By: Alan Thompson, Leicester Mercury on 25/09/2012
Hooked on Channel Island Hopping
Friendly staff welcomed us on board the Condor Ferries Vitesse vessel bound for Guernsey’s capital, St Peter Port. Reinforced by a hearty breakfast on our early morning sailing, we were set up nicely for our five-day islandhopping tour of Guernsey and its larger neighbour, Jersey.
We were lucky enough to be invited to visit the bridge of the 5,000-tonne catamaran whisking us at a cruising speed of about 35 knots to our first port of call.
Its panoramic vision and cluster of sophisticated radar and satellite monitoring equipment was not unlike the cockpit of a passenger jet – although on a much larger scale.
The equipment, which can monitorthe proximity, size and direction of craft many miles away is a comfort in the English Channel – home to some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
The 90-odd mile journey took us just over three hours – a far cry from my first trip to Jersey from Weymouth as a 17-year-old which, if memory serves, took closer to eight hours – with the return journey taking even longer on storm-tossed seas. We headed up a hill
behind the pretty and bustling port to our home for the first two nights of our trip – the four-star Duke of Richmond Hotel.
Part of the Red Carnation Hotel collection of four and five-star familyrun boutique hotels – two on the island, and others in London, Florida, Geneva and South Africa – it was an experience of unadulterated fluffy and stylish monogrammed comfort. A mix of the traditional and contemporary, the hotel oozes opulence.
The hotel’s Leopard Bar and restaurant, with its open-plan kitchenand a terrace for al-fresco dining was the perfect place to enjoy the exquisite food we were served.
The hotel, which overlooks the harbour, also has a heated, outdoor swimming pool to work off some of the excesses which are just too tempting to turn down.
With large, flat-screen TVs and complimentary wi-fi and air conditioning in all rooms, it was hard to drag ourselves and our two 14-year-old boys away from the London 2012 Olympic action on the screen.
But it’s an island rich in variety and we had a limited time to explore its 24 square miles dotted with places of interest including museums, castles, galleries and arts and crafts centres.
During our weekend visit we came across two very different but equally entertaining events.
The first, which we noticed as we strolled past the row of brasseries, coffee bars and pubs overlooking the port, was from the high-pitchedwhining engine noises of a hill climb at the far end of the port.
About 120 racing cars, motorbikes, go-karts, quad bikes, hot hatches and classic sports cars lined up for the latest leg of the 2012 Hillclimb championship.
The twisting, winding and steep hill of Les Val Des Terres is closed for the day to allow competitors a handful of goes to achieve their best time over the 800-metre sprint climb.
The event, with mini pits set up under gazebos, created a carnival atmosphere with a mix of the dedicated race-goer and passing tourists like us looking on.
A short drive away, at Roquane Bay, competition of a very different octane was under way with the Roquaine Regatta – a mixture of motor boat, inshore rowing boat and swimming races, accompanied by a host of family entertainment overlooking the beautiful bay. Spectators were urged to enter any shore or inshore event at the regatta, which was celebrating its 102nd year. The day’s events included free entry to Fort Grey Maritime Museum in the bay which holds records and exhibits of the many shipwrecks off that part of Guernsey’s coast.
A host of such events are held throughout the year, so check out the island’s tourism website.
Like our hotel, much of the island oozes wealth. Open-top Bentleys and Mercedes swish along the Riviera-style harbour front. But there’s plenty to suit every pocket and lots of familiar stores
to make you feel at home.
Soon it was time to make the hourlong crossing to Jersey, just over 20 miles away. Jersey, which lies 100 miles south of mainland Britain and 14 miles from the Normandy coast, measures nine miles by five miles. Our home for two nights was the imposing, chateau-style Hotel de France, a 10 to 15-minute stroll from the town centre.
It’s a family friendly four-star hotel with a range of bars and lounges, offering an informal brasserie and Indianfusion cuisine in Saffrons Restaurant. It also boasts the Ayush Wellness Spa,
offering Ayurvedic and spa treatments, an extensive and luxurious 17,000 sq ft haven of tranquillity.
On an island designed for leisure, it has 47 miles of Green Lanes with a 15mph speed limit. Priority is given to walkers, cyclists and horse riders. There are also 100 miles of cycle routes.
Boasting the best sunshine record in the British Isles, its summer temperatures average 20C. In winter it rarely drops below freezing.
St Helier is a busy, bustling place awash with bars, bistros, pubs and every kind of shop you could want.
Jersey has more to offer than we could possibly hope to enjoy during our short stay – from activity centres for the youngsters to the Durrell Wildlife Centre and Mont Orgueil Castle at gorgeous Gorey.
Whatever you do, don’t miss a visit to Jersey war tunnels, the island’s most evocative museum of the five years of German occupation in the Second World War. It’s a monument to thousands of forced labourers who created more than a kilometre of chambers and corridors hewn from solid rock.
But it’s in its bays and bywaters that the true beauty of the island lies.
We spent an afternoon at Bouley Bay, in the north of the island, sea kayaking. I can honestly say, it was one of the most sublime experiences of my life. I’m hooked.
All right, flat calm waters which made paddling effortless were a big help, but gliding effortlessly in and out of the many caves and rocky inlets which line the rugged coast felt so right.
Mick, our cheerful guide and instructor from Jersey Kayak Adventures, helped bring the rugged coast to life for us, pointing out a gaggle of baby cormorants here, a flurry of anxious oyster catchers there, as well as a network of caves and inlets we would have struggled to find or explore safely ourselves.
The county of Rutland has a motto: Multim im Parvo (Much in Little). It would equally suit the Channel Islands.