The second-largest of the Channel Islands, lying in the English Channel around 30 miles (48km) from the French coast, Guernsey offers plenty that’s comfortably familiar for British travellers, served with more than a soupcon of Gallic flair.
The island’s rugged coastline and crystalline seas inspired French Impressionist artist Pierre-August Renoir to paint several works during his stay here in 1883, and 140 years later, many of those paintings are being shown right now for the first time in an exhibition at the Guernsey Museum at Candie.
But while this eagerly anticipated show is set to be the big draw for art lovers this autumn, there are plenty of other reasons to take the short flight or ferry ride from the UK to the island.
Less busy (and glitzy) than jet-setting big sister, Jersey, Guernsey averages a balmy 61 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) in September and 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) in October, so it’s still warm enough for walks along the beach or island hopping to the car-and-crowd-free sanctuaries of Sark and Herm, while there are plenty of pubs and museums to duck into if the weather takes a turn. Here are six reasons to go now…
1. YOU CAN RENDEZ-VOUS WITH RENOIR
There are plenty of reasons to visit Guernsey – including the fact that it has 27 beautiful beaches to discover. Above is Guernsey’s stunning Saints Bay
Visitors can take a self-guided Renoir Walk of Guernsey, retracing the footsteps of French Impressionist artist Pierre-August Renoir, who visited the island in the 19th century. Above is his 1883 piece ‘View At Guernsey’
Above is one of Guernsey’s most picturesque beaches, Moulin Huet Bay. It famously captured the eye of Renoir
Brush hour: This is one of Renoir’s celebrated paintings of Moulin Huet Bay
Despite its diminutive size – just 30 square miles (78 sq km) – Guernsey has 27 beautiful beaches, with one of the most picturesque, Moulin Huet Bay, capturing the eye of renowned French Impressionist artist Pierre-August Renoir. Arriving on the island in 1883 from Normandy, Renoir stayed for over a month and produced 15 landscapes, inspired by the light as it dappled the bay.
Opening on September 30 and running until December 15, 2023, the ‘Renoir in Guernsey, 1883’ exhibition will bring nine of these paintings and other works together at the Guernsey Museum at Candie, with supporting exhibits and events happening across the island.
Visitors can take a self-guided Renoir Walk or join a tour with accredited Guernsey guide Gill Girard to see the bay from the artist’s exact perspective (through a series of empty, ornate picture frames, too). Autumn also offers the chance to enjoy French-themed food, music and films during the island’s annual Le French Festival. It takes place from October 10 to 15 and includes a free performance of opera L’Elixir d’Amour.
2. YOU CAN UNCOVER MEMORIES OF WWII
On Guernsey, museums exhibit artefacts from the islands’ five challenging years under Nazi rule during the Second World War. Above is the island’s La Valette Underground Military Museum
The German Occupation Museum at Les Houards (above) houses military weapons and dioramas with reconstructions of war-era homes and shops
On Guernsey, you’ll see bunkers and observation towers around the coastline. Above is Observation Tower MP4 on the southern coast
As the only part of the British Isles to be occupied by Germany during the Second World War, the Channel Islands still harbour remnants from the conflict and on Guernsey, you’ll see Nazi bunkers and observation towers around the coastline, while museums exhibit artefacts from the islands’ five challenging years under Nazi rule.
The German Occupation Museum at Les Houards houses the largest collection in the Channel Islands, with military weapons, audio-visual displays telling stories of the islanders’ resilience, and dioramas with reconstructions of war-era homes and shops.
Visitors can also explore the German Naval Signals HQ in St Peter Port, a restored bunker that was the communications hub for the German army during its occupation of the islands.
3. YOU CAN SHOP AND DINE LOCAL – AND THE OFFERINGS ARE WONDERFUL
For anyone staying in one of Guernsey’s many self-catering options, like The Bay’s luxury apartments at Pembroke Bay (above two images), the island’s unique Hedge Veg scheme is a great way to support local growers, who leave daily fresh produce in front of their homes, with honesty boxes for payment
Guernsey’s main town of St Peter Port is where you’ll find most of the bars, restaurants and nightlife, alongside high-street shops and boutiques
Enjoy fantastic views overlooking Havelet Bay (above) as you dine at locals’ favourite Octopus
See some of the region’s ancient Neolithic relics like the mysterious ‘La Gran’mere du Chimquiere’, a granite standing stone in the shape of a woman
While you’ll find pubs, casual cafes and coastal kiosks around the island, Guernsey’s main town of St Peter Port is where you’ll find most of the bars, restaurants and nightlife, alongside high-street shops and boutiques. The Victor Hugo-inspired eatery, Octopus, is a local favourite, with fantastic views overlooking Havelet Bay, a friendly vibe and an international menu crafted from locally sourced suppliers, or try the innovative Mexican menu and cocktails at Buho Latina Cantina on the outskirts of town.
