The Bailiwick of Guernsey is a British crown dependency in the English Channel off Normandy coast
If it wasn’t for the incessant caw of seagulls and faded adverts for strawberry Mivvis I would swear I was in the Caribbean.
Moored 30 miles off the Normandy coast, Guernsey is the second largest of the Channel Islands. Just 12 miles long and seven miles wide, it is blissfully easy to explore over a long weekend.
It has a unique, charming appeal with a not-quite-Britain, not-quite-the-Continent vibe, a rich literary heritage, fantastic seafood and during the longer summer months is joyously sunny.
And despite its proximity to France, the Gallic road signs, surnames and Guernésiais patois, there’s still something oh-so British about life here.
I’m staying in St Peter Port, the island capital, which with the tinny clink of sails in the harbour, noisy seagulls and a fresh, briny wind blowing in from the sea, has the atmosphere of a posh seaside resort.
I wander along the harbour wall to Castle Cornet, the 800-year old former island defence which still fires a noonday gun, much to my daily surprise.
Originally used as a signal to recall soldiers back to the barracks, it’s now a ceremonial event performed by castle gunners, sometimes in scarlet uniforms.
Guernsey was a popular beach destination up until the 1980s, when the rise of cheap European package holidays lured mainlanders away from the Channel Islands.
But Guernsey’s 27 beaches, in particular St Martin, and bays still hold plenty of allure, from the beautiful sandy coves of the northwestern coast to the rugged cliff-top paths which wind along the southern wedge.
In my view, the best beaches are found on the neighbouring island of Herm. One sunny afternoon, I take a breezy 20-minute ferry ride from St Peter Port over to the tiny car-free island.
Guernsey is not an island which hides from its darkened past
Home to just 60 residents, its number swells to unfathomable amounts on a hot summer’s day. Even with so few locals, there are two pubs – the Ship Inn, and the Mermaid Tavern – a rustic old fisherman’s pub with a fine selection of Channel Island ales and beer festivals each year.
After a walk around the island, which takes little more than an hour, I refuel on sparklingly fresh Herm oysters and grilled lobster at the White House Hotel and contemplate how I could legitimately live here.
I’m back on Guernsey for sunset and stop off for a local Blue Bottle gin and tonic at Slaughterhouse, a trendy bar and restaurant in an old abattoir, which opened last summer.
If you look closely at the airy, industrial-chic interior – all high ceilings, parquet floors and flashes of duck-egg blue – you’ll spot the rather macabre hooks still hanging from the circular rail, a stark reminder of the building’s former life.
Guernsey is not an island which hides from its darkened past. The Channel Islands were under occupation by Nazi Germany from 1940 until May 9, 1945, Liberation Day, which is celebrated each year with street parades and parties.
Lily James as writer Juliet Ashton and Michiel Huisman as farmer Dawsey Adams
To get an idea of what life was like under occupation, I spend an hour in the German Occupation Museum in Les Houards next to the airport.
This quirky museum is owned by Richard Heaume, who started his extensive collection of wartime memorabilia as a young boy when he found spent bullets in a local field.
The museum has grown 10-fold since it opened in 1966 and features a collection of original occupation artefacts, including a four-wheel enigma machine and a German tank turret.
My highlight is Occupation Street, a reconstruction of a wartime street in St Peter Port. Another fascinating insight into life on the island during the occupation is the German Military Underground Hospital in La Vassalerie.
Around 7,000 square metres of subterranean tunnels were hewn out of Guernsey rock by men captured by the German army during the war.
The German Occupation Museum
The hospital was used for three months to treat the casualties of the D-Day Landings in 1944. Mary Ann Shaffer, the American who wrote the recently-filmed The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society novel was not the only author inspired by Guernsey.
Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables, spent almost 15 years there from 1855 during political exile from France.
His home, Hauteville House, is closed for refurbishment through 2018. But there’s a free exhibition about the author and his home at the Market Hall.
I spend my last night at Ziggurat, a Moroccan-themed boutique hotel and restaurant which overlooks St Peter Port.
With its cocktails and Middle Eastern food, it’s a far cry from the island’s wartime heritage.
And as I feast on Persian antipasti, fragrant lamb tagine and Guernsey honey-filled baklava, I’m pretty thankful there’s no potato peel pie in sight.
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