Just a 45-minute flight from England and a 30-minute flight from France is Guernsey, the second largest of the Channel Islands. Just 25 square miles in area, this pocket-sized British Crown dependency is big on sunshine, serenity, and history.
Separated from the French coast of Normandy 8000 years ago by rising sea levels, Guernsey’s fortunes have been periodically shaped by the crosswinds of trade, and the crossfire of war. For those who’ve called this island home, Guernsey has long been a safe harbor, a place of pride and inspiration.
St. Peter Port
Guernsey’s capital, St. Peter Port, was a trading post long before the Romans settled here around the year 200. Today, this harbor town is one of the prettiest in Europe, where it seems every window reflects the English Channel’s many moods.
Standing guard over the harbor for over 800 years is Castle Cornet. Climb the ramparts for views back to the town, and out to the sister islands of Herm and Sark.
Castle Cornet Maritime Museum
Hold your ears at the firing of the Noonday Gun, then explore the castle’s barracks which house some of the island’s finest museums. Experience centuries of drama at the “Story of Castle Cornet”. Set sail into the island’s seafaring past at the Maritime Museum.
Castle Cornet Royal Guernsey Militia
Then explore the island’s rich military heritage, which dates back to the formation of the Royal Guernsey Militia in the 14th century.
Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery
Continue your history lesson back in town, at the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery.
Discover the island’s first peoples, its folk laws and superstitions, and the artists whose creations were inspired by the island’s incredible beauty.
Victor Hugo Statue
Just outside in Candie Gardens, stands a tribute to Victor Hugo, the giant of 19th-century literature who fell under Guernsey’s spell.
Exiled from his native France, in 1856 Hugo took up residence at Hauteville House, which he personally decorated with bric-a-brac collected from his endless island wanderings.
Climb the stairs to the fourth floor Crystal Room. Hugo spent his mornings here, penning his epic Les Misérables while pausing occasionally to look across the bustling port to his beloved homeland. By afternoon the writer took long walks, past La Valette Bathing Pools, and along a coastline that a decade later would inspire the paintings of fellow countryman Renoir.
Follow that same coastal path which now passes overgrown coastal defenses like Clarence Battery, to sheltered beaches like Petit Bot Bay.
While Guernsey’s dramatic coastline often steals the show, you’ll find plenty to inspire inland too. In the parish of Castel, relax amid the nature trails and floral displays of Saumarez Park.
The stately rooms of Sausmarez Manor
In the parish of St Martin, wander the stately rooms of Sausmarez Manor.
Then, explore the estate where the island’s legendary flowers sway amid the lyrical sculptures and the rhythmic beats of the coppersmith’s hammer.
The German Underground Hospital
But it’s not just the coast and interior that captivates visitors. Guernsey’s underground offers plenty of fascinating and sometimes sobering surprises too. During World War Two, the German occupiers constructed vast subterranean complexes all over the island.
Step into the damp netherworld of the German Underground Hospital, a maze of tunnels hewn from solid rock by hundreds of forced labourers.
La Vallette Underground Military Museum
Just on the outskirts of St Peter Port, a former U-Boat fuel depot now houses the La Vallette Underground Military Museum.
The German Naval Signals HQ
Back in town, visit the German Naval Signals HQ, which sent out its very last signal on an enigma code machine, two days after Germany’s official surrender.
After the war, German equipment littered the island, and scavenging became a popular pastime. For one schoolboy, collecting became an obsession, which quickly outgrew his family’s cottage and necessitated the construction of a purpose-built museum.
The German Occupation Museum
Today the German Occupation Museum displays an incredible array of wartime memorabilia and pays tribute to the resourceful islanders who endured the years of occupation.
After spending a few hours wandering through the shadows of war, stepping back into the island’s sea air and sunshine is all more the sweeter.
Which very much sums up the magic of Guernsey. For no matter where we’re from or what we’ve endured, Guernsey is one of those places which invites us to stop, breathe, and appreciate nature’s gifts, and to reconnect with the quiet, enduring spirit inside us all.