GUERNSEY IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS
Guernsey is the second largest of the Channel Islands, well known for being a beautiful and pretty much unspoilt destination. Although geographically closer to France than the UK, the island has remained loyal to the British crown. This loyalty can be traced back to Norman times when King John lost the war against the French. As a result of this faux pas, Guernsey and the other Channel Islands were made to choose who they would be loyal to –they all decided to pledge their allegiance to England.
Guernsey from 33,000 feet
Today the island governs itself, and is well known for being a bit of a tax retreat. The reputation for financial favourability has enticed many an offshore bank, fund manager and insurance company to set up in Guernsey.
Guernsey itself contains two main geographical regions, the Haut Pas, and the Bas Pas. , The Haut Pas is the more rural of the two parts of the island, while the Bas Pas is more residential and industrialised. The traditional agricultural industries of flower growing, fishing and dairy farming add character and charm to the island.
No - you are not seeing things - Post Boxes are blue in Guernsey
Guernsey boasts plentiful sandy beaches and dunes, with secret coves and rock pools to explore and some stunning cliff walks. Further inland, you’ll find relatively flat roads around the island (although there is one hill in St Peter Port) which makes cycling a popular pastime. Bikes can be hired at a reasonable price at various points around the island.
The island of Guernsey was part of Normandy, France from the tenth century onwards, and provided a link between Britain and France that remains to this day through Norman Law, surnames and D’Gernésiais, the local language still spoken by around two per cent of residents.
The island was home to the nineteenth century French poet Victor Hugo, who lived on the island while he was in exile, and wrote many of his most famous works while staying there. The house he lived in during this time is open to visitors during the summer.
World War II was a defining part of Guernsey’s history. Many of the residents were evacuated to the UK in 1940, and the capital, St Peter Port, was bombed prior to the actual invasion and occupation by the Germans in June 1940. The island was liberated in May 1945, but some islanders decided to stay in the United Kingdom. The local language, D’Gernésiais, started to die out during the occupation and afterwards, as many of the evacuated locals had been forced to speak only in English while they had been away. There are campaigns to keep the language alive – around 15 per cent of residents claim to know some D’Gernésiais.
Every year on 9th May, Liberation Day, the island holds a public holiday to celebrate its freedom. If you’re visiting at the time, you’ll be treated to a programme of big events in St Peter Port, as well as smaller events in the individual parishes.
St. Peter Port
Guernsey is a VAT free zone. You’ll be able to find tax-free luxuries in many of the island’s shops and department stores. The shops are open broadly the same times as in the UK, the banks are open from 9:30 to 3:30 although they sometimes open earlier and close later on weekdays. Cash machines are available at most high street banks in St Peter Port and the airport plus at some supermarkets, garages and out of town banks.
Shopping in St Peter Port is great for electronic and photographic equipment, jewellery and perfume as well as the usual wines, spirits and tobacco. You might even manage to pick up a Guernsey jumper.
In the smaller boutiques in the more artisan parts of St Peter Port, you’ll find exclusive clothes, shoes and leather goods, and if antiques are your thing you should head to the Old Quarter. It’s worth just staying and looking around the town anyway, even if you don’t intend to buy anything, as it’s said to be the Channel Islands’ most beautiful town. It also has the distinction of being the only town in Guernsey with anything resembling a hill! The town is full of bistros, restaurants and cafés if all that shopping has made you hungry...
The Bridge at St Sampson’s is another bustling shopping area. Confusingly, there isn’t actually a bridge there, but it gets its name from the island’s geography - previously, the northern tip of Guernsey was divided from the main part by the sea.
Food and Drink
Guernsey is home to many high quality restaurants, and caters to all tastes with anything from pub grub to contemporary cuisine. International dishes are well represented with Indian, Thai, Spanish and Italian restaurants as well as some serving the local specialities. The summer seafood event runs throughout July and August. St Peter Port also has a good choice of lively pubs and bars, serving sophisticated cocktails ...or locally brewed ales.
What to see
There are 28.5 miles of spectacular cliff top paths, plus bays, beaches, common land and more. Add this to welcoming climate, and if you enjoy walking then you’ll be happy in Guernsey. Nature lovers can make the most of the myriad bird watching opportunities on offer across the island too.
You can try an open-air bathing pool if you don’t like sea bathing – there are two at La Vallette.
Beach lovers should make for the beautiful, tranquil beach at Soldiers Bay accessed via a scenic cliff path then a steep flight of steps. It’s one of the islands quieter beaches as it’s not so easy to get to. It is below Fort George, the headquarters of the Guernsey’s ex British Army garrison.
