If you scribbled ‘island hopping’ on your bucket list, you may have been dreaming of Pacific atolls or tropical Far Eastern paradises. Yet there’s a group of Islands you can reach from the UK in as little as 30 minutes by plane or ferry that boasts picturesque towns, spotless sandy beaches, azure waters, net-fresh seafood, thriving nature and a stirring wartime back story. And you don’t even need to exchange any currency – pounds sterling will do nicely.
The Islands of Guernsey comprise Alderney, Sark, Herm, Lihou and Guernsey, each with its own unique and different island experience. They’re in such close proximity to each other that exploring all five is incredibly easy – you can even walk from Guernsey to Lihou. Base yourself in Guernsey and the other four Islands are easily hoppable.
Here are five experiences you can also cross off your bucket list as you hop around the Islands of Guernsey:
1. Enjoy superb seafood and dairy produce
Being near France, the temperate sea around the Islands of Guernsey yields an abundance of quality fish and crustaceans: turbot, brill, bass, mackerel, scallops, lobsters, crabs and oysters. If you’re there between January and April, you may be lucky enough to be offered ormer (abalone) – a rare shellfish delicacy native to the Channel Islands, and strictly conserved.
Friendly, doe-eyed Guernsey cows munching on rich pasture produce the famously delicious, golden Guernsey milk, butter and cream. Thickly slather a slice of Guernsey gâche with butter, or indulge in a cream tea to appreciate the quality of Guernsey’s milk. And even the Guernsey goats are golden – their rich milk is perfect for making fresh and creamy cheese that goes well in both sweet and savoury dishes.
2. Stargaze from the world’s first ‘dark sky island’
Hop on a ferry from Guernsey to Sark, the Island with no streetlights, no cars, only 500 residents and very little light pollution to interfere with the visual clarity of its magnificent night sky. Given the accolade of the world’s first ‘dark sky island’ in 2011, Sark is a great place to simply look up and view the spectacular Milky Way, or book a tour of the modest observatory. If you can time your visit with one of the year’s regular meteor showers, you’re in for an astronomical treat.
3. Appreciate the reality of the Channel Islands’ wartime occupation
A visit to The Islands of Guernsey is an historical wake-up call for just how near the invading German forces came to mainland Britain in 1940, and how grim it was for the occupied residents. Well-preserved German-built fortifications stretch all along the coastlines, and there are enough museums to keep any history buff absorbed for days. We particularly like the German Occupation Museum, The German Underground Hospital and La Valette Underground Military Museum. And with 2020 being the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Channel Islands, Heritage 75 will be a huge commemoration of the Islands of Guernsey at war, with celebrations, events and special openings of places usually closed to the public.
4. Take a nature safari and spot a rare blonde hedgehog
A ferry takes you from Guernsey to Alderney where you can join one of the weekly bat and hedgehog walks run by Alderney Wildlife Trust. Around 60% of Alderney’s hedgehogs are blonde, from a small gene pool dating back to the 1960s when some pet leucistic hedgehogs got loose on the Island. You’re pretty much guaranteed a sighting of these prickly little rarities.
If you like your nature safaris a little more exhilarating, the jagged coastlines of Alderney and Herm are home to vast colonies of squawking, jostling seabirds, including raucous gannets and delightful little puffins. Take a boat tour, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, a guided kayaking trip, round the rocky outcrops of the seabird colonies. Keep one eye on the open sea: grey seals and dolphins often pop up in the surf to check out visitors. And if you’ve always yearned to swim in a large tidal rock pool, The Venus Pool on Lihou is an idyllic place to cool off.
5. Visit a literary titan’s home
The Islands of Guernsey have been put back on the literary map recently with the popular novel and film of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. But did you know that Les Misérables was written here when Victor Hugo lived in exile on Guernsey from 1855-70? Visit Hauteville House, the home Hugo designed himself on the heights of St Peter Port, packed with travel souvenirs, gaudy chinoiserie, intricately carved panelling and a well-stocked library. You’ll be guided up to the glass ‘look-out’ where Hugo contemplated the sea and the distant French coastline as he decided the fates of Fantine, Cosette and Jean Valjean.
Ready to cross the Islands of Guernsey off your bucket list? Go to visitguernsey.com to find out more and start planning your fascinating island-hopping break.