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Travel: Guernsey

August 2010

THERE can’t be too many holiday destinations which use a German occupation as a selling point. Where you can be eating an ice cream on a beach one minute, and staring at a Nazi flag the next.

The Channel Islands were the only UK territories occupied by the Germans during World War II. It’s a fact that islanders - or rather those charged with attracting tourists - are keen to remind us of.

Guernsey, the second largest behind Jersey, had 700 fortifications built by Adolf’s lot between 1940 and 1945, many of which remain. There are cliff top bunkers (only one is open to the public), an occupation museum (a must see collection started by an islander in 1966) and an underground hospital (which closes for two hours each lunchtime).

It shouldn’t be just the war enthusiasts taking the one hour flight from East Midlands Airport to this island - a cosy 32 square miles - sitting around 20 minutes from the French coast.
There’s a shipwreck museum, what is believed to be the world’s smallest consecrated church, pre-Christian burial mounds and much is made of Victor Hugo, the French writer of Les Miserables and The Hunchback Of Notre-Dame, who lived on the island for many years.

Droves of Americans are beginning to make the trip due to the success of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a post-war novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
Even at a dawdle, three days is enough to explore Guernsey. With a guide you can do the lot in half a day.

It’s pretty, in a quaint Devon/Cornwall village kind of way. Roads are narrow. Pavements single file. Foot bobbies say hello. There’s a maximum speed limit of 35mph. Parking is free all over the island. And here’s an odd one - at junctions marked “filter”, drivers take it in turns. One from the right, one from the left. How sweet.
And if they dent your offside bumper in a car park -- it was a hire car so I wasn’t too perturbed - the offender leaves a note on your windscreen with their license registration.

People leave fruit, veg and flowers by their gates for you to buy - each with an ‘honesty box’ in which you leave your money.
Everyone speaks English. I was told that the native Guernsey language, a mix of English and French that is incomprehensible to either nationality, is rarely heard these days.

Of course, like all of the Channel Islands, Guernsey is a tax haven. Which is why Jenson Button has based himself there of late. Oliver Reed had a home here and, so our guide told us, he’d been barred from most of the pubs and bars.
The fact is, no-one pays more than 20 per cent income tax. But you’d need a million to be able to buy the cheapest properties the Guernsey authorities allow outsiders to own.
Finance keeps Guernsey alive. A third of islanders with work are in the finance industry. It was a fact graffiti’d in chalk on to a wall at St Peter Port, Guernsey’s ‘capital’. Yes, even their Banksy has the decency to be both educational and temporary.

Less quaint are the dramatic cliffs and the bizarre tides, which are in and out like the proverbial fiddler’s elbow.
The weather is always a touch warmer, the cost of living a touch higher but the pace is significantly slower. It is like stepping back in time and not just to WWII. Our three star hotel was clean and comfortable but the decor belonged in the eighties. And there are no swipe card keys but actual keys to each room.
That said there was free wi-fi and a first class pool and spa.
So, they’re catching up but maybe they shouldn’t.

Aurigny Air Services (01481 822886, flies to Guernsey daily from East Midlands Airport, with one-way prices from as little as £35 including taxes.

Bed-and-breakfast accommodation at the 3-star Les Rocquettes Hotel (01481 722146, starts at £44 per person per night, twin-share, in a standard room.

Gill Girard Tour Guide, 01481 252403,

For more information visit or call the Guernsey Information Centre on 01481 723552.

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