Channel Islands Attractions Iles Normandes
The Channel Islands (French name: Iles Normandes) attract over half a million British vacationers every year. They lie in the Gulf of St Malo, at distances of between 10 and 30mi/16 and 48km from the French coast.
Alderney, the island nearest to Great Britain, is by contrast 50mi/80km from the English coast. The largest of these "dependent territories" directly under the control of the Crown, is Jersey, followed in order of size by Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou and a number of tiny uninhabited islets and clusters of rocks.Although each of the islands has its own character, they all have one thing in common, the mildness of their climate. Jersey is famed for its early potatoes and tomatoes, Guernsey for grapes, tomatoes and flowers. They all share, too, the advantage of having lower taxes and duties than mainland Britain, so that cigarettes and many luxury articles are very reasonably priced - one of the reasons for the islands' popularity. In more than a geographical sense they are half way between Britain and France: their language is English but full of French expressions, their cuisine is largely French, and their whole way of life, particularly in summer, has a lively southern quality about it. Strolling through one of the larger places, with the shops open until late in the evening, a visitor might well imagine himself in Italy or southern France.With all these attractions it is hardly surprising that the Channel Islands are crowded with visitors during the summer months, the streets as busy as those of a large city. The high point of the season is the Battle of the Flowers in Jersey at the end of July, and holiday accommodation for this period must be booked a year in advance.Like the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands are a Crown possession, remnants of the old Duchy of Normandy, the greater part of which was lost to Philip II of France in 1204. Since that time the islands have jealously preserved their autonomy, retaining the right to a considerable degree of self government and a number of other privileges such issuing their own coins and banknotes.The Queen, as feudal overlord, is represented by a Lieutenant Governor. The parliaments of Jersey and Guernsey are known as "States", Alderney's as the "States Assembly". Sark still has its medieval "Chief Pleas" presided over by a hereditary seigneur or dame.Excavations have shown that the Channel Islands were inhabited three thousand years before the Christian era. The Romans certainly occupied some of the islands, and Jersey appears in the records as "Caesarea". In the sixth century Christianity was brought to the islands by St Helier (after whom the chief town of Jersey is named) and St Sampson. In 932 the islands became part of the Duchy of Normandy, remaining in English hands when most of the Duchy was lost to France in 1204.During the Second World War they were occupied by German forces from June 1940 to May 1945. Mementos of this period are to be seen in the German Occupation Museum and many other small museums in the islands.
There are excellent air services to Guernsey and Jersey from London and several other major English cities. Guernsey Airport lies 3mi/5km from St Peter Port; Jersey's international airport at St Peter is situated 5mi/8km from St Helier. Services to The Blaye, the airport on Alderney, are very much more restricted.In summer there are daily ferry crossings from Torquay for Alderney, from Weymouth, Portsmouth and Torbay for Guernsey, and from Poole and Weymouth for Jersey. Ferries also run to the Channel Islands from Cherbourg and St Malo. There are busy ferry and air services between the islands.
Visitors who want to get to know the Channel Islands properly and are not simply going for the golf or bathing, should allow at least a week, preferably longer. A good program for a week's visit (which unfortunately does not leave time for the very attractive island of Herm) would be as follows: 2 days on Guernsey, with St Peter Port and the east and north coasts on the first day and the west and southwest coasts on the second; on the third day Sark (by boat); on the fourth day Alderney (though if necessary this could be omitted, particularly since it is the most distant of the islands); on the fifth, sixth and seventh days Jersey, covering at least St Helier, Gorey and Mont Orgueil, La Hougue Bie and the north and southwest coasts.
Jersey features a mix of scenery, with dramatic cliffs and rocky inlets on the north coast, fields and farmlands in the interior, and flat populated areas in other coastal regions.
Guernsey is known for both its dramatic coastal scenery and fine food, found in the many restaurants on the island.
The small island of Herm lies about 3mi/5km northeast of St Peter Port. Although the resident population is only about 100, Herm attracts up to 3,000 visitors a day during the summer. The island has a hotel, a number of old stone built houses converted into holiday homes, and a camp site. Many species of rare flowers and plants thrive in the moderate climate; also, more than 200 different kinds of shell are found at Shell Beach on the north coast.
Tom Thumb Village
Tom Thumb Village, its houses lovingly restored, provides a charming diversion.
The even smaller island of Jethou between Herm and Guernsey is private but can be visited.
The smallest in size of all the Channel Islands, Sark is famous for its preservation of the feudal system of politics.
Alderney (pop. 2,100), most northerly of the Channel Islands and the least visited because of its remoteness, is only 4mi/6km long and 1mi/2km wide. Its economy is based on vegetable and flower growing as well as tourism. The almost treeless island has beautiful sandy bays between much indented cliffs and rugged tors.
The little town of St Anne, 1mi/1.6km from the harbor, dates from the 15th C. It has something of a French air, with cobbled streets, inns, snug looking pubs and shops.St Anne has a mild climate, lots of sunshine and a picturesque harbor. Visitors can enjoy walking the cliffs, golfing, fishing and windsurfing
In Telegraph Bay are two interestingly colored rocks known as the Two Sisters.
The uninhabited Burhou, to the north of Alderney, 1mi/1.6km offshore, is a bird reserve; it can be visited by boat except in the nesting season.
Map of Channel Islands Attractions