Jersey vs. Guernsey: What a choice?
When I was a child, my parents took me to Jersey for our annual summer holiday and then to Guernsey a year later. The truth was, I felt thoroughly confused and called each island by the other’s name for a considerable period of time thereafter. However, confusion should never have reigned as the two beauty spots are about as alike as chalk and cheese, even though they are relatively close neighbours in a similar stretch of the English Channel.
Une grand histoire
It is said that you need plenty of energy to visit either of the islands, because walking is a major pursuit and, let’s face it, with a blanket speed limit of no more than 40mph (35mph on Guernsey), you might almost run as fast as most of the traffic. Yet, if the term ‘getting away from it all’ holds any merit, then both Jersey and Guernsey are armed with the Premiere Cru, or the gold medal for phenomenal tranquillity and being more laid back, yes, even Gallically so, in their great appeal to holidaymakers.
Of course, it helps, if you know something about their past. They are the remnants of what was the Dukedom of Normandy, which was once the powerbase for both France and the UK. While the Channel Islands are British crown dependencies, they are parts of neither the UK nor EU, although our government is responsible constitutionally for the defence of the islands and when making international representation. Interestingly, Jersey
and Guernsey have quite separate relationships with the UK.
Jersey possesses a mere 45 miles of coastline, yet, within its 12 miles of exclusive marine fishing zone, it can source enviable amounts of produce for both restaurant and private tables. It is the larger of the two main islands, with the majority of its population residing in the bailiwick capital of St Helier. It can also boast an early-Neolithic (4500BC) past, with several historically fascinating sites of interest around the island. Apart from natural weathering, they remain in outstanding condition and are well worth the visits.
Guernsey, on the other hand, boasts a coastline of just 30 miles, which also lends its suitability to a vibrant travel trade and a strong local fishing community. With hills that are hardly worth mentioning, it is a lovely place to cycle around and is blessed with warm summers and mild winters. Within its bailiwick, it governs the ten local parishes and also Alderney and Sark (which we covered extensively in our Winter issue), although each has its own government. As with Jersey, it has a long history with both dolmen (tombs) and menhirs (standing stones) worth investigating.
Occupation then and now
Both islands endured the relative misfortune of being invaded and then occupied by the German Nazi forces during WW2. In fact, they were held from June 1940 until liberation on 9th May 1945. Although creating a political storm at the time, the occupation was little more than a propaganda exercise for the Germans, who boasted that they were in charge of a British territory.
Amazingly, at the peak of the troubles, there was no less than one German for every two islanders and, because there was no resistance (although it is said that the islanders hardly made their ‘guests’ particularly welcome), there was no Gestapo involvement either. Alderney was forced to tolerate no less than four concentration camps housing 6,000 inmates. They formed much of the forced labour that built the defence towers, machine-gun posts, concrete bunkers and the infamous German Military Hospital, built underground in the centre of Jersey. Ever resourceful, you will discover that, of the many tunnels dug into Jersey, some of them remain in use for mushroom farming.
Inevitably all of these structures are worth investigating, as most are in sound condition and the underground hospital, while presenting a most harrowing tale, is also a good means to evaluate how fortunate the rest of the UK was, from not being invaded. One of the many diversions set up by the island residents against their foes was to converse in either Jerriais, or Guernesiais, the local dialects of Jersey and Guernsey respectively, which are still spoken and performed on the islands.
Despite the thinly veiled horrors of WW2, the islanders are immensely proud of their stance during that period and The Channel Islands Occupation Society can provide advice to visitors seeking information about events related to it. There is a large bronze sculpture in Liberation Square, St Helier, Jersey, which is a focal point for the town and features in many tourists’ photography.
Jersey has it all
As the warmest spot in Britain, Jersey has a pretty good head start over a lot of holiday destinations. Recognised as a tax haven, there is a lot of accumulated wealth on the island and, despite the local speed restrictions, promenading along the front in the island’s capital is a great place to spot exotic motorcars and local inhabitants unafraid of showing off the trappings of wealth.
Naturally, a lot of well-known people, from the arts, as well as business and commerce, reside on Jersey. Among them, local musician and songwriter, Nerina Pallot, is an outspoken commentator for the island of her birth. She is delighted to promote Jersey as being a lot more than just ‘Bergerac’ and potatoes and can be spotted frequently (when she is not travelling the international music circuit) walking the beach at the lovely and secluded St Ouen.
However, Nerina is not the only local celebrity and fans of motor racing will be aware that a number of top international drivers, such as James Walker and Andy Priaulx, were born, raced and still live on the islands. The annual Jersey Hillclimb is very well attended by
British motorsport fans, while the Jersey Kart Club also enjoys a well-supported season.
Lots of watersports fans love Jersey for its beaches and excellent surfing waves. However, jet-skiing, windsurfing and sailing are all popular pursuits, with some areas reserved for different activities, to ensure that beach visitors are not upset by the extra hubbub.
Guernsey has it all
No favouritism here! Besides, almost everything that Jersey can offer is also available on the slightly smaller and closer to France Guernsey. Interestingly, while ‘Les Miserables’ is obtaining rave reviews for both film and stage adaptations of the book, Victor Hugo, its author, was resident on Guernsey, when it was first published in the 19th Century.
If anything, life is even more relaxed on Guernsey and the two main focuses of attention are on walking and eating, the island boasting some of the finest culinary treats available to tourists. Again, a high number of sunshine hours and some fabulous local produce, from
both sea and the land, ensure that every palate from the snack-seeker’s to the sophisticate’s can be dealt with.
As with Jersey, a lot of well-known sportspeople and celebrities have made Guernsey their home and, as a separate tax haven, there are several banks and finance institutions based in St Peter Port, the island’s capital town. It is a lovely centre to visit, because it manages to blend the quaintness of its narrow cobbled streets with intense cultural awareness and one of the prettiest harbours of any European resort.
Getting there: there are twelve flights a day from London alone, with journey times of less than an hour. Fast ferry services operate from Poole or Weymouth, taking around four hours to reach the island, should you wish to take your own transport.
Getting around: we recommend bicycles but the choice is yours, from cars and taxis to buses, tourist road trains and coach tours of all types. Bicycles can be rented locally and cyclists are given priority in many parts of the island.
Where to stay: there is a great choice of accommodation on Jersey, from B&Bs to boutique hotels, as well as some of the chains, and classifications range from one to five stars. However, there are apartments, leisure villages and plenty of guest houses, with prices starting from less than £20 per night.
Useful contacts: www.jersey.com www.condorferries.co.uk www.flyjersey.com www.travelsmith.co.uk www.durrell.org
Getting there: there are regular daily flights from London City, Gatwick and Stansted airports, with journey times of around an hour. Fast ferry services operate from Poole or Weymouth, Jersey and St Malo, taking around four hours to reach the island on the UK legs (two hours from France). A regular daily ferry operates from Portsmouth. All are ideal should you wish to take your own transport.
Getting around: we recommend bicycles but the choice is yours, from rental cars and taxis to buses, tourist road trains and coach tours of all types. The speed limit is 35mph. Bicycles can be rented locally and cyclists are given priority in many parts of the island.
where to stay: there is a great choice of accommodation on Guernsey, from B&Bs to boutique hotels, as well as some of the chains, and classifications range from one to five stars. However, there are apartments, leisure villages, camp sites and plenty of guest houses, with prices starting from less than £20 per night.
All prices and details were correct when published in tlm - the travel & leisure magazine, please check before you visit Jersey or Guernsey.