the UK and Europe — by British Airways, Flybe, Flying Eagles and Aurigny Air Services. However, my favourite way of travelling to the islands is by ferry, either from the south of England (Portsmouth, Weymouth or Poole), or from Saint-Malo in Brittany. Fast ferries from England take a little over 3 hours while the journey from mainland France takes about an hour. Inter island transport is by ferry as well. Jersey to Guernsey is about 50 minutes, Guernsey to Sark takes 45 minutes, while the Guernsey to Herm run is only 20 minutes. Alderney is not quite as accessible as the others: you can get there by plane from Southampton or Guernsey – or by ferry from Guernsey or Cherbourg with a few more options in summer.
On Jersey and Guernsey, you can hire a car or use public transport. Alderney offers island taxis, while Herm and Sark are car-free. Your options on these tiny islands are bikes, horse-drawn carts or simply using your feet.
Where to stay in the Channel Islands
The largest island, Jersey, has a wide range of lodgings in all price categories, including several camping sites. 3-star guest houses include De l’Etang on the sea front and the St Magloire. Many guest houses are only open March – October. At the 4- and 5-star end, the stunningly located La Haule Manor overlooking St Aubin’s Bay gets rave reviews. In the island’s capital, St Helier, the Pomme d’Or and the sophisticated De Vere Grand Hotel are among the island’s top notch hotels. Along St Helier’s seafront promenade is the Radisson BLU Waterfront, right next to Elizabeth Castle. (Also, my kids think the Waterfront has the best breakfast buffet in the world.)
On Guernsey, the Old Government House Hotel in the island capital, St Peter Port, is an excellent choice. Other good sleeps include Le Friquet Country House with its lovely gardens and pool. Its award-winning restaurant, the Falcon Carvery, draws both visitors and locals. Here are our in-depth recommendations on where to stay in St. Peter Port
On adorable Herm, you have three options: the White House Hotel, with its rustic holiday cottages or the spectacular Seagull campsite. Neither the hotel nor the cottages have clocks, telephones or TVs.
Sark has self-catering flats and two camp sites. Hotels include the Aval du Creux, La Sablonnerie, and more. You’ll also find several guest houses, including Clos de Vaul Creux, and the charmingly named Sue’s Tea Garden and B&B (the elderflower ice-cream comes highly recommended).
Alderney has several private hotels, including the Belle Vue and the Braye Beach, several guest houses, self-catering holiday flats and villas, as well as the beautifully situated Saye campsite.
Things to see and do in the Channel Islands
On Jersey and Guernsey, rent a bike and ride along the narrow country lanes. Stop and enjoy the gorgeous ocean views from any number of vantage points. All five of the Channel Islands have beautiful white-sand beaches and average temperatures about 5 degrees C higher than mainland Britain. Both St Helier on Jersey and St Peter Port on Guernsey are nice little towns with many fun and interesting shops and lots of cafes and restaurants. The Channel Islands were occupied during the Second World War and both Jersey and Guernsey have evocative German Occupation Museums.
On Jersey, you’ll find plenty of gorgeous beaches and country walks. Additionally, the Living Legend village is worth a visit, especially The Jersey Experience where the island’s interesting history is presented in several dimensions. Also, the excellent Jersey Zoo (the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust) saves endangered species from extinction. On a rocky outcrop, the slightly spooky and exciting Elizabeth Castle is only accessible at low tide. Don’t lose track of time while you’re out there exploring.
Guernsey has several good museums, many of them relating to the German occupation. There’s also a cool shipwreck museum and the outdoor folk and costume museum. French writer Victor Hugo spent 14 years in exile on Guernsey; you can visit Hauteville House where he stayed and stroll in the lovely gardens. At family-friendly Sausmarez Manor, you can easily spend many happy hours exploring wildlife, the subtropical garden or playing at the 9-hole Pitch & Putt.
Interesting Alderney has plenty of forts as a sombre reminder of the German occupation. There’s a definite French flavour here, and all names are spelled in French. There’s good fishing and golfing, a lovely light house and beautiful beaches. The annual Alderney Week (first week of August) offers lots of fun for everyone, including the fancy dress Cavalcade Day. Book your lodgings in advance for this.
You’ll be exploring Herm and Sark on foot or from a bicycle seat. That’s no problem, as these islands are tiny (Herm is just 1 by 1 ½ mile.) A leisurely stroll around its circumference takes less than two hours, and takes one past lovely beaches and cows grazing along the way. Sark is a little larger, 1 ½ by 3 miles. Main attractions include the Segneurie, home of the island’s archaic ruler, gorgeous bays, headlands, beaches and harbours, smugglers’ caves and the lovely natural Venus pool.
Written by and photos by Anne-Sophie Redisch for EuropeUpClose.com