Win a luxurious spa weekend courtesy of Arla LactoFREE
Guernsey holiday
April 2024,  EXPLORE,  EXTRA,  FEATURES

Guernsey: That island feeling

An island just off the coast of England offers coastal swims, succulent seafood and (if you are lucky) sunshine! With French influence and British culture, Ella Foote discovers that Guernsey is a perfect holiday destination for swimmers who like a place steeped in history as well as an abundance of swim spots

One hundred years before I was born, French impressionist Pierre- August Renoir visited Guernsey and captured 15 landscapes during his stay. Inspired by the light, they became his most famous paintings. Over 140 years later and I am stood looking out onto Moulin Huet Bay myself. The sea is a brilliant turquoise, the sun dances across the swell and in the distance I can see the famous dark-rock outline of the Pea Stacks just off the coast. There is little difference between what I can see and Renoir’s painting of Moulin Huet. According to David Ummels, founder of Art for Guernsey, Renoir was motivated by the freedom of swimmers who shed their clothes and enjoyed the water, which is exactly what I intend to do too.

Guernsey, the smaller of the Channel Islands, is perhaps best known for being occupied by the Germans during the Second World War or as a tax haven for the super rich. In the 1960s tourists were attracted to the island for the warmer climate and French influence. Today, the history of the island is part of its soul with the added attraction of incredible food and a landscape you want to explore both by land and sea. You can get to Guernsey easily from any UK airport with a short flight, or by boat – the shortest crossing from Poole in Dorset takes just three hours. As a Crown Dependency, Guernsey is self-governing, but there are shared institutions, organisations and rules. The currency is in pounds and they drive on the left. But what makes the place charming is the French place names, local rules, 35mph limit on the roads and historic influence.

Slow pace

I flew out of Gatwick on a rainy day in March and felt like I arrived in another part of the world entirely. Yes, I was fortunate with the sunny weather and fool’s spring conditions, but there was something else about the place that felt familiar and yet, a great place to escape to. I hired a car to enable the best use of my time to explore, but there are great public transport options and cycling would be an ideal way to see the island.

Guernsey holiday

There are plenty of places that offer bike hire and the slow-road network of lanes and coastal roads provide a safe space for cycling. Driving is enjoyable too. While the 35mph limit sounds low, I barely drove much above 25mph the whole time due to the slower pace on the island, winding lanes and brilliantly polite filter system at junctions. You can drive the length of the island in about 30 minutes, but it will take you longer as you will want to stop and take in all the views, because there are many and often with the sea twinkling into sight.

Like many holiday destinations there are plenty of great accommodation options, luxury hotels, chic bed and breakfasts, self-catering, camping and quirky, special places to stay. I stayed at Beaucette Marina where they have mooring for those arriving by boat, camping pitches and luxury, selfcontained shepherd huts. I got comfortable in one of the four shepherd huts, which was ideal and really special.

The huts overlook the marina, harbour entrance and sea views out to neighbouring islands Sark and Herm. Inside my hut there was a king-size bed, kitchen, log-burner, shower and flushing toilet. Outside there was a private hot tub and decking with barbeque. The facilities are well-considered, with everything I needed and more. Marina owner, Stephen Haines, said that he lived in each hut after they were built to ensure they were up to standard and to ensure guests were comfortable. I loved waking up to the gentle clinking of boat masts in the breeze and squawking sea-birds. The hot tub was an excellent bonus which is heated with a log-burner and I sunk into it at the end of each day watching the sea, marina and gentle life in Guernsey.

Vibrant community

As well as warm welcome and vibrant community at Beaucette, there is also a fantastic restaurant. Saltwater’s main offer, like many restaurants in Guernsey, is seafood. There are vegetarian and meat dishes as well as a kid’s selection, but the fish is fresh, local and skilfully prepared. I had a huge pile of steaming mussels which was served with bread and fries. I also enjoyed a drunken mermaid cocktail which was bright blue! Being able to wander back to the hut after the meal without needing to travel was a real treat. The location also sits between two shingle beaches, so depending on the wind, tide and conditions there are dipping options where you swim.

