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Ideal for those who covet the quiet life
Guernsey in General
Member Name: r_welfare
Guernsey in General
Date: 23/03/03, updated on 23/03/03 (360 review reads)
Advantages: Friendly, quiet, good weather and scenery
Disadvantages: Not one for younger folks, very small
Guernsey is the second-largest of the five Channel Islands, after Jersey (the others are, in descending order of size, Alderney, Sark and Herm). It often seems that Guernsey is overlooked in favour of the larger and more famous Jersey, due in no small part to Bergerac (for those of you who have no idea who or what Bergerac is, it was a very popular 1980's TV show about a Jersey detective).
In fact, due to Bergerac's storylines featuring so many murders, you'd expect that people would be put off Jersey and come to Guernsey, but I digress.
Guernsey lies to the north of Jersey, and all the Channel Islands are in fact situated just off the north-west French coast. They lie approximately 80 miles from Portsmouth or Weymouth (if you take the ferry - more on that later). As a result of being so close to France, the architecture and district/street names have a distinctly French feel, but the atmosphere of the island is a very genteel, relaxed facsimile of 1950's England. Not that I was alive in the 1950's, but the island maintains some quaint customs that hark back to that era.
For example as Sunday is the day of worship, shops generally do not open (a bit like it used to be not so long ago on the mainland), although this may change in the near future. Guernsey is self-governed and as such makes its own laws, although it keeps an eye on the mainland to keep itself abreast of the latest developments. Interestingly, it is not part of the European Union, although this too may change in the future. Pubs can also (currently) only open between the hours of 12pm and 3.30pm on a Sunday. Some petrol stations do not allow you to pump your own petrol, either.
A by-product of Guernsey (and Jersey) not being in the EU is that the islands set their own tax rates, as a result Guernsey is one of the famed "offshore investment centres" in the world along with Jersey, the Isle of Man, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the Briti
sh Virgin Islands (this is where I come in, as I am an accountant working out here on a long-term contract). Because the Channel Islands would obviously make very attractive places for a lot of people to live (such as retirees), the island governments have cottoned on to this and as such you can only live here if you have been born here, been resident for over 20 years (and thus are deemed local), or have a Housing Licence which will be granted to your employer if there is not enough local staff to fill specific positions of need (such as chartered accountants). I've been here since September 2002, so have experienced both the "summer" Guernsey and the "winter" Guernsey, two very different animals!
The upshot of this strict "immigration" policy is that the local people can still afford to live here (although property prices are still pretty sensational), and also on the other hand the financial sector jobs draw in a large number of young professionals from around the globe with a high disposable income which helps sustain the island economy in the off-season. Tourism is still the biggest industry in Guernsey, although this has fallen in recent years as package holidays to mainland Europe have become cheaper.
So should you come and holiday in Guernsey? Well, it's ideal for the more mature traveller or for those who covet the quiet life. Those who enjoy Ibiza and the like should look elsewhere (although nightlife in St Peter Port, the capital, isn't too bad as there are a lot of young people working in the financial industry here these days). There is excellent scenery, and the people are friendly, and of course they speak English!
St Peter Port and St Sampson's are really the two major centres, and offer a wide range of shopping. There's no VAT here and all the major High Street names are represented in St Peter Port's high street (which is traffic-free, incidentally). There are also som
e excellent restaurants in St Peter Port, offering a wide variety of cuisine. Throughout the month of October is the "Octoberfest" where a number of the restaurants compete with each other to provide the best set three-course menu for £10, which is judged by top chefs. Of course, you as the consumer are the real winner here as the food is excellent. What you will notice is the absence of “chain” pubs and eateries, i.e. no Beefeaters or Brewers Fayre’s, or even McDonald’s or Burger King (St Peter Port did have a Burger King, but it closed just before Christmas 2002).
Guernsey is shaped as a sort of triangle with the airport in the centre and St Peter Port and St Sampson on the right-hand edge. These two towns play host to the marina where the expensive yachts are based, but don’t offer any real beaches. These are found on the other side of the island, in districts such as Cobo and Vazon. The best thing to do is to hire a car (the hiring agencies are found either at the airport or in St Peter Port) and have a drive around. We drive on the right side (in both senses!) and speed limits are 25mph in town, 35mph out of town. Believe me, with some of the windy country lanes, that’s fast enough. You could also take the bus between major districts, or get a taxi, but in my experience the latter is only really easy to get hold of at the airport.
Incidentally, if you do drive here, watch out for a funny thing we have called “Filter in Turn” at junctions, where the first car there has the right of way. I only say this as I’ve had several near-misses with terrified tourists in hire cars. Also, there are no “pay and display” car parks about. What you do have are on-street parking with varying time limits – your hire car should come with a small card “clock” which you set when you leave your car. Streets in the towns are quite narrow and parking is at a premium. Also, i
f you are infirm, St Peter Port in particular is very hilly and a number of paths have some very long, steep steps.
As with the food, there are no “chain” hotels, but they are numerous and there are many B&B’s and guest houses for those who are on more of a budget. Two of the best hotels are the St Pierre Park in St Andrew’s (which boasts a health suite and golf course) and the Duke of Richmond in St Peter Port. At the other end of the scale, some friends who came over in November 2002 managed to book the Hotel Dunchoille in St Peter Port for £21 a night on-line and found it excellent value. If you’re a golfer, there are the Royal Guernsey and the Grande Mare clubs, but I don’t think it’s easy or cheap to get on and play.
Popular trips out include visiting Herm or Sark, both of which are short boat trips away, and are totally unspoilt (neither allow any cars or motorcycles). Be wary though if you like a drink or three – if you’re too drunk they won’t let you on the return boat. You could also visit Alderney, which gained infamy a couple of years ago due to rioting (seriously!) and is the home of many internet gambling companies, but can cost quite a bit to fly to (about £75). You could also pop across to Jersey by air or sea, and see the “concrete jungle” as Guernseyfolk call it – there’s a lot of inter-island rivalry, with the Jerseyfolk referring to Guernsey as “Donkeyland”, and Guernseyfolk calling the Jersey population “crapauds”. Don’t ask me why! I worked in Jersey for a month a couple of years ago and it’s very similar but a bit more “forward”, i.e. it resembles life on the mainland a little more. You could even pop over to France - St Malo only takes an hour by boat, even quicker if you fly to Dinard.
So finally I bet you are wondering how you get here (after I’ve done such a marvellous sales pit
ch). You can fly with British European, BA or Aurigny from Stanstead, Birmingham, Gatwick, Southampton, Bristol or Exeter. I fly to Southampton regularly with British European and it costs about £90 return if you book on-line well in advance. If you want to bring your own car or don’t like flying, you can take the ferry, but there is only one ferry line (Condor) and, in the absence of competition, prices are higher. I came back to the UK over the Christmas period with my trusty Volkswagen and it cost an eye-watering £300 return. You can sail from Portsmouth, Poole or Weymouth, but here’s another twist – there are two distinct types of ferry. The fast catamaran only sails (reliably) in the summer when the sea is calmer and takes only 2 hours to go direct to/from Weymouth. However, in the winter the bigger boat (designed for freight) goes via Jersey and takes an eye-popping 13 hours.
In conclusion, Guernsey has good weather, beautiful scenery, a relaxed pace of life and friendly people, so if all this sounds like your bag, come on over! We’ve even got the Island Games this summer!