The Channel Islands
Leave Your Watch Behind, and Take it Slow
Tucked into an elbow of the Gulf of Saint Malo, the Channel Islands are in fact closer to France than England. While some people may recognize the names of the two biggest islands, Jersey and Guernsey, because of their namesake cows, the islands are a lot more than cows and cream. Victor Hugo, a resident for almost two decades, described the islands as “morsels of France fallen into the sea and gathered up by England.” The cuisine has a wonderful French flair, with a predominance of local fish and seafood, plus British traditions such as English breakfasts and cream teas. The climate is mild, with more sun than the English mainland, and local produce abounds.
Prehistoric sites strewn throughout the islands, include dozens of dolmens (burial sites) and menhirs (standing stones) and massive burial mounds. Ancient fortifications sit beside majestic castles. Fortified 19th century towers line the shores of Jersey and Guernsey like stone sentinels.
The Channel islands were occupied by the Nazis during World War II and several immense fortifications remain. Of particular interest are two underground hospitals. The one on Jersey has been converted into the Jersey War Tunnels Museum and documents both the history of the islands and the hardships that locals endured during the war years. The more than a mile of excavated corridors and rooms of the German Military Underground Hospital on Guernsey remain pretty much as they were during the war. A few rooms have been left untouched, with simple hospital beds and a dim surgery, a chilling reminder of war. In St Helier, Jersey’s main town, the Occupation Tapestry’s 12 panels—each meticulously handmade by one of the 12 Jersey parishes—depict the story of the occupation.
Both Jersey and Guernsey boast magnificent cliff paths that hug the coast and offer views of stunning harbors and rocky seascapes before dipping down into picturesque coves and villages.
Discover Jersey on Foot describes a huge selection of guided walks, both in town and around the island. Walks led by qualified guides take you to wetlands and headlands, through verdant valleys, and on after-dark excursions. Guernsey offers in-town history walks, as well as interesting country walks.
Jersey’s Green Lane scheme was developed to maintain the quiet, natural character of many of its tree-lined lanes. Green Lanes give priority to walkers, cyclists, and equestrians. Jersey Tourism offers two guided cycle tours per week, and the Cycle Jersey Map covers seven signposted routes. Guernsey’s booklet, Guernsey Cycle Tours, features routes along the coast and through picture-postcard parishes. The island’s Ruettes Tranquilles (peaceful lanes), like Jersey’s Green Lane scheme, limits all traffic to 15 mph.
Gerald Durrell founded the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust over 40 years ago. Known locally as the Jersey Zoo, the 25 acres devoted to endangered species is a sanctuary and breeding center.
While the two largest islands deserve a central place on any itinerary, several “small” islands, particularly Sark and Herm, both an easy day trip by boat from Guernsey, should not be missed.
The island of Sark is only a 45-minute boat ride from Guernsey, but set your watch back hundreds of years. Many of the buildings date back several centuries, and the ones more recently built meld with the ancient ones. Transportation options for locals and visitors alike are by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage.
Cycling is the best way to see the island. A day of leisurely cycling will allow you to cover Sark and its sibling Little Sark, attached by a precipitous neck of land, arguably one of the most spectacular seascapes to be found in the world. Consider staying overnight at one of the island’s half-dozen lodgings before returning to the 21st century.
For More Info
Jersey Tourism has a comprehensive website. It includes walking and cycling information and even provides the bus routes to get you to Hogue Bie.
Guernsey Tourist Board has an equally impressive website.
See information on Alderney, tiny Herm, and for Sark.
Getting to the Islands: Several airlines operate flights from both England and Continental Europe to the main islands. Ferry service is available from several points on the English mainland by Condor.
Getting Around: Car rental is available on Jersey, Guernsey, and Alderney. The extensive bus service on Jersey is called LibertyBus, and Easylink buses connect Jersey’s attractions. On Guernsey, efficient Island Coachways (www.gov.gg) covers the island. For bicycle rental on Jersey contact Zebra Cycle Hire and on Guernsey head to Millard Cycles.
Books: For preliminary reading, the beautifully photographed Insight Guides: Channel Islands filled with background and cultural information as well as information on what to see and do. More portable are the two Insight Compact Guides, Jersey and Guernsey with Herm, Sark & Alderney, available in the U.K. only. Michelin’s In Your Pocket: Channel Islands is a handy book to carry along.