GUERNSEY: St Peter Port

Fermain Valley Hotel complete with electric Nissan taxi lr
Fermain Valley Hotel, Guernsey complete with its electric Nissan taxi

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Guernsey is an excellent destination for a holiday writes Tim Saunders, who spends five nights and six days exploring the island with his family
  
It takes under four hours to travel to Guernsey from Poole on Condor Ferries’ Liberation, the sleek high speed trimaran. Built in Australia it can accommodate up to 880 passengers and 245 cars and travels at 45mph (39 knots). Liberation reminds us of May 9, 1945 when The Channels Islands were liberated from Nazi occupation. It is a British Crown dependency.
We are travelling with our car and after some customs checks then parking up below deck we make our way to our pre-assigned seats in the Horizon Lounge where there are superb panoramic views. The children quickly discover the cinema room complete with beanbags where they can watch the latest Incredibles film. We marvel at how this wide vessel cuts through the water with ease, regardless of what the seas are like. The crossing goes quickly and smoothly. We savour the approach to St Peter Port, which is both the main port in Guernsey and its capital. What will our holiday have in store? Travel is so exciting because you never know what’s around the corner.
Disembarkation is a relatively speedy and organised affair, just like the boarding, and no sooner are we all strapped in, we’re heading off the boat and driving towards our hotel.
Driving anywhere unfamiliar calls for heightened safety. Three noisy children in the back never helps. The first thing we notice is the 35mph speed limit, which is quite reassuring. Old stone houses line many of the main roads. Our destination is the luxury four star Fermain Valley Hotel, only about 10 minutes from the port and easy enough to find with the help of our sat nav. The hotel is slightly off the main road and there’s ample parking.
Check in is at 3pm. Our family room includes a king size double, double bed settee and a single guest bed, all very comfortable. The décor, featuring patterned wallpaper and rich flooring, is well maintained and elegant. The room is sizeable and has double doors from which we can access our balcony, with views of the absolutely superb tropical gardens, reminiscent of the Eden Project in Cornwall. Not surprising to find out then that they were designed by the same team.
While the island is home to a five star hotel, it is hard to imagine how they can improve on the luxury that is Fermain Valley. The children quickly find the complimentary bottled water, fruit and biscuits. Caroline and I drop the luggage, slump in a chair and boil the kettle. Home. Relaxing never lasts longer than five minutes though. “I want to go outside,” demands Henry (3). “Oh let’s,” agrees Heidi. What can you do? We drag ourselves back onto our weary feet and head out of the hotel, back to the car park where turning left out of the entrance leads down to Fermain Valley itself, with breathtaking views of the sea. Ideal for our picnic. Although friends had warned us that the weather was unlikely to be good, the sun is shining and we are savouring every minute.
Before long it’s bedtime. While the little ones get down to the difficult business of sleeping, Caroline has a bath and I am able to make a start on my Inspector Rebus novel. Then it’s my bath and bed. Very cosy beds, too.
At this point I must mention the chambermaid, who does a sterling job. Whenever we see her she is happily smiling and cheerful and returning to our room, it is as if a fairy has visited and transformed it once again to wonderful order and tidiness. And then Henry and Heidi enter and it all goes to pot.
Rested, we go down to breakfast and are shown to our table. It’s a wonderful experience. There’s both continental and cooked from which to choose. When travelling, breakfast is the key meal, for me so cereal, yoghurt, pain au chocolate, followed by The Fermain Valley Full English Breakfast sets me up for the day. Caroline follows suit with Eggs Benedict and avocado. It’s a leisurely affair until Henry needs the toilet and then it’s all over.
The complimentary hotel taxi service is a fabulous idea. We are able to book it to take us into town, avoiding the worry of walking on pavements that suddenly vanish into roads or driving the car and trying to find parking. Damian, our driver, is helpful and knowledgeable. “I used to drive lorries in the Westcountry and arrived here 18 months ago not meaning to stay,” he reveals. That’s the great appeal of Guernsey.
At Saint Peter Port we mooch about and Caroline spots a clothes shop. She is awful about clothes shopping, preferring just not to do it because she is always disappointed at the quality. Anyway, she spies some things she likes and treats herself while Henry and I do some window shopping and admire the architecture and the narrow streets.
Off the beaten track, tucked up a hill, down a side street is the Duke of Normandie Hotel where we have a selection of sandwiches for lunch. Mine is Guernsey crab on brown bread, which is tasty. It’s an unhurried, pleasurable experience.
Then it’s time for a tour of the capital and no better way of doing this than on Le Petit Train. Owner and driver Andy Furniss has only recently acquired the business, which attracts 16,000 passengers a year. The train itself came from France and is powered by a new Iveco diesel engine, fitted by Andy, who runs six trips a day. He’s all for collaborating with other independent local businesses and with this in mind is launching specialist rides for Christmas and other celebrations.
The hotel taxi promptly collects us from our drop off point and back at the hotel we go for a dip in the indoor heated pool. What a pleasure. Whenever we choose to use it there are few other swimmers. If Caroline and I didn’t have the children to look after we’d use the sauna, too. We visit the pool four times during our three night stay and this allows Harriett (8) to progress from using a float to ditching it completely, confidently swimming a width on her own. Heidi (6) and Henry all grow in confidence, too. It’s a real joy to watch. After an hour the little rascals are ready for bed and so are we.
We have to be up and out earlier than usual on Monday morning because we have to catch a ferry to Sark at 10am. This is a trip of a lifetime. The ferry ride is 50 minutes and we spend the day on the island returning at 6pm.
Check out at Fermain Valley Hotel is at a leisurely 11am and after a pleasurable walk around the magnificent gardens, which are home to so many different plants, shrubs and trees including Agapanthus, we sadly say goodbye.
But it’s not over yet because we now must head to Hotel Peninsula in the Vale district, about 20 minutes away by car. This three star hotel has a large car park, a heated outdoor pool and a grand reception and dining room. There’s a grand piano and three electric guitars hanging on the walls. The difference in star rating is noticeable between the hotels but it is still comfortable and our interconnecting rooms allow for the children to be in one room and us in the other. The beach is literally just over the road and while the weather continues to be good to us we are able to spend many happy hours on it. The children dig, collect shells and build sandcastles. We are also able to go for some lovely walks, to Rousse Tower no. 11, a Pre-Martello Loophole Tower; one of 15 towers built around the island to defend it from attack by the French in the 18th century and you can see as far as France from it. A walk to Vale Pond Nature Reserve introduces us to kingfishers. Fish and chips on the beach in the evening is a great experience.
We swim in the hotel’s outdoor pool. The children’s section is warmer than the main part but once we all brave it it is really enjoyable and we’re all able to have a good swim; Harriett improving all the time.
After checking out of Hotel Peninsula we head for Oatlands Village, which isn’t very far away. This is home to craft and pet shops but also an excellent 18-hole mini golf course which is a huge hit with Henry and all of us. To begin with Heidi despairs and then grows to like the whole idea. It’s a great way to while away an hour or so with your family and the course has been really well designed, each hole providing a challenge and interest from the choice of plants framing it. If you are able to pot your ball on hole 18 the ball vanishes into a box, which the children are mesmerised by.
There’s just time to visit Oaty & Joey’s Playbarn where the children let off more steam, particularly enjoying the large slide.
And then it’s time to drive back to Saint Peter Port to board the Condor, which takes us back to Poole for around 730pm, which means the children are all soundly asleep by the time we arrive home.
 
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