It’s just three hours by ferry from Poole, but Guernsey offers the sense of going abroad, as Charlotte Cullinan and family discover on an activity-filled short break
It’s a sunny Saturday morning in Guernsey, and we have a conundrum: we can’t pick which of the 27 beaches to visit first. Do we want one of the wide expanses of white sand in the north, or a sheltered cove backed by rugged cliffs in the south?
The north wins, and we head to Pembroke beach, which is popular with watersports enthusiasts. I’m here with my two sons, five-year-old George and two-year-old Harry, so our activities lean towards competitive sandcastle-building, seaweed-throwing and shell collecting, and the boys are entertained for hours.
The beach is huge and quiet, the water is clear, and there’s a well-stocked snack kiosk. It’s the type of beach trip I want to bottle, and it’s hard to believe we’ve just hopped across the English Channel.
Covering 25 square miles, Guernsey is situated just off the Normandy coast and is the second- largest of the Channel Islands.
We’re visiting for three nights with Premier Holidays, and short-haul general manager Beverley Scarr says the island is ideal for a short break. She explains: “People tend to book a four- or five-night stay during spring and summer, and three nights is the norm out of season between November and April, as many attractions close during the winter months.”
She recommends it as the “perfect family destination for pre-teen children”, adding: “Guernsey is only a short trip from mainland UK but it offers a sense of a holiday abroad.”
One of Scarr’s top tips is to take a ride on the cute Le Petit Train. It snakes around the cobbled streets and marina in the capital of St Peter Port and up the hills dotted with pretty boutiques. Advise customers to take a ride early in their trip, as there’s an interesting commentary, which helps us get our bearings and decide which attractions to visit.
Having our own car means it’s easy to flit around the island. We’ve brought our vehicle with us on Condor Ferries, and the crossing from Poole takes three hours.
While some roads are narrow, driving on the island is easy, and there is a maximum speed limit of 35mph in most areas. As we drive around the rural roads, George loves spotting the hedge veg stalls selling home-grown produce next to an honesty box for payments.
We’re staying in the St Pierre Park Hotel, Spa & Golf Resort, which is located in the centre of the island, so nothing is more than a 15-minute drive away.
It’s a 90-second walk from a Waitrose, which is handy for picnic supplies. Remind clients that Jersey and Guernsey have their own bank notes and coins, which are all of equal value to sterling, but they can also use regular British currency.
A few minutes’ walk in the other direction is the resort’s well-equipped golf club. We bypass the driving range and head to the 12-hole Pirate Bay Adventure Golf, which is perfect for children.
Encourage guests to sample the hotel’s Pavilion restaurant. Younger diners are enthusiastically welcomed and beer lovers should try the Channel Islands’ Liberation Ale, which receives top marks from my husband Dan.
As we tuck into the lavish breakfast buffet the next morning, we spot lots of other young guests, ranging from babies to early teens, including lots of multi-generational groups. Recommend one of the spacious interconnecting rooms for families – ours has views of the immaculate hotel grounds, including the pretty lake, tennis courts and playground.
After breakfast we head off for some island-hopping. The Bailiwick of Guernsey is a group of islands that includes Alderney, a 15-minute flight away and a haven for wildlife; Sark, famed for its traditional way of life, complete with horse-drawn carriages; Lihou, which can be accessed by a cobbled path during low tide; and the privately owned Jethou.
We choose to visit the Bailiwick’s tiny island of Herm, which is just a mile and a half long by half a mile wide. It’s famed for having some of the best beaches in the Channel Islands, and the ferry booklet has “Welcome to paradise” splashed across the front, so the bar is set high.
After a 20-minute ferry crossing we clamber onto the harbour, past the pretty gift shop and the Mermaid Tavern & Restaurant, and head off along a sandy path to find Shell Beach. It’s incredibly peaceful and quiet, as there are no cars on the island and we only pass a few other visitors as we meander along, collecting fallen giant pine cones.
We haul our buggy up a sand dune and we’ve made it, to beautifully clear turquoise water and the palest sand, covered in millions of tiny shells. The leaflet was right – this is paradise. It’s easy to fill a day on Herm, and when it’s time to leave we prise the boys out of the rock pools and they load up their buckets with shell treasures to take home.
On our last day we still have plenty left on our list of must-dos. We try one of the twice daily family swimming sessions at the St Pierre Park, before heading to the 100-year-old Little Chapel, which is believed to be the smallest chapel in the world, and is completely encrusted in shells and tiny fragments of glass and china.
Guernsey was occupied by the Germans during the Second World War, and it’s a key theme among the main attractions, including at the Aquarium, which is housed in tunnels that were used by the invading army.
The island’s wartime history inspired the novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and the movie version was released in April. Premier Holidays joined forces with VisitGuernsey to promote the film, which helped boost sales for late summer, with an increase in forward bookings for 2019 expected now it’s available on home-release.
We see props from the film when we visit The Guernsey Museum at Candie. As well as regularly changing exhibitions it has the most impressive children’s area we’ve ever seen. It’s heaving with toys and activity sheets, and George and Harry don dressing up clothes in the Jurassic Park area, complete with a mini dinosaur laboratory and kiddie-sized jeep.
It’s time for us to sail home, but we still have a lengthy Guernsey wish-list. We never made it to the 800-year old Castle Cornet, with its five museums and daily firing of the Noon Day Gun, and we didn’t squeeze in a coastal walk. As we wait to board the ferry we spot a sign bearing an apt Guernsey phrase – “a la perchoine”. It means “until next time” – so we’ll save that wish-list for then.
Book it: Premier Holidays offers three nights’ B&B at the St Pierre Park from £818, based on two adults and two children under 12 sharing a large family room, including return travel from Poole with a car on Condor Ferries, travelling in March 2019. trade.premierholidays.co.uk