In the Channel, a stretch of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, are five islands: Jersey, Guernsey, Sark, Alderney, and Herm. These islands are independent of both countries and are self-governing, but they owe their allegiance to the British crown. Geographically, they are closer to France than England and you will find French-sounding place names on the islands. You might even hear a dialect being spoken that’s very close to medieval Norman French.
Not quite England and not quite France, these islands are interesting and unique places to visit. There’s lots to fall in love with on The British Channel Islands. Here are some of my favorite reasons for loving these beautiful islands.
1. The Beaches Of Jersey
On the island of Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, you’re never more than 10 minutes away from a beach. Jersey is a popular island with British tourists and it can get busy in summer. But at Portelet Beach, you have the double-whammy of it being one of the island’s prettiest beaches while also being semi-secluded. The steep climb down to the beach puts families with small children off and it remains quieter for this reason. When you get down there, it’s shaded by the cliffs all around and it’s a natural sun trap, making this a great beach for sunbathing and swimming. Be aware, there are 120 steps to get down to the beach, which is why some people pass it by, and it’s not suitable for anyone with mobility issues.
Stay at The Atlantic Hotel on the west coast of the island and you’ll have the lovely St Ouen’s Bay close by. This is a flat sandy beach that’s very easy to access and very popular. The Atlantic Hotel has a great position, overlooking the beach and the sea, and also has lush green gardens within its grounds. There’s a golf course next door and there’s fine dining on offer in one of the hotel’s two restaurants. It’s the ideal location to explore Jersey and it has a flat soft sand beach right on its doorstep.
2. Guernsey Food Festival
If you travel to the island of Guernsey in April, and you love food, you’re in for a treat. This month-long event is an opportunity to celebrate some of the best ingredients and flavors found on Guernsey. Whilst the event is a food festival, it is also a competition between local chefs. They test their skills and abilities to create local favorites and legendary dishes, using fresh locally-sourced ingredients such as spider crabs and mussels. Visitors to the festival will be given the opportunity to sample and taste test the chefs’ works, and later vote for their favorite dishes. Occurring in venues across the islands, the gastronomic month of April will be a fantastic chance for visitors to experience Guernsey’s variety of seafood, dairy products, and seasonal veggies, whilst meeting the local faces behind them.
The only five-star hotel on the island, The Old Government House Hotel is a historic hotel that was originally built in 1770 as a private residence. As the name suggests, it was the home of the governor of Guernsey, but it’s been a hotel since 1858. The hotel has uninterrupted views over St Peter’s Port and out to sea. It’s a great location from which to explore the island. You can also enjoy three restaurants and two bars while you’re here, as well as a heated outdoor pool, spa, and pretty gardens perfect for afternoon tea on the lawns.
3. Birdwatching On Herm
The tiny island of Herm is usually visited by day-trippers from Guernsey. It’s so small you can walk the entire island in just 2 hours, so most people come here for a few hours and no more. There are no cars on the island at all; walking is the only way to go, but it is a lovely place to take a walk. It’s a hilly island and it’s a lovely place to hike and walk the coastal trails, with some incredible views. It’s also become a haven for wildlife and if you like birdwatching, this is the perfect place for it. You can observe puffins and other protected seabirds from some spectacular vantage points. On the east side of the island is the stunning Shell Beach, which rivals any Caribbean beach in its beauty, and is often deserted. There are some water sports here, but not many facilities.
There’s a yoga retreat on Herm that runs for just a couple of days in November and March. It’s limited, but if you’re planning a trip at this time of year, it’s a great way to enjoy the harmony of the island. The retreat on Herm includes accommodation at the White House Hotel, tuition in yoga postures, breathing exercises and relaxation, as well as healthy breakfasts and evening meals. If you like yoga or fancy getting into it, this is a unique setting for some stretches, mindfulness, and meditation.
4. Stargazing On Sark
Measuring just 3 miles long, the small island of Sark has a very distinctive personality, very different from the other Channel Islands. The island was ruled by hereditary feudal lords since 1563 and was Europe’s last remaining feudal state until 2008 when it joined the rest of the Channel Islands. I think its history makes it feel different, ancient, and special. Today, Sark is the world’s first dark sky island and offers once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to see the constellations. With its lack of light pollution and status as a car-free island, Sark’s magical oasis provides unmatched opportunities for stargazing with many visitors claiming never to have seen brighter stars or darker skies. From Sark’s Observatory, built in 2015 and located at the center of the island, planets and constellations can be seen from its 10-inch Meade telescope.
It’s a 50-minute ferry ride from Guernsey to Sark and traveling by boat is the only way to get to the island. You can also travel by boat from Jersey, but that’s even longer at 1 hour and 10 minutes. You can get to Sark from the UK in Portsmouth, but you have to travel to Jersey first. As this is the only way to get to the island and it’s quite a long time no matter where you’re traveling from, you need to be comfortable traveling by boat.
5. The History Of Alderley
In size, the island of Alderley is somewhere between the two smaller islands of Sark and Helm, and the two larger islands of Jersey and Guernsey. Alderley is around 10 miles in circumference, so you can easily walk the coastal path or cycle around. During WWII, the Channels Islands were the only parts of the UK to come under nazi occupation and there’s evidence of this piece of history everywhere you go. On Alderley, there were four concentration camps, or forced labor camps, during the war. Although the camps were demolished, the original gate posts to one of them — Lager Sylt — still remain and there’s a plaque on one of the posts commemorating the people who lost their lives. Whether you like history or not, this is a moving and historically important site.
Alderley is the closest of all the islands to the coast of the UK, so it’s a much shorter trip by boat directly from southern England. But you can also fly to the island on small planes from Jersey, Guernsey, and various airports in the UK. We’re not talking about your usual air travel here. Alderley is still a small island and there aren’t large groups of people wanting to fly here every day, plus it still isn’t big enough for an airport with long runways. You’ll be on what feels like a private jet with your own personal pilot. It’s a pretty special way to travel and adds to the experience of the trip.
6. Jules Verne Tour
You can take a 7-day tour of all of the Channel Islands, with the exception of Alderley, so you don’t have to choose between them. On the Jules Verne Tour, you’ll begin in Jersey and travel by boat to Sark, Herm, and Guernsey. You’ll spend your nights on Jersey and Guernsey in three- and four-star hotels, and you’ll spend your days exploring the islands. The tour takes in all the highlights of the islands, including castles, ports, museums, stately homes, and gardens. It’s a great introduction to the Channel Islands and a great way to get an overview of what they have to offer.
This is a brand new tour that’s running on select dates in May, June, and September, avoiding the height of summer when conditions are hotter.
For more on the British Channel Islands, check out these articles: