Guernsey, sitting off the coast of France, but loyal to the English crown since Norman times, has had a chequered history. Surrounded by water, and occasionally buffeted by political storms from the continent, the islanders have developed their own unique way of life and created a rich heritage just waiting to be discovered.
Evidence of hunting and fishing dates back to 6500BC, whilst Les Fouaillages burial mound, possibly the oldest manmade structure in Europe, was built by Neolithic man around 4500BC. La Varde Passage Grave is a large Megalithic chambered tomb, with a capstone weighing over ten tons. Le Dehus Burial Chamber is a fascinating underground Neolithic structure complete with ancient rock carving. Le Creux ès Faies Passage Tomb is a well preserved Megalithic passage tomb dated c. 3000-2500 BC and was known as the entrance to the Fairy Kingdom in Guernsey folklore. Le Trépied Megalithic Burial Chamber is a chamber tomb offering spectacular views over Perelle Bay. It figures in accounts of 17th century witch trials as a Friday night rendezvous for witch's covens where the Devil, disguised as a black goat, sat enthroned on the capstone.
Castle Cornet, Guernsey’s ancient royal fortress, has stood guard over the town and harbour of St Peter Port for nearly eight centuries. The story of the Castle and other aspects of Guernsey’s past can be found in the five museums housed within its impressive walls: The Story of Castle Cornet Museum, The Maritime Museum, The 201 Squadron (RAF) Museum, The Royal Guernsey Light Infantry Museum and The Royal Guernsey Militia Museum.
National Trust of Guernsey Folk and Costume Museum is set in stables and other outbuildings of an old country house in Guernsey’s largest park. It depicts life as it used to be in the Island around 100 years ago. Displays include domestic life, farming, fishing and seafaring, trades, the tomato industry and transport. The recently much enlarged museum also has several displays on Guernsey costume and a magnificent fully-furnished scale model of a Victorian town house.
Fort Grey is a Martello Tower built in 1804 to defend Guernsey’s west coast. Many vessels have come to grief on this beautiful but treacherous coast, and the Martello Tower now houses a Shipwreck Museum with a surprising variety of objects recovered from the wrecks. The information panels tell the gripping stories surrounding the disasters which date from the HMS Sprightly in 1777 to the Vermontborg in 2003.
On 16 May 1856, Victor Hugo bought Hauteville House in Guernsey, a large white building with a garden overlooking the sea. An enthusiastic collector of secondhand furniture and bric-à-brac, he brought back a profusion of chests, sideboards, carpets, mirrors, crockery, figurines and other objects from his excursions around the island. He put his boundless imagination to work on the house, spending months overseeing a major conversion on a medieval pattern, which gave this unique building an inner force and mystery. Well preserved in its original state it offers a fascinating insight into his life and times on Guernsey.
Sausmarez Manor is another remarkable family home with a remarkable story stretching back 800 years – the stunning grounds and richly decorated interiors celebrate generations of adventurers, diplomats, privateers, admirals, generals, inventors, politicians, prelates, colonial governors and artists.
There are a number of museums that give fascinating insights into the island’s occupation by the Germans during the Second World War, including the German Occupation Museum, German Naval Signals H. Q., German Military Underground Hospital, Pleinmont Observation Tower,La Vallette Underground Military Museum and the Fort Hommet Gun Casemate.
Designed around the old Victorian bandstand in the restored Victorian Candie Gardens, Guernsey Museum & Art Gallery houses a variety of Exhibitions. ‘The Story of Guernsey’ shows the development of the island and its people. Artefacts from Victorian collectors are displayed in a Victorian style gallery. A changing programme of temporary exhibitions is held in the Rona Cole and Brian White Galleries.
The Sculpture Park & Subtropical Garden, within the grounds of Sausmarez Manor, exhibits works by more sculptors than anywhere else in Britain. Renowned award-winning jeweller, Catherine Best, displays a collection of stunning work in her studio at The Mill, a beautiful landmark building in St Martin’s.
The islanders have conducted an enduring love affair with food for at least a thousand years. Norman roots and a cosmopolitan seafaring heritage, combined with the perfect gardening climate, a bountiful sea and arguably the best milk in the world, makes this a paradise for eating and drinking – and one of the great joys of a visit is sampling the abundant local cuisine.
Guernsey always produced good crops of potatoes and tomatoes but during the war this became a matter of life or death - the locals had to grow a variety of crops to survive and the local fruit and vegetables are excellent to this day.
It’s hard to match the seafood in Guernsey’s waters. Turbot, Bass, Brill, Lobster, Mackerel, Monkfish, Oysters, Ormers, Scallops, Red Mullet - it’s all here in abundance and so fresh. You can dine on nothing but fish during your visit and never get bored!
The milk from the world famous Guernsey cows is marvellous, and made into three types of cheese, three styles of cream, two varieties of butter and six flavours of ice cream.
As a British Crown dependency on the Normandy coast, lapped by the Atlantic and the English Channel, Guernsey has seen more than its fair share of trading, privateering and smuggling. The cellars and vaults of St Peter Port have held an ocean in their time: brandy and wine from France, Spain and Portugal as well as rum from the West Indies – and there’s no shortage of great wines and spirits to be had to this day. The island also has its own brewery, established in 1868, and there has been a thriving cider industry since the 1700’s - Rocquette Cider is very popular with locals and visitors alike.