Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, offers groups a perfect combination of unique sights, warm climate and convenient location not far from Great Britain.
Despite sitting only around 30 miles off the French coast, Guernsey has been under the responsibility of the British Crown since Norman times and is part of the British Isles. Independent and selfgoverning, its position means that it enjoys more sunshine than the UK. Combined with a landscape full of beaches, woodland, rugged cliffs and wild hedgerows filled with flowers, Guernsey is a popular holiday destination with UK tourists and overseas’ visitors alike.
Initially operating a passenger service between France and the Channel Islands when founded in 1964, Condor Ferries launched the first service linking the Channel Islands with the UK in 1987. With that heritage in serving Guernsey with year round transport links, it is no wonder that Condor Ferries has seen year on year growth in the group travel market to Guernsey, whether it be from wholesalers, coach tour operators, GTOs or direct from the public. Condor offers day trips from the UK to Guernsey and longer full tours of the Channel Islands – and this year, groups can discover more about Victor Hugo’s Guernsey, as new tours explore significant places on the island (including Hugo’s preserved home) where the author of Les Misérables lived for 15 years.
2013 is not surprisingly seeing a surge of interest in the French writer, as the screen version of Les Misérables opened to great anticipation and went on to smash box office records and collect a host of awards. Victor Hugo penned the novel during his time in political exile on Guernsey, where he lived in the pretty whitewashed Hauteville House. Visit Guernsey has created a series of guided tours which take visitors through the streets and alleyways of Hugo’s Guernsey – or for those who want to go at their own pace, a Victor Hugo itinerary has been developed to ensure nothing is missed. Hauteville House has been carefully preserved exactly as it was in the 1800s and is full of Hugo’s own designs and furniture, as he was an avid ‘interior designer’ as we would call it today.
The capital of Guernsey is St. Peter Port, a picturesque harbour town with cobbled streets, a pretty seafront marina, boutique shopping and excellent dining. A busy port since Roman times, the town has retained its charm and unique personality. Visitors are spoilt for choice of sights in St. Peter Port alone, as it is home to La Vallette Underground Military Museum, a 19th century promenade, Victorian Bathing Pools, The Guernsey Aquarium, the St. James Concert Hall and a beautiful church among many more. Most UK tourists take advantage of the competitively priced shopping, since excise duty rates are lower than those in Britain. The Old Quarter is an eclectic mix of antique shops and craft shops showcasing locally-made wares, while the High Street mixes independent retailers and gift shops with larger branded stores. The weekly Fresh Friday market brings the Market Square to life, as local suppliers come to the capital to sell their produce from across the island.
When arriving by ferry into Guernsey, it is impossible to miss the imposing Castle Cornet, which has stood guard over the entrance of the harbour for the past 800 years. To reach the castle, visitors walk round St. Peter Port’s charming yacht marinas and working fishermen’s quays and then follow a Victorian walkway which links the castle to the shore. The castle has been variously restored and added to throughout the centuries, resulting in a complex of different sections and re-created historic gardens, with spectacular views over neighbouring islands. Groups can easily spend an entire day at the castle, as there are also five different museums inside, including a maritime museum and one which explores the story of Castle Cornet. At noon each day, visitors can watch the castle’s scarlet-clad gunners fire the cannon and listen to the shot echoing around the town. Costumed performers telling tales of bygone Guernsey, a restaurant and a shop ensure that nothing is missing from this site.
For insight into the more recent impact that conflict and world events have had upon Guernsey, the German Occupation Museum at Les Houards in the Forest parish was opened in 1966. With undoubtedly the finest collection of WWII relics in the Channel Islands, audiovisual technology, displays and dioramas convey the stories and experiences of islanders during the five years of enemy occupation. The museum also owns two fortification sites, a 10.5cm casemate gun at Vazon and the Naval Observation Tower at Pleinmont headland. Both these installations have been restored and re-equipped.
