Working full time means utilising my annual leave as best I can to holiday and also attend birthdays and hen dos and other commitments, so I try to combine days off with weekends and Bank Holidays. Which is exactly what we did over the August Bank Holiday, opting for a three night Fred Olsen mini-cruise to St Peter Port, Guernsey and Honfleur France.
We embarked on our journey in Southampton (read more on my slightly disappointing visit here), our home for the course of the trip was to be the Balmoral, one of three Fred Olsen cruise ships.
I have cruised before, having been on a number of cruises as a child with my nan and grandad. My boyfriend, however was new to cruising and after going through embarkation, checking into our cabin and attending the compulsory muster, we set out to explore the ship. Although we wouldn’t have much time to use the ship’s facilities on such a short voyage, we were interested to see what it had to offer before it set sail for our first port of call, St Peter Port in Guernsey.
Smaller and more intimate than all of the ships I’d previously been on, the Balmoral was the perfect size for us and for such a short trip. It had enough public spaces to find somewhere of your own to be but isn’t laden with the many gimmicks and attractions that litter the bigger ships – climbing walls, robotic bartenders and the like. We found ourselves quite at home and my boyfriend quickly developed his sea legs.
On our first night on board we enjoyed dinner as the sky darkened and the water slipped past, the moon lighting up the waves, before doing what all good cruisers do and retired to one of the many bars, the Observatory Lounge, for post-dinner cocktails and live music.
One of the best things about cruising is the effortless travel. Some people will claim that the journey is half of the trip. Unfortunately it really isn’t for me, it’s all about the destination. We woke the next morning to find ourselves at anchor off the coast of Guernsey. After a quick buffet breakfast we grabbed ourselves tickets for a tender ashore.
For our day in Guernsey we had eschewed any organised tours, deciding instead to do our own thing. Trying to beat the cruise ship tours we headed straight for Hauteville House, the Guernsey home of Victor Hugo.
Guernsey isn’t part of the UK or the EU and although technically it is a posession of the British Crown, it’s located closer to France and the coastline of Normandy, so it has a very French feel, something that quickly became evident as we wandered through the streets. Even familiar things had a twist, like the blue postboxes.
We got to Hauteville House and signed ourselves up for the next tour and with a 20 minute wait we were able to enjoy the beautiful gardens of the house.
Victor Hugo was an exile from France after Napoleon III took power for 19 years and spent 15 years of that time living in Guernsey. He bought Hauteville Hause on Guernsey and basically set about putting his name (a name vilified in France) on seemingly every flat surface possible, honestly, the rather eccentric decor is full of signatures or versions of his initials, most notably in the kitchen where the tiles form a massive ‘H’. The house was donated to the City of Paris by Victor Hugo’s family after he died and now it is open to the public for regular tours.
Split over four floors, every room is different, some are dark and gloomy with very little natural light, whereas others (particularly on the upper floors) are lighter and more elaborately decorated in colourful silks and elaborately beaded tapestries.
Although my favourite space in the house had to be the very top level, accessed by a staircase at the end of a corridor full of glass cases of books you ascend up to this amazing light filled space where Victor Hugo used to write. From one of the side rooms on the top floor you also get a great view out to the other neighbouring islands (and at the time our cruise ship).
It was a Sunday when we visited Guernsey and so a lot of the shops in town were shut as we walked through following our visit to Hauteville House, although walking through town and peeking in the windows of shut up shots with the sun out and the colourful bunting strung across the streets was very pleasant.
Taking advantage of the beautiful weather we visited the Candie Gardens, lovely gardens with both landscaped areas and large grassy areas. At the top of a hill they offered views down and over town out to the sea. The gardens also play host to a statue to Victor Hugo, yet another reminder of his once presence on the island.
Finding ourselves once again back at the harbour with some time left, although unfortunately not quite enough time to head out of St Peter Port to neighbouring attractions like the Little Chapel (maybe next time), we decided to explore Castle Cornet. Located on an arm of the harbour, the origins of Castle Cornet date back to the thirteenth century and over the centuries layers of walls and fortifications have been expanded, including most recently, German defences such as gun shelters from the time of the occupation in World War II. The castle is now home to a number of museums which tell the story of the castle and also detail military history.
As we made our way over to the castle we could see the weather start to turn. We saw the mists start to roll in over the top of St Peter Port, obscuring the tips of the tallest buildings. Nevertheless, we pressed on, wanting to make the most of our time there.
It’s a pleasant way to kill some time, although I wouldn’t necessarily head there first on a trip to Guernsey, I would however definitely recommend a trip to Hauteville House. As the mists descended and the wind picked up, we headed back to the harbour and a boat that would take us back to the ship, ready to head off to our next destination.
With cruises you only get a limited amount of time in each port. We tried to make the most of our time in Guernsey but what it really was for us was a taster of the Channel Islands. It’s definitely whetted my appetite for more and now I’m contemplating a holiday, perhaps based in Jersey but taking in the other islands. So many places to go, so little time, I need to stop adding to my list.