Island destinations are great for swimmers as there are usually different places to swim depending on the conditions and weather. Guernsey is the same, but what is also fantastic is that the west side of the island offers long sandy beaches and the east is more jagged with coves, shingle and rock pools. Visit Guernsey has a clever app you can download to your phone which is a great way to learn where to go and when. There is also a brilliant beach guide published locally which has 29 different locations and a useful wind table that lists which beaches are best depending on wind direction.

Using these excellent tools, I was able to visit Petit Bot on an outgoing tide and enjoyed a brilliant swim back and forth between the cliffs that surround the bay. In warmer weather and calm conditions, you can swim around the headland to another beach, Portlet, which is often empty as it’s inaccessible from the cliff path. Across the island there are kiosks peppered along the coast which offer hot drinks, snacks, ice cream and some have decent food too.

So many swimming options

There is an abundance of places to swim at any time of day and differing tides and conditions which means Guernsey is a super place for a self-supported adventure. But there are also lots of swimming groups who gather on boat slips, pier steps and sandy beaches at various times of the day. It was a real pleasure to see small groups in various stages of undress laughing and swimming together. I was also able to meet up with local swim coach and guide Jacqui Hunt, who runs Guernsey Swim Adventures.

Guernsey holiday

Jacqui and I met at Moulin Huet Bay, where Renoir was inspired by swimmers. We were able to navigate the swell and rocks together and enjoy a short, sunny swim while chatting all things swimming. As well as coaching and guiding for local swimmers and tourists Jacqui and her colleague, Jen, host more adventurous swims like an around-Herm island swim or between the Pea Stacks. Their knowledge of the island and the swim options were impressive; if you want a well planned longer swim, I urge you to connect with them.

St Peter Port, on the east coast of Guernsey, is the main town on the island. As well as historic buildings, independent shops and restaurants it is also home to La Vallette bathing pools. These tidal pools have offered a safe area for swimming since 1844. In 2019 a charity was established to renovate and restore the facilities at the bathing pools and in 2022 a new offer was opened. There are four pools, the ladies, gents, children’s and horseshoe pool – a purpose-built U-shaped bathing place with access to swim out into the bay. Despite their names, all pools are open to all.

Sunrise swim

I met local ambassador and swimmer Jayne Packham for a sunrise swim at La Vallette and was lucky enough to see a stunning sunrise which cloaked the pools in orange light. Jayne is a founding member of the Mental Tentacles who also welcomed me. They are a mixed group of sea-swimming enthusiasts who meet daily and were an absolute pleasure to swim with.

Guernsey holiday

While in St Peter Port, I enjoyed another incredible meal at Guernsey’s oldest restaurant, Le Nautique. If chef Günter Botzenhardt had it his way I would have tried every piece of local seafood on offer, but instead I chose a shellfish platter which came with half a lobster, king prawns and scallops that were picked from the sea only two hours before I sat down. With views out onto the harbour, it was an exceptional experience.

Despite the incredible swimming opportunities, you can’t spend all your time in Guernsey in the water, you must also explore and visit some of the historical landmarks, buildings, museums and ruins. Across the landscape there are reminders of the past and the locals are proud of their heritage. There is a lot of remains from the Second World War when the Guernsey was under German control but there is also neolithic standing stones, impressive fortresses, castles and towers that were built to protect the island at various points in history. I really enjoyed a visit to The Little Chapel, the smallest in the world, which is a work of art. It measures just 19ft by 9ft and is intricately decorates with seashells, pebbles and broken crockery. It was such a unique, quirky and moving place despite it being a little bonkers too.

I left Guernsey feeling rejuvenated by the experience but with a sadness that I had barely begun to uncover its treasures. As well as many more swimming spots, there are neighbouring islands to visit and explore – some of which are close enough to swim to – maybe next time!

Inspired? For more information go to visitguernsey.com for comprehensive guides to travel,
accommodation and island life. With thanks to Visit Guernsey and the team at Beaucette Marina – beaucettemarina.com. Thanks also to local swimmers, Jayne Packham and Jacqui Hunt at Guernsey Swim Adventures.

Stay up to date with The Dip, our free weekly outdoor swimming newsletter.

Ella is renowned outdoor swimmer and journalist. As well as leading the editorial, digital and experiential outputs for Outdoor Swimmer she is also Director of Dip Advisor, a swim guiding business helping people enjoy wild water. Ella also teaches swimming to children and adults, is an Open Water Coach and RLSS Open Water Lifeguard.