Earlier this summer we went on a week long cruise calling at three European ports, the first of which was St Peter Port in Guernsey, which is 30 miles off the coast of France and is the oldest settlement in the Channel Islands. We were enamoured by Guernsey, partially because of the film The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and because it is such a lovely place. As we were approaching Guernsey it was very foggy and the cruise ship was blowing its horn, letting other smaller boats know we were there.
You needed to board a tender boat to get to the island from the cruise ship. To ensure you were able to get on the tender boat, you had to step over marked lines indicating the gap between the cruise ship and tender boat. If successful, you were given a tender ticket and guided to seats to wait your turn till a tender boat was ready. We were slightly apprehensive, as during bad weather conditions these boats have been described like riding a cork screw, but the weather was ok and the journey to St Peter Port was fine. The tender boat can seat just over 100 people and is very steady, you can also look out the window en route to the island.
There are beaches on Guernsey, but we only had a few hours on the island so kept close to the harbour, which is east of the island. Such a charming little town, there are blue post boxes and yellow phone booths, which is quite different from London. And there are dogs absolutely everywhere. You can pay in GBP but would receive Guernsey money in return.
Near the harbour is the Liberation Monument, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Guernsey from Germany. So much thought was put into this monument: 50 layers of Guernsey granite represents the 50 years of liberation and the monument acts as a sundial, where the shadow follows the curve of the stone seats nearby that have inscriptions marking significant events of the day of liberation. Remarkable.
As it was a Sunday there was a market full of stalls and dogs being walked, it was a really lovely atmosphere here. When we visited Guernsey there was a celebration about Japanese influence on the island, stalls selling goods and flowers, and Japanese food too. The Guernsey Information Centre, which was in the middle of the market, had a decent gift shop too.
We walked to Castle Cornet, passing boats on the harbour. Inside there are five museums and beautiful gardens as well as amazing views of the harbour, lighthouse, and beach. The castle was built over 800 years ago and has a rich history, such as its involvement in the English civil war: the castle supported the Royalists whilst the Island of Guernsey supported parliament. At noon the cannon is fired daily by a uniformed guard and there is a little ceremony that takes place. We spent a couple of hours here, there is a lot to see and the gardens are lovely.
Very near Castle Cornet is a lighthouse. It was a lovely walk along the pier towards the lighthouse and we could see our cruise ship not too far away. It was a little windy, but worth it for the great views.
Victor Hugo’s house
Victor Hugo was exiled from France and ended up living in Guernsey for 15 years. You couldn’t exile someone from Guernsey if they were a land owner, so the writer owned and lived in Hauteville House during his time here, where he wrote works such as Les Miserables and Toilers of the Sea as well as many others. Hugo’s mistress helped him leave France and lived very nearby this house.
The museum has only guided tours in English and French in small groups as some of the rooms are quite small. You have to book, so I would advise to come early and make a booking, visit somewhere else and come back which is what we did. The gardens at the back are free to enter as well.
The first room of the tour was the billiard room, which showed off Hugo’s eccentric personality straight away. The guide informed us that after his children moved out and left him to his exile alone, Hugo locked the billiard room and did not enter it again. Previously a charming room full of the laughter and chatter of his children, it was unused for some time. Next we entered a room that really showed off the writer’s eccentricities: the whole room was full of carpets/ rugs, tapestries, second hand furniture; it was a very dark and busy room, contrasting against the lighter rooms right next door. Here there is a tiny secret room which was a red room Hugo’s son used for his photography. There was also a tiled dining room, full of “VH” initials for Victor Hugo. The guide informed us that Hugo felt his house was a canvas and his initials were everywhere in the house like an artist signing off his work.
On the first floor I was stunned, what I saw was so breath-taking: there was a red room and a blue room next to each other, and the vibrant colours and décor were beautiful. The floors, walls, and even furniture were so exquisite – there was no white space anywhere. Hugo’s daughters would often read in these two rooms, and I’m not surprised, the rooms are so rich and beautiful with amazing views out to sea.
On the second floor was a “bedroom”, which was essentially Hugo’s planned death room as he only slept here when he was ill. It was very church-like and a study desk looked like a court with three large chairs for supposed “judges”. It was evident the writer’s religion had some influence on him.
The third and last floor was a short attic room with amazing views and again richly coloured furniture. This was Hugo’s writing room, and as you walk in, the drapes look very much like the drapes on stage for a show or play. There is a very tiny room next door, which was the writer’s real bedroom which was very small and modest. The tour guide informed us that Hugo’s mistress could see into this tiny room from her own place and when Hugo placed clothes out she knew he was awake and therefore able to head over and see him. There is a circular window letting on the way up to the top floor that has a large “VH” and was apparently the last place that Victor Hugo signed his initials in this house.
After seeing and walking around the very eccentric house, we walked around the garden outside which was quite large and serene, nowhere near as eccentric or quirky. The garden was so peaceful and neutral compared to inside the house. It was a very informative and interesting tour, and apparently each tour guide has a different take on the house and points out things of interest to them. So I would definitely be keen to have another tour of the house another time with another tour guide to see what other eccentricities there are.
Of course the food souvenir of choice would be Guernsey clotted cream fudge.
We had a wonderful afternoon in Guernsey and I would say that Castle Cornet is worth a visit and Victor Hugo’s house, even if you haven’t read any of his works, it is a really interesting tour and we learnt a lot. Here are a few more pictures of our wonderful day in Guernsey: