When we touched down in Guernsey, the second largest island in the Channel Islands, I had no idea what to expect.

ll I knew about it came from the movie The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, a love story which features a London-based writer in 1946 who starts exchanging letters with the island’s residents. The film also offered some insight into life on the island during the Nazi occupation of Guernsey in World War II, something about which  I was interested to find out more.

The first thing I noticed when we landed was the strong French vibe. Even though Guernsey is a British dependency, it lies just 48 kilometres from the coast of Normandy and there are many influences to be seen.

Many of the signs on the shop fronts in the capital, St Peter Port, are in French and the island has that quaint feeling you might expect of a traditional French village.

Over the course of my visit, it was the island’s rich history that would steal my heart.

First, we checked in at the picturesque Fermain Valley Hotel, which sits in the beautiful and unspoiled Fermain Valley close to St Peter Port, and has superb clifftop views of the neighbouring Channel Islands.

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Taking it easy on Herm

Taking it easy on Herm

Taking it easy on Herm

Taking it easy on Herm

We set off to the nearby Bella Luce Hotel to learn all about Wheadon’s Gin. Produced for over a hundred years by the local Wheadon family at their small batch distillery, the gin is made in traditional copper stills and features ingredients foraged on the island, such as rock samphire from the nearby cliffs and mandarin limes grown in the local glasshouses.

In fact, I discovered a new favourite tipple during our 30-minute ‘gintroduction’ experience – rock samphire and pink grapefruit gin.

Then it was on to Copenhagen Bar and Grill for dinner, a spot which has splendid views of St Peter Port, Castle Cornet, and Havelet Bay. I went for their seafood linguini and it did not disappoint.

Appetites sated, the rest of the evening was spent basking in the restaurant’s wonderful atmosphere over some drinks. I even met a fellow Cavan person working there, who is originally from a town a stone’s throw from where I grew up. The world really is very small.

The next morning it was time to meet gold accredited tour guide Gill Girard, who brought the local history alive for us. We met Gill in the beautiful Candie Gardens, a gem of a Victorian garden donated by the merchant who owned it to the people of Guernsey.

Gill gave us a whistle-stop tour, and showed us a statue of the celebrated writer Victor Hugo. It was presented by the French government in 1914 in gratitude for the hospitality shown to the writer during his 15 years on the island.

Hugo had opposed the Second Empire of Napoleon III and been banished, first from France, then Belgium, then from neighbouring Jersey. But in 1855 he had found a home on Guernsey, which he called “the rock of hospitality and freedom”.

It was at Hauteville House, now a museum, that the creator of The Hunchback of Notre Dame wrote some of his best work, including the five volumes of Les Misérables, which is still being reinvented for theatre and screen.

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Elle Gordon was swept away by Guernsey's charms

Elle Gordon was swept away by Guernsey's charms

Elle Gordon was swept away by Guernsey’s charms

Elle Gordon was swept away by Guernsey’s charms

He also spent six years furnishing the house with Gothic flourishes, carved woodwork, elaborate tilework, ornate chandeliers and statuary.  

As the Candie Gardens are located just five minutes’ walk from the centre of St Peter Port, we made our way on foot to our next stop, St Peter Port Harbour, for a 20-minute trip on the ferry to the island of Herm.

With wild cliff walks overlooking breathtaking beaches and stunning scenery, I can see why so many Guernsey locals would describe the sister island as a slice of paradise.

The first thing I noticed when we stepped off our ferry was the quiet. It was the kind of absolute silence that can be hard to find these days. There are no cars on Herm, something that with today’s hectic pace of life certainly makes this a rare jewel.

We set off on a leisurely coastal walk, drinking in the views. Be warned, you may lose phone reception in certain areas of the island, but it is all part of its charm, and gives you the perfect excuse to switch off properly.

We made our way around the island to Shell Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the Channel Islands, where millions of tiny shell fragments have washed in from the Gulf Stream to give the sandy stretch its name.

During the summer months you can hire kayaks and paddle boards or get a snack from the beachside kiosk and sit and watch the world go by.

If you were to keep travelling south from Shell Beach you would come across the famed Puffin Bay, where from early April to July you are sure to spot rafts of birds.

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Castle Comet in Guernsey

Castle Comet in Guernsey

Castle Comet in Guernsey

Castle Comet in Guernsey

Having worked up an appetite with a hike around the island, it was time for lunch at The Ship Inn, an informal dining spot overlooking the bay which offers sumptuous food and locally brewed beers. I went for one of the specials of the day, a mouthwateringly delicious sea bream.

Back on Guernsey, the next stage of our adventure took our group to L’Eree for a two-hour cycle tour to explore the west coast and its ancient monuments, military fortifications and lanes and hear fascinating tales of local history and legend.

During World War II, hundreds of islanders were deported or arrested by the Third Reich. There are many stories of resistance, but, a particularly fascinating one relates to Frank Falla, who worked as a journalist on a Guernsey newspaper.

When, in 1942, radios were confiscated by the Nazis, the islanders were reliant on the work of Falla and his friends tuning in to listen to the news of war which was typed up in secret and delivered by newsletter.

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Steps down to Le Petit Port Bay

Steps down to Le Petit Port Bay

Steps down to Le Petit Port Bay

Steps down to Le Petit Port Bay

I headed back to our hotel to enjoy a leisurely few hours checking out their excellent facilities, which include a pool and sauna.

Refreshed and restored, I caught up with the group for our final evening spent at the fantastic Búho Restaurant, just a short walk from the hotel.

After another delicious meal, it was time to enjoy our last night in Guernsey, with one of the restaurant staff kindly offering to drop our group into town. It was just another example of how friendly the locals are on this island.

There was a great buzz in St Peter Port with lots of bars and restaurants to choose from. Everything is within an easy walking distance so we strolled around for a while to explore and finally opted for a few nightcaps before hitting the hay.

The next morning it was time to bid goodbye to Guernsey. We had been taught a phrase that some of the islanders still use, a few words of patois French: “À la perchoine” – until next time.

Getting there

Elle Gordon travelled as a guest of Visit Guernsey; visitguernsey.com

Aurigny flies three times a week from Dublin to Guernsey; aurigney.com

The four-star Fermain Valley Hotel offers rooms from £120 per night, and offers complimentary lifts into St Peter Port; fermainvalley.com

Gill Girard leads a variety of tours in Guernsey, for more information; gillgirardtourguide.com

Copenhagen Bar & Grill; restaurantcopenhagen.com

Bella Luce Hotel (Gin Tasting is £25pp); bellalucehotel.com

For more information, visitguernsey.com

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