Channel Islands Travel Guide
Sitting smack in the middle of the English Channel between England and France, the Channel Islands have long been a coveted possession of the regional powers that have surrounded it. The Normans, Napoleon, and the Nazis have held these isles at different points throughout history, but today, they govern themselves, except for matters of foreign affairs, which are handled by the United Kingdom. With a culture all its own, these mild dots of civilization in the midst of the English Channel are worth a week of relaxed exploration during your European wanderings.
Currency: Jersey, Guernsey and British Pound
Languages: English, French
What To Do
Holding a strategic positional advantage in the middle of the English Channel, it is no surprise that numerous castles can be found in the islands that sit between the United Kingdom and France.
Start by exploring Mont Orgueil Castle on Jersey, which was built in the 12th century by Norman conquerors, and serving as a defensive point as recently as the Second World War (the Nazis built their own pillboxes that blended in with the castle), it is one of the most signifcant fortifications in the Channel Islands. Don’t miss the exhibit on Witchcraft in its basement!
Another castle on Jersey worth checking out is Elizabeth Castle, which is located on a small islet that can be walked out to at low tide.
It was built in the 16th century when advancing technology rendered Mont Orgueil insufficient to defend Jersey.
Access is by amphibious vehicle, and in addition to the bones of the castle itself, a museum on site details the history of the Royal Jersey Militia, which host several centuries worth of artifacts from this defensive force.
When you are on Guernsey, don’t leave without checking out Castle Cornet. Serving as a breakwater in addition to being the front line of defence for this island, this fortification is also home to a number of museums detailing its military history.
For those that are not into that, the gardens around its exterior wall is also quite brilliant, making it worth a visit regardless.
While those castles are interesting, La Hougue Bie is even more intriguing. The remnants of a Neolithic ritual site that dates back 5,500 years into the past, its religious functions show evidence of an organized settlement on the windy isle of Jersey.
While the actual site is fascinating enough, there is a museum will fill you in on the details that have been gathered through archaeological research performed here. While the Germans fortified Mont Orgueil Castle, that wasn’t all they were up in the Channel Islands during the Second World War. The La Vallette Underground Military Museum chronicles this, as it is set in the tunnels that were built to refuel their u-boat fleet in a clandestine manner. In addition to being able to explore this former secret hiding place, there are exhibits that profile how life was during the days of the Nazi occupation, as well as the island’s role in the First World War as well. Want to tour a home belonging to one of the old monied classes that have lived on Jersey since the times of the Normans? The gardens of Samarès Manor will allow you to do that, as its exterior is open to tourists from April until October. With the oldest parts of the home dating as far back as the 12th century, it makes some of the oldest buildings in the New World look like babies in comparison, and with the mild channel climate, plants from most parts of the world can be grown here, leading to a dizzying array of beautiful flora being found here. There are many other smaller islands apart from Jersey and Guernsey, with the most significant being Alderney and Sark. Sark is known for its outdoor recreational opportunities, as walking and cycling are popular given the spectacular coastal scenery and the lack of cars on this tiny islet. The lack of light pollution has also led to it being declared a Dark Sky Preserve, making it a great place for astronomy enthusiasts. Aldernery has many of the same attractions, but its slightly larger population has allowed it to open a few more pubs than you would expect in such a small place. As such, you will have ample opportunity join the locals in a drink on this cozy rock in the English Channel.
What To Eat
Despite its small size, the Channel Islands have several dishes that are more or less unique to the area.
The first one you should track down is the Guernsey Bean Jar. Believed to be the direct ancestor to the American dish of baked beans, the similarities are certainly visible, but with a lack of sweet sauces, instead relying on savoury flavors like ham hock and onions, it won’t taste quite the same as your beans recipe at home.
If you have some bread at some point in your stay on the Channel Islands, be sure to spread some nièr beurre on top of it.
Translating into English as black butter, this delectable preserve in made from apples cooked in cider with seasoning added using the essence of lemon and allspice. It is simply sublime, so be sure to bring home a jar in your luggage if possible.