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Imagine an island wrapped in sugary white sand, lapped by turquoise water. Where the beaches are so blissfully uncrowded you’d never know it was the school holidays, and you didn’t even have to pay for parking.
The island of Guernsey is home to 27 sparklingly clean, picture-perfect beaches. Think Cornwall meets the Caribbean, only without the hordes of tourists, the 20-mile tailbacks, or the hassle of airports.
I took the Condor fast ferry from Poole during the first week of the summer holidays, with my partner and three children.
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It was a quality, punctual service, very pleasant on board.
You can enhance your sailing experience with a seat upgrade to the Horizon Lounge with sea views and exclusive bar, or go Club Class where there are dedicated hosts, at-seat service and a welcome glass of prosecco. Take advantage of the duty free shop on board too.
After a three-hour crossing it was wonderful to arrive in Guernsey’s picturesque capital St Peter Port, on the island’s east coast with its cobbled streets and 800-year-old Castle Cornet.
With an area of 25 square miles, Guernsey feels like a giant village.
Festooned with flowers, it’s cheerful and pristine, with stone walls and narrow lanes dotted with ‘veg in the hedge’ stalls selling home-grown produce. And with a maximum speed limit of 35 mph (lower in some areas) it forces you to slow down – both physically and mentally.
Not having been to the Channel Islands before, we were also surprised to discover that the post boxes were blue rather than red, adding to the overall charm and the feeling we really were somewhere different.
But back to those beaches, which range from hidden coves to long swathes of silky sand.
Our first trip was to Saints Bay – a slightly challenging walk along the coast path to the sheltered cove surrounded by cliffs.
There was a delightful café where we bought huge slabs of coffee and walnut cake to refuel before the walk back.
On the other side of the island, we visited the dreamy, white sandy beaches of Cobo Bay and Pembroke, followed by Vazon – home to the island’s surfing hub, where we spent an afternoon in the waves.
All these beaches were extremely accessible, with parking literally over the sea wall, and facilities. What’s more, all public parking on Guernsey (with the exception of the airport) is free.
Cobo even had a water bottle refilling station and a free ‘toy library’ of buckets and spades – a great way to reduce plastic and free up car space at the same time.
Guernsey’s coastline is also scattered with reminders of the island’s military past, including castles, forts, towers, batteries and arsenals, built firstly against the French, and then to defend the islands by the Germans.
In La Vaissellerie, we visited the German Underground Hospital. It’s a vast network of dank tunnels almost invisible from the surface, that were carved out by slave workers during the Second World War.
Visitors can walk through the wards, kitchen and even an operating theatre – a sobering reminder of the time when the Channel Islands were occupied by the Nazis.
Due to its strategic and elevated position in St Peter Port, La Collinette Hotel and Apartments was used as the headquarters for naval signals for the entire Channel Islands, with a direct radio link to Hitler’s Command Centre in Berlin. Since the 1950s it has been a hotel, adding self-catering apartments in the 80s.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here in the bright and clean rooms. There’s a lovely bar and restaurant, a peaceful suntrap terrace with outdoor pool and it’s just a short walk through the colourful Candie Gardens to the seafront and shops.
We also visited the Little Chapel in Les Vauxbelets valley, Saint Andrew, which claims to be the world’s smallest. Built by a monk in the 1920s, every last inch is encrusted with broken pieces of pottery. I wouldn’t normally get excited by a church but this one was incredible – a pint-sized cathedral, like something straight out of a fairy-tale.
The Bailiwick of Guernsey (to use its proper title) is an archipelago that also includes Alderney, Sark, Herm and Lihou.
On the final day of our stay, we took a small ferry to Herm – a car-free island that’s home to fewer than 70 permanent residents.
Stepping off the boat, we set out along the cliff path, ignoring the protests of the kids who wanted to head straight for the beach. But as we rounded the headland, their whingeing turned to ‘wows.’ Velvety green cliffs descended into sparkling aquamarine water that glittered in the sunlight.
It was as if we’d set off from Guernsey and ended up in the Seychelles – except the ferry was £15 return (£7 for children) and took just 20 minutes.
Idyllic is a term that is easily overused, especially when it comes to beaches. But there really was no other word.
We stopped off at Belvoir Bay, an exceptionally beautiful cove with pure white sand and clear water. As much as I love my home county of Devon, this was something else.
We jumped off rocks, snorkelled, swam in the sea and hunted for cowries, before meandering along to the equally stunning Shell Beach. Unbelievably, the huge expanse of bleached sand was almost empty. Devon this wasn’t.
None of us wanted to leave Herm behind so it was a fantastic moment when a pod of dolphins popped up alongside the return ferry to Guernsey, accompanied by a chorus of “ooohs” and “aaahs” from everyone on board. It was the perfect end to a glorious day.
How to get there
Condor Ferries fares from Poole to Guernsey start at £35 one-way foot passenger; £90 standard vehicle and one passenger; £120 standard vehicle and two passengers. condorferries.co.uk
Rooms at La Collinette Hotel, Cottages & Apartments in St Peter Port, Guernsey, start at £130 a night, B&B. lacollinette.com; visitguernsey.com
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