Under an hour’s flight from London Gatwick, and offering something not quite found at home in the UK, the island of Guernsey is a culturally rich and historically wealthy destination. From an underground military hospital built by German forces during World War II to a shipwreck museum on the west coast, where over a hundred ships have been wrecked over the past three centuries, there is something for everyone’s tastes, however two attractions stood out when I visited the island recently.
The Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery
Located in the beautiful and picturesque Candie Gardens, which deserve a visit in their own right, the museum tells “The Story of Guernsey”. Detailing the lifetime of both the island and its people, from Neolithic times all the way through to the modern day, the museum is a rich resource for historical and cultural information on island life. The museum also provides details on both the natural and archaeological history of the island, for example the oldest rocks found on Guernsey are 2.6 billion years old and some specimens can even be handled by visitors in the museum, which I found out much to my delight. Imagine holding something 2.6 billion years old in your hands, I just couldn’t get my mind around it!
As well as the story of Guernsey, the museum also houses the Rona Cole Art Gallery. Opened recently in the spring of 2012 the gallery is home to over two hundred of Guernsey’s key pieces of art, arranged chronologically to depict the history of the island. With the vibrant pieces and wonderful story, I felt truly spoiled as I stood and observed the art works. After my tours of the museum and gallery I decided to indulge myself a bit and took afternoon tea in the café which is located inside a 19th century Victorian bandstand!
Victor Hugo’s House
The next stop on my agenda was the Guernsey home of the French author Victor Hugo, otherwise known as Hauteville House, the eccentric and ornate dwelling was his home during his exile in Guernsey. In 1927 the house was donated by Victor’s descendants to the City of Paris, who have paid for its upkeep ever since. It has now been transformed into a museum and preserved as it would have been whilst Hugo lived here.
The museum tells the story of his 15 years of exile on the island and gives an insight into the workings of his brilliant and wonderfully creative mind. Hugo actually wrote some of his most famous works while living here including Les Misérables and Toilers of the Sea, which he dedicated to the island of Guernsey. In 1870, after the fall of the Second Empire in France, Hugo moved backed to live in Paris and the house was kept as a holiday home for his family. If you are a fan of literature then you must visit this attraction or forever hold your peace.
To top off my trip I treated myself to a dinner on the town on the Saturday night. Having eyed up my restaurant the day before I headed in and was pleasantly surprised as I was presented with a table at the window overlooking the wonderful view of St Peter Port harbour. The restaurant, Mora, is situated harbour-side in the heart of the island’s capital town centre. Specialising in fresh local seafood and sublime grilled meat, I indulged myself as I settled on pan fried scallops served with confit belly pork, roast sweet potato and orange puree, accompanied by a glass of Sancerre white wine.
Little did I realize what a treat I was in for; the sweet tang of the scallops playing of the crisp wine and backed up by the confit and puree. For my main course I had chosen the baked fillet of cod and tiger prawns served on a bed of dill and crab crushed Guernsey new potatoes. And I thought the starter was good! I was in culinary heaven, and was only impressed more when the chef came to the table to check everything was in order.
As I spoke with him I understood how much passion the locals put into the cooking and produce, I’m not too sure how many chefs back in the UK would be able to tell you exactly which area the fish were caught in and the name of the fisherman who brings them in. To finish off with I had a candied ginger crème brulee served with almond biscuits, and my word was it good. I had a sweet tooth to begin with, but I honestly could have sat there and eaten the dish for the rest of my life.
Unfortunately for me, but luckily for my waistline, my cultural holiday in Guernsey had come to an end. As I climbed the steps onto my plane back home I felt an overriding sense of peace and satisfaction from the experiences I had gained during my visit here. For such a small island, Guernsey certainly has more than its fair share of culture, heritage and wisdom to impart on us all.
Emma is an avid traveller and loves visiting quirky places. She works to travel and loves to spend as much time discovering new places as possible. Check out her blog at www.travelbagel.com