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Sam’s jaunt to The Channel Islands

For many years, I had always been intrigued by The Channel Islands. The modern historian in me has always been fascinated by the history of the islands especially during the Second World War and being a bit of a Francophile, I was intrigued by the French influence on these thoroughly British islands. Therefore, when I was looking for a short break in Easter, they seemed to be the perfect choice.

There are many ways of getting to the Channel Islands, if you live in the South, the ferry is an attractive option but less so for those of us in the North. Fortunately, Jersey is well served from airports across the North of England and the Midlands, I opted for the Flybe service from Doncaster which was a very efficient experience both at the airports and on the aircraft.

Jersey is very fortunate to have a great selection of hotels for such a small island, ranging from quaint 2* bed and breakfasts to grand 5* hotels, however being a history fan, for me it had to be the famous Pomme D’or hotel. Located right in the centre of St. Helier, this grand dame of a hotel has a varied history. Reputed to be the first ever hotel on the island, having first opened in 1837, however the hotel’s most famous or infamous period came during the Second World War and the German invasion of The Channel Islands. In 1940 the hotel was requisitioned by the German naval high command as their HQ for The Channel Islands and it remained so until the island’s liberation on 9th May 1945 where the hotel was the focus of celebrations with the Union Jack being raised from the hotel’s balcony to symbolise the islander’s freedom.

Nowadays the Pomme D’or hotel is clearly proud of its important historical status on the island, but it is not stuck in the past. The hotel has recently been renovated to a very high standard and offers a high level of comfort to its guests. The hotel offers 2 restaurants, 1 a la carte and the other being a buffet and offers great food at a reasonable price, the carvery in the Harbour Room is particularly good! The hotel is located at the heart of St Helier so if you’re wanting to explore the island by public transport, you’d be hard pushed to find a better location.

Our first afternoon was spent exploring Elizabeth Castle which is located on the edge of St. Helier, the castle is located on a rocky islet in St. Aubin’s bay and is reached either by a causeway at low tide or by amphibious vehicle. The castle has a varied history of defending the island and is a very interesting attraction for all ages. The castle was heavily developed by the Germans, many of the gun turrets and bunkers are still accessible to tourists and provide a fascinating insight into the defence of the island. You can also get great views of St. Aubin’s bay and St. Helier from the castle.

Our second day in the Channel Islands began with an early start due to an early ferry departure from St. Helier to St. Peter Port Guernsey. Fortunately, the ferry port is only 10 minute walk from the Pomme D’or hotel and the hearty breakfast served made the early start much less painful.

The Jersey to Guernsey ferry is operated by a SeaCat highspeed ferry meaning that the journey only takes around an hour. The ferry itself is very comfortable with assigned airline style seating for all passengers, shops and cafes as well as ample outside space for viewing the scenery. As you arrive into St. Peter Port, you are greeted to a lovely view of the Castle Cornet as well as picturesque St Peter Port. The disembarkation procedure is very efficient and with in a few minutes we were in the heart of St. Peter Port.

Our first port of call was to be Castle Cornet at the opposite end of the town. The castle was built on a tidal island, similar to Elizabeth Castle in St. Helier however it is now reached by a concrete walk way that is accessible even during high tide. The castle has a very rich history, being of great importance during the English Civil war, Napoleonic Wars and of course World War 2 where evidence is German occupation is still very apparent. If you’re in the castle at noon be sure to watch the giant 32 pounder Georgian noon gun being fired, although brace yourself for the bang!

Once we had finished exploring the castle, we headed back to the centre of St. Peter Port. The town has some very pretty shopping streets with an abundance of independent shops, bars and restaurants. After wandering around the town we decided to have a cup of tea in the ultra-luxurious The Old Government House hotel located in the heart of the city. Accommodation on Guernsey doesn’t get any better than this hotel and it is known as being a favourite of Her Majesty The Queen. Tea is served in a beautiful conservatory area which looks out towards the English Channel. There is also a very varied list of teas and coffees available or for a truly sumptuous experience, go for the full afternoon tea served in the opulent Sir John Coward lounge along with exquisite sandwiches and cakes.

After feeling re-energised after tea, it was time to take a leisurely stroll back to the ferry terminal for our return trip to Jersey. I personally found that the 7 hours that the day trip gives you is enough to see St. Peter Port however for those wanting to extend the trip with an overnight stay on Guernsey, there is then the possibility of seeing more of the island as well as the islands of Sark and Herm which are a short boat ride away.

The following day we decided to do one of the “musts” of Jersey which is to hire a car and explore the island independently. There are plenty of hire car companies in Jersey however a recommendation I have when choosing your vehicle is, think small! Jersey is a very small island and, in its interior, has very narrow and windy roads that larger vehicles would struggle to negotiate. Fortunately, the Smart car we hired had no difficulty. After leaving St. Helier, we drove a long the coast of St Aubin’s bay towards St. Brelade’s bay which is home to some of the island’s best seafront hotels such as the St. Brelade’s Bay hotel and The Golden Sands. It is also home to one of the best beaches on the island.