For anyone staying in one of Guernsey’s many self-catering options, like The Bay’s luxury apartments at Pembroke Bay, the island’s unique Hedge Veg scheme is a great way to support local growers, who leave daily fresh produce in front of their homes, with honesty boxes for payment. And if the sun is playing nice, order a picnic or afternoon tea hamper from the Guernsey Hamper Company, packed with treats from the island’s artisan makers, including The Seaweed Food Co and Guernsey Dairy: this is the land of the famous Guernsey cows, after all.
4. YOU CAN EXPLORE ON A SAFARI
While you’re likely to see more cattle than big cats, a safari around Guernsey in a custom-built Land Rover with Tour Guernsey is a unique way to explore, and local guide Ant Ford Parker has plenty of campfire-worthy local yarns to spin, as you visit the island’s best viewpoints and historical highlights.
Get off the beaten track driving Guernsey’s narrow lanes or ‘Ruettes Tranquilles’, stopping to see some of the region’s ancient Neolithic relics such as the mysterious La Gran’mère du Chimquière (Grandmother of the Cemetery), a granite menhir or standing stone in the shape of a woman, which guards the gate at St Martin’s Parish Church, and The Little Chapel, an elaborately decorated miniature replica of the holy pilgrimage site at Lourdes in France.
5. YOU CAN HIKE OVER 40 MILES OF COASTLINE – AND TAKE IN FASCINATING SIGHTS
Follow in the footsteps of exiled French author Victor Hugo, who wrote some of his most famous works including Les Miserables at Guernsey’s Hauteville House (shown in the three images above)
With over 40 miles (64km) of coastline, rolling countryside, historical sites and a handful of picturesque towns and hamlets, you’ll find some epic hiking trails on Guernsey and its neighbouring islands.
The Autumn Walking Festival, which runs from 16 September to 1 October, offers a range of professionally guided walks on Guernsey, Herm and Sark for outdoor lovers of all ages and fitness levels.
Sign up for a spooky stroll around the main town of St Peter Port; follow in the footsteps of exiled French author Victor Hugo, who wrote some of his most famous works including Les Miserables at Guernsey’s Hauteville House; find out about the fascinating folklore of Herm; or join one of the many rambles along the islands’ wildly rugged and beautiful coastlines.
6. YOU CAN USE REGULAR INTER-ISLAND FERRIES TO HOP BETWEEN ISLANDS
Regular inter-island ferries make exploring Guernsey’s neighbouring isles a breeze. Check out Alderney (above), which is close enough for a day trip
The island of Herm is a natural beauty and home to two of the Channel Islands’ best beaches, Shell Beach (above) and Belvoir Bay
On Sark – the world’s first designated Dark Sky Island – explore by bicycle or join a guided tour with Sark Carriages to see highlights including La Seigneurie Gardens
Regular inter-island ferries make exploring Guernsey’s neighbouring isles a breeze. Alderney and car-free Sark and Herm are close enough for a day trip, with boats departing from St Peter Port, while tiny Lihou can be reached via a cobbled causeway during low tide.
With the Channel Island’s only working railway, golden beaches and bounteous birdlife, Alderney offers a relaxing escape. Herm is a natural beauty and home to two of the Channel Islands’ best beaches, Shell Beach and Belvoir Bay, with Outdoor Guernsey offering opportunities for adventure on the water, including kayaking to see seals, stand-up paddle boarding and coasteering. And on Sark – the world’s first designated Dark Sky Island – explore by bicycle or join a guided tour with Sark Carriages to see highlights including La Seigneurie Gardens, then have dinner and cosy up for the night at the luxury Stocks Hotel under a blanket of stars.
Guernsey’s only five-star hotel, The Old Government House Hotel & Spa in St Peter Port is offering a two-night Renoir package in conjunction with the exhibition, including a three-course dinner at The Brasserie, a French-themed afternoon tea, tickets to the Renoir in Guernsey, 1883 exhibition, a 10 per cent discount on spa treatments and complimentary use of the hotel’s spa facilities. Prices start from £320 per person based on two people sharing a ‘classic double’ room, subject to availability.
Read more about Guernsey’s islands at VisitGuernsey.com, and download the VisitGuernsey app for up-to-date information on the weather, walks, beach guides and attractions.