A Guernsey Holiday: Everything You Need to Know

Guernsey’s capital, Saint Peter Port, has cobbled streets, a picturesque marina and historic gardens. // Photography: Getty Images / Allard1

Thanks to the popularity of The New York Times bestseller, The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society and film by the same name, Guernsey is having a moment. Travelers are attracted to the Channel Island’s rugged windswept coastlines, rural landscapes and the fascinating history of the German occupation. But there’s even more to see and do on the British Channel island, located just 75 miles south of Britain, and easily accessible from Heathrow Airport.

Where to Stay 

The unassuming Old Government House Hotel & Spa was built in 1792 as the home of the governor and converted into a hotel in 1858. The 62-room hotel joined the Red Carnation Hotel Collection in 2008 and is the only five-star hotel on Guernsey. From the outside, it nearly disappears amid the town’s charming historic homes but, once inside, it’s a sprawling warren of historic rooms, meticulously maintained by Red Carnation in décor sympathetic to the period, yet with all the modern conveniences, and features several dining options and an impressive spa and gym.

Located on the hill over the main town of Saint Peter Port, the hotel surrounds the outdoor pool, offering stunning panoramic sea views, yet is only a short walk from the main shopping street, port and beaches.

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The outdoor swimming pool at the 62-room Old Government House Hotel & Spa.

Accommodations

The rooms ooze charm (think: rich upholstery, vivid patterns in jewel tones, deep sofas and chairs perfect for sinking into after a day of sightseeing or at the beach). We stayed in Room No. 103, a Queen Room, in a palate of soft gray with the clever use of mirrored furniture accents making the room feel larger than its 185 square feet; plus, it has a marble bathroom with separate shower and bath, and a view of the pool, town and the sea beyond. For a more spacious accommodation, we loved Room No. 326, a 335-square-foot Studio Suite, which has a large upholstered king bed, desk, sofa and easy chair, plus a grand bathroom. Note: This room has a pleasant view of the town but not the sea. For sea views, and space, the best choices are Sea View King Balcony rooms, Room Nos. 122 and 125, which offer 225 square feet of space and a terrace with table and chairs overlooking Saint Peter Port. For VIPs, top suites are the Herm, Room (No. 124) at just over 500 square feet, with a king bed and private terrace to enjoy the sea views, plus a seating area that can accommodate a bed for a child, and the slightly larger Sark Suite (No. 127) at nearly 540 square feet, with a separate lounge, ideal for entertaining and can also be used as a second bedroom for up to two children under 13 with a sofa bed, and a full-length enclosed balcony off the lounge, plus a second balcony off the bedroom with sea views stretching across the neighboring islands of Herm and Sark.

The Centenary Suite combines traditional style with modern comforts. It has floor-to-ceiling windows affording views of the hotel gardens, the town and the harbour. 

What we loved: The English period house vibe — original vintage artwork, antique ironmongery, walls upholstered in textured fabrics in the Red Carnation signature style, the deeply colored décor throughout — totally works here, cocooning guests in each space from the cozy bars and restaurants to every guestroom.  

General manager Andrew Chantrell, who’s been at the property for a decade, loves getting to know his guests. “Guernsey is a Crown Dependency, not governed by the United Kingdom; the island is known for having few taxes, and most of our visitors come for financial businesses,” explains Chantrell, “but the leisure market, particularly from the U.S. has picked up considerably since the release of the book and film, and we are expecting continued growth with the reopening of the Victor Hugo house and 75th anniversary of the end of WWII.” Very experienced in handling VIPs (the hotel hosted all the stars of Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society for the premiere), Andrew ([email protected]) can be contacted by travel advisors directly. 

The hotel's Olive Grove restaurant offers al fresco dining.

Dining

The Brasserie Restaurant is the hub of dining in the hotel; picture-perfect in shades of green with conservatory and outdoor seating and views over the pool, a glorious spot to enjoy the ample breakfast buffet, lunch, proper English tea or dinner. Guernsey is known for its seafood, dairy products and local vegetables, and executive head chef Robert Newall creates seasonal menus based on what’s available daily. The hotel has a signature Curry Room at The Governor’s, open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, offering Indian specialties of comforting curries and tandoori seafood and meats, using all local ingredients except the spices. Top Tip: Intimate table 506 is for VIPs and has seen a few marriage proposals. The hotel has two cocktail lounges, the Centenary Bar and the Crown Club, both of which feature an impressive list of spirits, particularly gin, of which they offer a choice of 52. Fun Fact: There are three gin distilleries on Guernsey. 

Wellness

The gym is large and well-equipped and offers a full schedule of classes, all complimentary to hotel guests and open to a limited number of outside members. The spa has six treatment rooms, including one double for couples treatments, two pools and a steam room. Spa manager Cami Chira ([email protected]) explained the use of the Phytomer brand products, which use sea minerals from Saint Malo, the nearest part of France to Guernsey. The signature treatment is an 85-minute combination facial and back massage featuring anti-aging products from Phytomer and a heated local mud application on the spine, which bubbles to massage the nerve endings. Travel advisors can contact Cami for bookings and questions.  

The hotel has several dining options, which includes three restaurants and two cocktail lounges. 

Guernsey To-Do List 

Despite its size, Guernsey offers so much — from nature to history, plus an incredible food scene. The natural beauty of Guernsey is self-evident: Endless hiking and biking trails, miles of beaches and watersports (surfing, snorkeling, kayaking). Highlights include Lihou, a small island off the coast of Guernsey, only accessible by a causeway during low tide, two weeks out of every month, and a day trip to sister island, Sark, a 40-minute ferry ride. Roughly four square miles, Sark is home to just 500 families and one of the few places in the world where cars are banned, only tractors and horse-drawn carriages are allowed. Top Tip: Take a carriage ride around Sark to Elizabeth Perrée’s La Sablonnerie for the most incredible lobster lunch and finish with her homemade sloe gin.

For history buffs interested in the WWII occupation by German soldiers, the inspiration for The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, hire knowledgeable local guide and third-generation Guernsey resident, Gill Girard ([email protected]; 011-447-781-104-094), who shares the history of Saint Peter Port, the German Occupation Museum and Underground Military Hospital, plus personal bits about her own family. For Francophiles, Victor Hugo’s historic Hauteville House just reopened after a $3 million renovation. Hugo spent 15 years (from 1856 to 1870) on Guernsey in exile from France and wrote such masterpieces as Les Misérables, Toilers of the Sea and The Man Who Laughs. Perched high in Saint Peter Port, France can be seen from Hauteville House. Most fascinating are the interiors, which Hugo designed himself, and the newly planted garden. 

Eat! Guernsey was into sustainability and eating locally long before it became trendy. The freshness and quality of the food are unparalleled, and the island’s proximity to French-trained chefs, make for a delicious combination. Top Spots: Octopus for seafood and epic views of Castle Cornet, in a Scandi setting; the legendary cooking of chef-proprietor, Günter Botzenhardt at Le Nautique; and the historic Norman-built hotel, Bella Luce. Don’t Miss: Sampling local cider at Rocquette Cider and local, small batch gin at Wheadon’s Gin.

When to Go / How to Get There 

The climate is fairly gentle year-round, but the high season is summer. Check Visit Guernsey (www.visitguernsey.com) for information on the many festivals, local attractions, food and lodging. Flybe, one of the U.K.’s largest domestic carriers just started a new, daily non-stop to and from London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR), the first direct flight to Guernsey from LHR in over 20 years. There are six flights daily from Gatwick (LGR) on Aurigny, plus service from other regional airports in England.

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