We visit Guernsey to discover why it remains such a popular holiday escape.
Inevitably comparisons are drawn between the Isle of Wight and the two major Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey.
All have beautiful sandy beaches, stunning countryside and the close-knit communities you tend to find away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland.
So we opted for a short break to Guernsey to see what the island, which is around 12 miles long with an area of 24.3 sq miles, and is home to around 70,000 locals, really has to offer.
Perhaps its biggest advantage compared to the Isle of Wight is its international airport, making it extremely accessible from all parts of Britain and beyond. Although it is some 80 miles from the south coast, trips to and from Southampton Airport take little more than half an hour. British passports are not required to visit Guernsey, but it is just as easy to take one as photo ID is required to obtain boarding passes.
Low-cost regional airline group Flybe operate up to 26 return flights a week from Southampton to Guernsey, including up to four return flights a day. Timings can be found on the Flybe website. Lead-in prices are from a little as £29.99 one-way, including taxes and charges for a 28-day Advance Purchase.
Because of its size, nowhere in Guernsey is that far away, so within a few minutes of landing I was at my hotel in the small town of St. Martins. Although there are not as many guest houses on Guernsey as there used to be there is still a good selection, while a single room at a three-star hotel can be found for about £60 per night.
Guernsey’s capital, St Peter Port is a picturesque town, with its cobbled streets, seafront marina, eclectic mix of shops, and ample restaurants, cafes and bars. On a hot, sunny day there are ample opportunities to sit outside with a coffee or beer and watch the world go by at Guernsey pace. And just a few hundred yards out to sea is Castle Cornet, which has stood guard over the town for some 800 years.
Saturday nights in St Peter Port are vibrant and fun, and the following morning it is nice to walk along the seafront, browsing the street market, to the backdrop of music from local bands, groups and individuals cascading off pub and cafe balconies. Maybe something a number of Isle of Wight hostelries should consider on a more regular basis.
Just as on the Isle of Wight, the population soars during the summer months with the arrival of tourists. Those who wish to hire cars will find a blue and white H sign plastered on the bonnet, probably to let the locals know who to be courteous to on the road.
Talking of roads, they tend to be narrow and very busy. As I mentioned, nowhere is very far away in Guernsey, but you still need plenty of time to get there! However, don’t be surprised to see a car suddenly swerve into someone’s driveway to let you through on a narrow route – all part of the courtesy service.
Buses provide an ideal option. There is a regular service and the cost is £2 per trip – wherever you want to go on Guernsey. So if you have never ventured to that small Island in the English Channel, just 30 miles from Normandy, then it is well worth a visit.
As an added advantage Flybe passengers choosing Southampton airport as a convenient gateway to the heart of London from Guernsey can now purchase a new discounted Rail-Air train ticket with South West Trains when booking online at www.flybe.com giving them an affordable fast-track train service between Southampton Airport (Parkway Station) and London Waterloo.
It’s only 99 steps from the airport concourse to Southampton Parkway train station and Rail-Air will offer a choice of up to 50 trains a day with a journey time of just over an hour, making Southampton a viable alternative to Gatwick. Those passengers buying a return rail ticket will also be offered the benefit of fast-track access through airport security on return to the airport, at no extra cost.