What do you think of when I say ‘Channel Islands’? Surely, phrases like ‘sunny holiday destination’ and ‘beautiful beaches’ come to mind. But what about ‘war’ and ‘occupation’? Though easily forgotten when you’re lazing on the idyllic beaches of this popular tourist haven, history buffs may remind you that the islands of Jersey and Guernsey were occupied by the Nazis for the majority of the Second World War.
Today, the fascinating war heritage of the islands is still visible – if you know where to look. If you’d like to add a cultural edge to your beach holiday, we at Prestige Holidays have some insider tips for immersing yourself in the history of Jersey and Guernsey. Read on to learn about the islands’ must-see spots.
You can find out more about our holiday tips for Jersey and Guernsey here and here.
Discover Jersey’s War Tunnels
To explore the most iconic – but well-hidden – reminders of Jersey’s sinister past, you’ll have to venture underground. The Jersey War Tunnels, which were created by enslaved European workers, are over one kilometre long, and tell the brutal story of the island’s five-year occupation. Walking through the narrow passageways feels like taking a chilling trip back in time, enhanced by the informative exhibitions about Jersey’s initial resistance, collaboration and ultimate liberation. To alleviate this emotionally charged experience, don’t forget to enjoy a tranquil moment in the adjacent Garden of Reflection, or perfect your problem-solving skills by participating in a round of ‘Escape the Room’.
Our Recommended Hotel
If convenience and comfort are essential for you, we’re on the same page: my team highly recommends the Pomme d’Or Hotel, situated in the centre of St. Helier. This four-star accommodation offers stunning views of Liberation Square and the marina, the latter of which is best enjoyed while savouring a full English breakfast in the Harbour Room Restaurant. If you’re looking for more historical adventures, you’ll be delighted to hear that many of St. Helier’s best museums, such as the Jersey Heritage Museum, are only a few steps away.
Explore Guernsey’s Fortified Castles
While Jersey’s historical landmarks are concealed underground, Guernsey’s edifices serve as easily perceptible reminders of the island’s cruel past. In and around St. Peter Port, the stones of the Chateau des Marais and Vale Castle tell gripping stories of warfare and occupation.
The Chateau des Marais dates back to the early thirteenth century, during which it protected inhabitants from pirates. However, as indicated by its name (‘Ivy Castle’), the structure was largely deserted for about 500 years, and consequently overgrew with ivy. Although it was fortified once more in the eighteenth century, these historical traces were partly obliterated by German forces, who built a bunker, trenches and several gun posts inside the castle. When I visited the site, I was amazed by the building’s various uses throughout the centuries, which are clearly visible when you venture inside. Don’t miss out on this unique – and moving – historical excursion.
Just outside St. Peter Port you’ll discover Vale Castle sitting atop a hill. By taking a trip to the castle, which is open to the public, you’ll be able to enjoy a breathtaking view that overlooks Guernsey’s neighbouring islands, Herm and Jethou. What’s more, you can get an interesting insight into the edifice’s history, which dates all the way back to the Iron Age. Throughout World War II the structure was fortified and controlled by the Nazis, whose impact is still detectable today. Along with exploring a picture-perfect location, visiting Vale Castle is guaranteed to appeal to your inner historian.
Our Recommended Hotel
Searching for luxury, tranquillity and history all-in-one? Then look no further than the five-star Old Government House Hotel, located in the heart of St. Peter Port. This oasis of relaxation was built in the mid-nineteenth century, and served as the residence of Guernsey’s governor for many decades. With its award-winning restaurants, spectacular harbour views, elegant spa and authentic, antique-style rooms, you’ll feel like royalty whilst immersing yourself in St. Peter Port’s longstanding history.