Guernsey’s many spectacular cliffs, beautiful bays, rural lanes and nature reserves mean that it is a paradise for walkers and ideal to explore on foot. Trails and pathways are just a short walk from the main roads, but feel like a world away. The ever-changing shoreline offers ramblers a different view with each visit, and with every path running through a varied landscape which includes sandy bays, windswept commons and pretty woodland, those exploring on foot never tire of turning the next corner. ‘Tasty Walks’, taking place throughout March and April, is a Visit Guernsey initiative which combines lovely walking routes with the best of the island’s fresh, local produce. This specially created programme of themed walks, led by the Bailiwick of Guernsey Guild of Accredited Guides, showcases some of the island’s best attractions on the walks and ends each walk with a delicious traditional Guernsey meal at selected eateries. ‘A Stitch in Time’, for example, is a Monday evening stroll through St. Peter Port’s rich heritage and includes a visit to the Guernsey Tapestry and an evening meal. ‘A West Coast Wander’ takes place on Saturday mornings and allows walkers to explore the beaches, fortifications and heritage of the rugged west coast, before stopping off for lunch. On Tuesdays and Thursdays ‘Unexpected Guests – The Reich, The Writer and The Royals’ tells tales of World War II Occupation, Victor Hugo’s years of exile in Guernsey and an unexpected visit from Queen Victoria. It is followed by a Guernsey cream tea. There are several other walks available and the guides are all trained to a very high standard, have a wealth of local knowledge and are passionate about the island and their own particular specialist subjects. Self-guided walks are also available.
The landscape of Guernsey also makes it ideal for groups who want to get even more active, or groups of young people there for an outdoor adventure. Climbing, cycling, diving, kayaking, surfing, coasteering, windsurfing and sailing are all popular activities on the island. There are plenty of boats available to charter, or guided fishing and sightseeing trips round the coast and out to sea. Nature-loving groups who would prefer to observe rather than participate will find an abundance of bird-watching opportunities, including boat trips round the coastline in search of the Bailiwick’s much loved puffins.
Just by the capital St. Peter Port, the Candie Gardens are award-winning, restored Victorian public gardens with a beautiful view across St. Peter Port harbour. They are home to the oldest known heated glasshouses in the British Isles, which date back to the late eighteenth century. Visitors should also look out for the statues of Queen Victoria and Victor Hugo. Admission is free.
At the top of the gardens, the Guernsey Museum & Art Gallery encompasses multiple informative sections and exhibitions. Opened in 1978, the museum combined the collections of three former island museums, was purposebuilt and won a ‘Museum of the Year’ award in 1979. Visitors can begin by following the history of Guernsey from the time it first became an island up to the present day. In the Discovery Room, hands-on activities from the past and dressing up in the Time Warp will keep younger visitors especially entertained. A ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ displays some of the more unusual objects from the museum’s collections, while Guernsey’s key paintings can be found in The Rona Cole Art Gallery, where banks of drawers also allow art lovers to inspect works which are too sensitive to bring out into the light. The Brian White Gallery hosts a series of temporary exhibitions each year and a number of special events are regularly held at the museum, while visitors to the museum can also borrow the key to the nearby Victoria Tower in order to climb up it. Complete with a gift shop and Café Victoriasituated in a Victorian bandstand, Guernsey Museum & Art Gallery is an essential stop for anyone visiting the island. By taking a coach tour, hiring bicycles or simply hopping on the bus, groups can visit over 80 historic monuments and memorials across the island. Evocative prehistoric dolmens are dotted over the landscape and the Castel statue menhir is perhaps the oldest sculpture in Britain. Guernsey has always been on the front line of wars between England and France, so is also ringed by forts, towers, batteries and small castles; some were modified by German forces during the Second World War, 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. Fort Grey is a small martello tower on a rocky islet just offshore, reached by a stone causeway. As well as lots of information, stories and illustrations of Guernsey shipwrecks, the museum contains lots of fascinating salvaged artefacts. 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 are available. Visits by schools and other educational groups are welcome and specific activities can be tailored to requirements.
Guernsey museums & Galleries:
Telephone: +44 (0)1481 726518
Telephone: 01305 761555