Many years ago, I remember being captivated when watching a video (remember those?) about Guernsey.
Ever since then, I’ve longed to visit the island. Well this year we finally did it. And I can honestly say, the anticipation lived up to the dream.
We chose to go on a package holiday via a well-known holiday company though, in truth, the company only acts as an agent and had very little input. As my husband won’t go near a boat (he gets sea-sick on a pedallo!), we chose to go by air, being met at the airport by a local Guernsey coach. Even driving from the airport, I was impressed by what I could see. It seemed less pretentious that Jersey (which we’ve visited previously) with many of the houses we passed seeming to conform to what I thought might be small country-style houses.
Of course there were some large houses but they tended to be tucked away off the road and behind greenery. We didn’t see St Peter Port, the main town on the island that first day as it was a late flight and we were taken straight to our hotel. In fact, we were only just in time for a delicious dinner. And much to our surprise, there was waiter service. We were lucky with our room too as it overlooked the gardens. More about them later.
We’d been informed that the Town as it’s known was only ten minutes from the hotel but it took us a lot longer than that to find it. We quickly realised that we’d gone a very long way round to get there and, using short cuts and the inevitable steps, the Town being built on a steep hill, we often did it in the ten minutes. Inevitably, it took us a lot longer to walk back up, especially as our hotel was located on the formidable Hauteville (high town), and necessitated several stops to catch our breath. The Town itself was a delight with two main streets, the main shopping street, Le Pollet, and the quayside. Almost all the buildings along that stretch of road turned out to be original warehouse buildings, tall, angular and with several of them still bearing evidence of their origins by having hoists jutting out of upper floors.
Of course, many of the ground floors are now occupied by shops, bars and restaurants but they don’t detract from the atmosphere. The harbours themselves are a joy to see with all the different types of boats moored there. Almost all the street names are in French and, in fact, until 1926, French was the official language there. I’m given to understand that in many of the more countrified areas a kind of Norman French patois is still spoken.
On the Monday morning, we went on a round-the-island tour as part of our package with a very knowledgeable courier/driver. With Guernsey being heavily occupied during WWII, there were many German fortifications and we saw several on our travels. He explained that houses are at a premium on the island and that there are two prices, one for local people and one for outsiders who want to settle on the island.
Even the so-called local prices are high, being comparable to London, while an ordinary three-bedroomed house for outsiders would be over £1m+! As we needed one or two things from the Town, we chose to be dropped off there. Big mistake! The heavens opened (the remains of Hurricane Dorian) and within minutes we were drenched. By the time we made it back to the hotel, we were soaked through and had to get changed down to our underwear. Mind you, we still hadn’t found the quick way back by that day. Not our best day.
On finding out that the bus fares are capped at £1 per trip, we had the idea of going round the island on the local bus, stopping off at the various lovely looking bays we’d seen on the Monday then getting the bus back again. Unfortunately, the day we chose to do that there were two cruise liners moored in the bay and it seemed that one of the things the day visitors had been advised to do was to take the bus round the island and every bus was packed. Not daring to get off anywhere in case we couldn’t get back on again, we stayed on the bus!
Our driver had to turn away a party of about ten Japanese as the buses are only single-deckers and quite small. I felt quite sorry for them as only one of them could speak English and the bus was packed with standing room only. I can only hope they made it back to their ship in time!
Most of our day was finding different ways into the Town and strolling round there, though we did fit in a visit to Cornet Castle, one time fortress to guard the island against French invaders. Lots of steps there too but the museum about Guernsey through the ages was good to look at and very informative. Another day, we caught the bus to the Folk and Costume Museum at Sausmarez Park which was also fascinating.
View of a small part of the gardens
Normally when we go on holiday, we like to take a stroll after dinner but with our hotel being on THAT hill we didn’t bother and as we’re not ones for drinking in the lounge as many other residents did, we were at a bit of a loose end in the evening. Having said that, it was the best hotel we’ve ever stayed in. Everywhere was clean, the service was exceptional and the food was brilliant. If anyone ever fancies going and don’t mind walking up THAT hill, the hotel is called The Pandora.
The serving staff were nearly all Portugese and they couldn’t have been more obliging. I’ve already mentioned the gardens and they were truly beautiful with various terraces all leading down to more gardens many with views of the sea. Unfortunately, we weren’t too lucky with the weather and there were only three days that we actually managed to sit out.
Just a hint though, if you've read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or seen the film and think that's what it looks like now, it doesn't. I'm given to understand that much of the film was shot in Devon because Guernsey has altered drastically since the war. There are certain locations that I recognised particularly the German Observation Tower shown here.
So did Guernsey live up to my expectations? It certainly did and more so. Would we go back again? Yes, we would. All being well, we plan to go again next year. Just not to the hotel on the hill!
Lead image is a view from our hotel gardens.