For a beach with all mod cons, Cobo is popular as it’s handy for the local pub, hotel restaurant and shops, while neighbouring beaches at Grandes Rocques are family friendly and boast lots of sand, rock pools and all the usual facilities.
For sporty types, as well as cycling you can partake of plenty of different energetic activities like range diving, angling and sailing. The west coast of the island is the best place to go if you want to try your hand at surfing or windsurfing. Vazon is apparently the top spot. The beach is long and deep and it’s also a great place to hang out for swimming, sun bathing and playing.
German Occupation Museum
The Channel Islands were the only British territory to be occupied by the Germans during WWII and the German Occupation Museum is a testament to how life was for the residents during the occupation of 1940-1945. The museum consists of seven small rooms full of well-preserved weapons and uniforms, everyday items, even a wartime kitchen.
This Royal fortress has stood guard over St. Peter Port and its harbour for eight centuries. It’s perched on an islet connected by a breakwater about 1 kilometre from the main town. The castle is still in superb condition and comes complete with large cannon, which is ceremoniously fired every day at high noon. You can also visit the Armoury, the Military Museum, the Maritime Museum and the RAF Museum to find out more about the history of Castle Cornet and St. Peter Port.
For a relaxing stroll, stop off at St. Peter Port's gorgeous floral attraction. The garden originally belonged to an eighteenth century local merchant’s house, but was handed over to the island along with the house - which is now home to Guernsey’s local public library. The garden is split into two levels and features a large lawn overlooking the bay, complete with statues of Queen Victoria and Victor Hugo.
The Little Chapel
The Little Chapel is the result of the hard work of Deodat, a monk associated with Les Vauxbelets College adjacent to the chapel. Deodat built the chapel in 1914, and it’s said that he was inspired by the grotto in the Church of Lourdes. He started in 1914 but his original work was criticised, so he ripped it down and started again. He built a second chapel, which lasted until 1923, but this also had to be demolished when it was found that the Bishop of Portsmouth couldn’t fit through the door. After knocking down the second version of his chapel, the ever hard working monk started work on the present chapel until he retired in 1939. The work was then taken over by a fellow monk, Brother Cephas. It’s worth seeing just for the story behind it – and it’s really pretty, too.
During the summer months there’s always something on – from the fun and games of the Rocquaine and North Regattas, to the spectacle of the Battle of Flowers. The Battle of Flowers is the highlight of the North Show, and is one of three two-day events that are held during the month of August.
More events are provided during the West Show, which showcases entertainment from visiting artistes and enthusiastic islanders alike.
If you’re going to be in Guernsey from January to March, make sure that you don’t miss the Guernsey Eisteddfod Society Annual Festival which has been taking place for around 80 years. The festival celebrates all that’s best in the arts and the world of academic events, and culminates in an exhibition at the end of March.
9 May sees the St Peter Port seafront closed off for Liberation Day commemorations, which include a funfair and a more sombre service of remembrance, as well as street entertainment and afternoon events.
Guernsey has its own stamps and currency, although British pounds can be used. As you have already seen, they have their own blue post boxes too. However, Guernsey pounds are not legal tender in the UK, so you’ll need to change them back or spend them before you leave! For the latest exchange rates please go to www.xe.com
The islanders are very protective of their home, and have special rules about who can or can’t live there. The housing market mainly consists of what are called local market properties, which can only be lived in by those who have been born in Guernsey (to local parents), those who have managed to get hold of a housing licence, or who are sharing a property with someone who qualifies. If you manage to get a licence, it’s still only granted for a fixed time, usually while you’re employed by a Guernsey employer. This leads to a curious situation where you can legally own a property in Guernsey, but not actually be allowed to live in it.
La Fregate Hotel from across the rooftops
In Guernsey, on a Sunday you can only buy petrol from selected garages, so it pays to find out before hand where they are. If you hire a car you also need to know that some of the road signs are different, roads on the island are narrow, and special rules can apply. On the plus side, though public parking in Guernsey is free – although time restricted. Most on street parking and parking in the main shopping areas is marked up as a ‘disc zone’ and you’ll have to use a 'parking clock'.
Make sure that you have adequate travel insurance if you are visiting Guernsey. As with the rest of the Channel Islands, you won’t be covered by the UK NHS, and as they are not part of the EU either, the standard EHIC won’t cover you for medical care.
Guernsey enjoys mild winters and cool but sunny summers.The warmest months are August and September.To find out what the weather will be like when you plan to visit, check out www.worldweather.org
Guernsey Airport is located 4.6 kilometres ( 2.9 miles ) west southwest of St. Peter Port, Guernsey’s capital. For current visa requirements visit www.projectvisa.com
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