Victor Hugo described the Channel Islands as “pieces of France which fell into the sea and were gathered up by England.” It’s as good a description as you’ll find.
An archipelago of British Crown Dependencies in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy, the Channel Islands include two separate bailiwicks: the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Bailiwick of Jersey. They are considered the remnants of the Duchy of Normandy, and are not part of the United Kingdom.
The Bailiwicks have been administered separately since the late 13th century. Although those unacquainted with the islands often assume they form one political unit, common institutions are the exception rather than the rule. The two Bailiwicks have no common laws, no common elections, and no common representative body (although their politicians consult regularly). There is no common newspaper or radio station, but there is a common television station, ITV Channel Television, and a common BBC television news opt-out BBC Channel Islands News.
As a British Crown Dependency with its own government and an associate relationship with the British Commonwealth and the EU, the Bailiwick of Guernsey includes the islands of Alderney, Herm, Lihou and Sark along with other smaller islands. The people of these islands are British subjects but not necessarily British citizens.
Guernsey is the largest of these islands, but is still tiny itself, with the whole Bailiwick comprising an area about the size of Washington D.C. Situated in the Gulf of St. Malo, 30 miles (50 km) from the coast of France and 80 miles (130 km) from the south coast of England, this is an ideal center for excursions to the other Channel Islands and France, if you need to explore further than the delights of this little island paradise.
Don’t expect to find anything too English here, though, because these Islanders are proud to be totally separate. It has a separate parliament and its own laws and money, and due to its proximity to France it has developed its own sophisticated culture and cuisine that has borrowed heavily over centuries from the best of both countries. The languages spoken here are English and French, with a Norman-French dialect spoken in some country districts
The capital city of Guernsey is St. Peter Port, as picturesque a harbor town as you’re likely to find anywhere in the world. Its cobbled streets rise from a magnificent harbor front and climb up the hillsides, and from almost any point there are wonderful views of the sandy bays and beaches and the sister islands. It has all the character of a traditional fishing village, complete with boats bobbing in the harbor and little waterfront pubs and restaurants, but offers superb accommodations and attractions, as well as an astounding (and sophisticated) variety of food and drink and a very continental atmosphere.
Eating out is excellent value for money as there is no VAT. The Beau Sejour Leisure Centre at St. Peter Port contains a cinema, theatre, bars and café. Guernsey caters for visitors all year round, with special events such as the gourmet food festival “April in Guernsey”, when many of its restaurants put on special low-price menus to encourage everyone to try something and somewhere different. The climax of this is the Salon Culinaire, including a fiercely-fought but good-natured Restaurant of the Year competition. Nightclubs are located in various parts of the island, with the best of them probably located in St. Peter Port.
The town also was the one-time home of the famous French writer Victor Hugo. Hauteville House, on the south side of St. Peter Port at the top of the hill, was where Victor Hugo lived during his exile from France from 1855-1870. The home has been preserved as it was in all it’s all DIY exuberance, and it’s definitely worth a leisurely look. The French coast can be seen from the window of his study, where he wrote Les Miserables.
Hugo’s statue stands in Candie Gardens, which is also the location of the oak tree he planted, which has become a symbol of European unity. These miniature botanical gardens also contain subtropical plants, trees and shrubs, all grown in the open.
On the north of the island at Saumarez Park the Folk Museum has a good collection of old farming equipment and Victorian domestic furniture.
The Impressionist artist Renoir also painted a number of his masterpieces on Guernsey.
The island has its share of castles, too. Castle Cornet, at the entrance to the harbor at St. Peter Port, is probably the most famous. It has been the scene of many historic battles, from Norman times through to the German occupation during the Second World War. The castle also contains the Royal Guernsey Militia Museum, a Maritime Museum and four lovely period gardens (open 10:30-5:30 daily, April to October). Some of the castle’s attractions include the firing of the noonday gun by traditional uniformed soldiers, several museums, the ‘Refectory’ café and the Castle shop. Some of the best views of the Island can be seen from the Castle grounds.
Other castles to visit are Ivy Castle near Le Bouet, a Norman stronghold built before the Norman Conquest of England, and Vale Castle at St. Sampson, whose origins are lost in time and where a Russian garrison was stationed around 1805. There are fortifications at Fort Pezerie, Fort Grey, Fort Saumerez and Fort George.
Few of the fortifications made by the Nazis remain, most of these being on the cliffs. The underground hospital at St. Andrews is the largest German structure in the Channel Islands, and this is now a tourist attraction. The Occupation Museum at the Forest contains many relics and a glimpse into life during the German occupation.
The Dolmens (tombs of prehistoric tribes) are also worth seeing, with examples scattered around the island. Among the more notable are Déhus Dolmen, near the yacht marina in the Vale, La Varde Dolmen at the Pembroke end of L’Ancresse Common, Le Creux Faies at L’Erée, and La Catioroc, on a mound overlooking Perelle Bay (said to be a former meeting place for Guernsey witches).
The cliffs around the island make a pleasant walk, and lead to many bays, most of which are suitable for swimming and accessible from the cliffs. Inland there are many pleasant walks. The Water Lanes leading to the shore are also worth seeing, particularly at Moulin Huet and Petit Bôt.
The Chapel at Les Vauxbelets, “The Little Chapel”, is another charming thing to see. As its name suggests, it claims to be the smallest church in the world, with space for a priest and a congregation of two. At just over 5 meters(16ft) long, it is decorated inside and out with thousands of pieces of glass, pottery fragments and shells and was built by a devoted French monk named Brother Deodat around 1914. Entrance is free.
The one and only timeshare resort on the island is the lovely La Grande Mare Golf & Country Club, which also happens to be an RCI Gold Crown Resort. In fact La Grande Mare offers the only licensed and approved timeshare scheme in the entire Channel Islands. Property laws in the Channel Islands restrict UK and overseas residents from purchasing certain types of property in the island but with La Grande Mare’s timeshare ownership scheme, you can own property there.
Timeshare is available throughout the hotel and in apartments built on the grounds. Situated on the west coast of the island (St. Peter Port is on the east side– but it’s a small island) next to the sandy bay of Vazon, it has direct access to both a fine beach and a fine golf course. The apartments are one- and two-bedrooms, well furnished, with a full kitchen, lounge area and ensuite bathrooms.
It is also convenient to everything else, and all in all provides a very unique opportunity to get to know the friendly and urbane people of this special island. It also serves as an excellent base for the exploration of all that Guernsey has to offer.
Make you make your exchange request early: this is a very popular place!
Images courtesy of VisitGuernsey and La Grande Mare Resort & Spa
Websites with information on Guernsey and the Channel Islands:
- http://www.lagrandemare.com/ The resort’s website
- http://www.visitguernsey.com/ Official Guernsey Tourist Board (pages of wonderful pictures!)
- http://www.thisisguernsey.com/ Guernesy newspaper
- http://museum.guernsey.net/ Guernsey museums
- http://www.lonelyplanet.com/the-channel-islands Lonely Planet’s guide to the Channel Islands
“On the Road” is a compilation of destination ideas, resort reviews, videos and more gathered from a variety of sources that includes our readers.
The purpose of “On the Road” is to showcase some of the magnificent places in the world to visit, to give you an idea for someplace to go that you might previously not have thought of or known about. In most cases, but not all, we have provided a brief overview of a timeshare resort in the spotlighted area. Most of those resorts are either RCI Gold Crown or I.I. Premier quality. However, these resorts are not usually theonly timeshare resorts in the area; be sure to check in your exchange catalog for a complete listing of available resorts. Check it out— enjoy yourself, go somewhere new this year!
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