Three very different islands, three perfect group trip options

ISLE OF MAN

Times may be tough for some travel destinations, but despite a challenging global environment the Isle of Man is doing well, with a growing number of group travellers discovering that it can offer an excellent value holiday close to home, but with the feel of going abroad. In 2012, leisure visitor numbers were up by 4.3% compared with the year before, with a 5% increase in group travel.

The Isle of Man has a hugely diverse natural environment, which is complemented by its rich Celtic, Viking and Victorian heritage. There is a huge variety of tourist provisions available, such as top quality accommodation, and some remarkable and unique attractions like the Great Laxey Wheel and the numerous heritage railway systems. Innovation is taking place constantly – last year a new company launched offering segway tours, giving visitors a unique way to explore the island.

This year, Isle of Man Tourism has developed a new Group Travel Guide, containing a range of new itineraries, as well as suggested time allowances for each activity, showcasing the best of the island’s attractions. In the last year the Isle of Man has had seven locations designated as Dark Sky Discovery Sites by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, helping to extend the tourism season between September and March.

There are numerous departure points across the UK and Ireland with the Isle of Man served by nearly all key UK and Irish airports as well as ferry terminals in Liverpool, Heysham, Belfast and Dublin.

Info:   www.visitisleofman.com/groups    grouptravel@gov.im       01624 686888

GUERNSEY

Visitors arriving by ferry into Guernsey cannot miss the imposing Castle Cornet, which has stood guard over the entrance of the harbour for the past 800 years. Keen visitors can spend a whole day enjoying the castle’s five different museums, re-created historic gardens and spectacular views over the neighbouring islands. At 12 noon each day, the castle’s scarlet-clad gunners fire the cannon and the shot echoes around the town of St Peter Port.

At the top of the Victorian Candie Gardens, just outside the centre of St Peter Port, is the Guernsey Museum & Art Gallery, telling the ‘Story of Guernsey’ and showing off some the island’s finest artworks. During 2013, visitors can also take a trip down nostalgia lane as ‘The Sixties are Back!’ all summer.

Around the rest of Guernsey, by taking a coach tour, hiring a car or bicycle or simply hopping on the bus, over 80 historic monuments and memorials are free to visit across the island. Evocative prehistoric dolmens can be explored and the Castel statue-menhir is perhaps the oldest sculpture in Britain. Guernsey was on the front line in the wars between England and France, so is ringed by forts, towers, batteries and small castles. Some were modified by German forces during World War II, who added dozens of bunkers and gun positions which are still standing. The beautiful but rugged coasts have also seen over 800 known shipwrecks, some of which are commemorated at the unique Fort Grey Shipwreck Museum situated at Rocquaine Bay.

Group visits can be organised in advance to any of the sites run by Guernsey Museums & Galleries. These can include bespoke tours of the sites and special catering, and discounts may be available. Visits by schools and other educational groups are welcome and specific activities can be tailored to your requirements.

Info: 01481 726518      www.museums.gov.gg

LINDISFARNE

In 635AD, St Aidan came from the island of Iona in Scotland and chose to found his monastery on Lindisfarne in Northumbria. Visitors today will not find it hard to see why; the Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a beautiful, tranquil place, unspoilt by the pilgrims and tourists who flock there to enjoy its delights.

The Lindisfarne Gospels is one of the world’s greatest books, highly prized for its quality, age and illuminations. From July to September this year, it will be on show in a unique exhibition at Durham’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Gospels will be the centrepiece of an unmissable exhibition which tells the tale of St Cuthbert and this beautiful manuscript – its creation, its journey and its special symbolism for the people of the North. The exhibition will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to view a selection of St Cuthbert’s treasures including his jewelled cross, sapphire ring and travelling altar, alongside the book that was written in his honour. On display will be stunning Anglo-Saxon artefacts from national collections and some of Britain’s most significant medieval manuscripts including the St Cuthbert Gospel and Durham Gospel.

Lindisfarne has a population of just 160 people but sees 650,000 visitors every year. In addition to the castle and the ancient religious heritage of the island, it offers a microcosm of attractions for naturalists, including spectacular bird and marine life.

Info: www.lindisfarne.org.uk