From St Brelade’s we continued to Corbiere lighthouse which is a beautiful view point on the South West coast of the island. After hugging the coast road through the dunes on the West coast of the island we headed towards the pretty cove of Greve de Lecq where Coleen’s Café provided a great lunch with a beautiful sea view. As the weather started to take a turn for the worse, as it can do quite often in the Channel Islands, we decided to head for a highly recommended attraction, the La Mare Wine Estate. Here we had a very informative tour of the small wine estate as well as a tasting. Fortunately, I was not the designated driver of the day, so I had two helpings of the very palatable wine. As well the wines, the estate produces apple brandy and gin, both of which I can highly recommend.

Luckily, after our visit to the winery, the bad weather went away quickly as it came so we decided to head back to the coast, this time making our way along the East coast of the island. We stopped at the small fishing village of Rozel for a delicious Jersey ice cream then headed south towards St. Helier via Gorey bay which was a very scenic route with plenty of great photo opportunities.

In the evening, we decided to continue to make use of the car by heading back to St. Brelade’s bay to eat at the Oyster Box restaurant which is located in a spectacular position on the promenade that wraps around the bay. The restaurant specialises seafood, the oysters being particularly good.

On our final full day in Jersey we decided to visit two of the main attractions on the island, the Jersey war tunnels and Gorey Castle. To reach the war tunnels from St. Helier you take a 1930’s double decker bus from liberation station, the bus journey itself is very enjoyable with a commentary by actor John Nettles of Bergerac and Midsomer Murders fame.

The tunnels are located in the heart of the island and were built by the occupying German forces as a hospital for injured German troops. Nowadays, as well as being museum of the hospital, the tunnels tell the unique stories of the islanders under the occupation. As well as being extremely informative, the tunnels are extremely thought provoking and help you to understand the extreme difficulties that the islanders went through under the occupation. They were certainly one of the best war related museums I’d ever been to and I would certainly recommend to anyone.

After visiting the tunnels, we took the classic bus back to St. Helier from where we took a service bus to Gorey which took around 25 minutes. Gorey is a beautiful village which is dominated by the huge castle which sits proudly on a hill behind the village. As it was lunch time when we arrived and the weather was glorious, we decided to lunch in one of the many restaurants with outside seating around the harbour. We treated ourselves to delicious Jersey lobster, perfectly accompanied by jersey royal potatoes, the pickers of which could be seen in the hills in the distance.

Once we’d finished our lunch, we walked up the hill to the castle, our third one of the trip however it was quite different to the others. Unlike Elizabeth castle or Castle Cornet, Gorey Castle focuses more on medieval and civil war history but at the same time it is very family friendly with lots for children to do and learn about. While we were there, a large French school trip were also visiting, and the children seemed to be very enjoying their visit. The castle is a bit of a maze to negotiate but once you reach the top you’re treated to breath taking views of the island and out to sea. On a clear day, you easily see the French coast.

For our last evening in Jersey, we decided to end the trip with an extravagance. A trip to what is commonly known as Jersey’s best hotel and restaurant, the 5* Longueville Manor. Longueville Manor is a short taxi ride away from St. Helier and visitors are greeted to the sight of an imposing manor house as they drive through the main gates. As we arrived, the general manager of the hotel greeted us like we were regular clients even though it was our first visit to the hotel, he showed us to the grand but yet homely dining room where we were shown to our table by the restaurant manager.

The menu at Longueville Manor is very varied and there is lots of choice however we decided to properly push the boat out and go for the 7 course discovery menu along with the accompanying wines, at £120 a head, it is certainly not an everyday meal however it was without doubt worth every penny. Each course was superb both in taste and presentation and the wines had been expertly chosen to compliment each dish. The restaurant staff were all very polite and nothing was too much trouble. As we were enjoying our meals, we noticed that whenever food was brought from the kitchen, the room became slightly quieter as our fellow diners were all mesmerised by the chef’s creations. At the end of the meal, the hotel general manager came to our table to enquire if we’d enjoyed our meal which of course we thoroughly had and to present us with a gift from the head chef which was a signed copy of his cookbook which I felt was a very nice touch to end this magnificent dining experience.

Of course, the next morning, our Channel Islands adventure came to an end, with our return journey being just as efficient as our outward journey.

As I reflect upon my time in the Channel Islands, I would highly recommend them to people of all ages and I can not highlight enough how versatile they are. As a destination so close to home, I don’t think anywhere compares to the Channel Islands and I will certainly be planning my return trip very soon.