Its post boxes are blue, there’s a war-themed aquarium, the local gin tastes like seaweed and hidden in the middle is the Little Chapel, a church (made of china and seashells) that got knocked down when it was too small to fit a fat bishop – for an island just 65km square there’s a heck of a lot of odd stuff to be found on Guernsey!
I admit I wasn’t expecting this when my mum and I booked a few days there for her birthday recently.
I was expecting to sit in the sun, bubble in the hotel spa pool and drink a lot of tea – I’m pretty sure my mum was looking forward to doing the same – but then I spotted the wonder that is The Little Chapel and mission, ‘if there’s one quirky thing here there must be more,’ began. And I was right…
1. The Story of The Little Chapel
If someone spends their life creating something a bit odd I feel it’s only fair I go honour their devotion. The Little Chapel Guernsey is one such passion project – and it’s a doozy.
The Little Chapel was built in the early 20th century by a monk named Brother Deodat Antoine who came to Guernsey after religious schooling was banned in his native France. Having a vision one day, as monks have a tendency to do, he decided to build a chapel emulating the grotto of our Lady of Lourdes in France.
It was tiny – 9 feet by 4.5 feet – and, according to the official blurb, Deodat got dissed by the locals for the size. Not taking this well he had a tantrum and knocked it down.
In 1914 he builds a slightly larger one. Again, word spread of this pretty little vision and in 1923 the Bishop of Portsmouth came to visit – only to be too large to fit in the door. Cue another Deodat tantrum and an ecclesiastical extension being added to the chapel’s side to create its current size and shape!
It’s still tiny though – which in a way is good as the whole of the inside is lined with broken china, seashells and pebbles and if it was much bigger you wouldn’t be able to appreciate the intricate detail inside – like this.
Sadly, Brother Deodat never got to see The Little Chapel finished, he got sick and went back to France. Another monk took over his job, but it’s only in recent years that a full restoration has begun and as part of this, the chapel re-opened to the public in April 2017 (so we were super lucky to get to see it).
How to Get To the Little Chapel
Take bus number 71 from town.
All bus journeys in Guernsey cost £1 so no stressing that you’ve overstayed your stop and the drivers don’t mind giving change. It’s also a short walk from the German Underground Hospital (more on that in a minute). There’s no charge to visit, but donations are appreciated to fund the rest of the renovation.
However, the Little Chapel isn’t the only quirky thing to do on Guernsey – here’s seven more fun things you might want to try.
2. Try a Seadweedy Gin
There seems to be a lot of pubs on Guernsey considering its size and there’s also a healthy local booze scene with beer and cider brewed on the island – I, however, was interested in the local gins.
There are two local gin distillers on Guernsey, Blue Bottle and Wheadon’s. After a quick taste test, it was Wheadon’s Rock Samphire and Pink Grapefruit version that intrigued me most.
If gin and tonic says English summer in the garden to you – this ramps it up to English summer at the seaside as it really does smell and taste faintly like seaweed.
Apparently, the samphire is collected by hand from the cliffs on Guernsey’s South Coast.
Where to Find Weadon’s Gin
Most of the bars I went to on the island stocked it but you can also visit their distillery at the Bella Luce Hotel.
Find out more about visiting the distillery here.
3. Follow the Renoir Trail
The artist Renoir spent time on Guernsey in 1883 and his trip inspired 15 of his paintings.
Now, the team behind Art for Guernsey help you see what he saw.
They’ve created a trail based around some of the spots that inspired Renoir – with, picture frames installed at the sites so you can see how today’s reality compares to the historic masterpiece.
4. Post a Letter in a Blue Post Box
I admit it doesn’t always take much to make it onto the Differentville must-do list – and the fact that all the letterboxes on Guernsey are blue (not red as they are in the UK) amused me greatly.
Well, all the letterboxes except one that is – there’s still a red box on Union Street in St Peter’s Port. And that box, fact fans, was the first post box in the British Isles.
5. Head Underground
It took three years for slave workers to carve out the tunnels of the mammoth German Military Underground hospital during the German Occupation that took place during the Second World War.
It’s not a happy place and it’s hard to see how anyone actually got better in such a cold, damp environment – but the old gentleman manning the door told me he’d had two visitors recently whose granddad had been a patient and survived.
The history is sobering but the thing I found really fascinating about it though was the strange little bits of nature breaking through – the walls are shades of white, green and red as minerals are leaching through from the rocks above, shining white stalactites are growing down from the ceiling and moss and grass grow in the escape hatches.
How to Get to the Underground Hospital
Take bus 71 from the main terminus in town. The stop is about a two-minute walk away from the entrance.
6. Visit the Mine Turtles at the Aquarium
Don’t expect a marine display of epic proportions, but the Guernsey Aquarium gets a mention in here because of its commitment to theming.
As I mentioned briefly above, during the Second World War, Guernsey was occupied by the Germans who built tunnels in the cliffs. Many of those tunnels are still standing and some have been re-purposed – and the aquarium is in one set..
It’s recently reopened after a seven-month facelift – and someone with a sense of humour has taken their location history to heart for the makeover – the fish aren’t just swimming around coral reefs and pirate ships here – they’ve got U-Boats, plastic mines and Action Men soldiers in their tanks. T
he turtle enclosure with floating mines made my whole visit!
I also like the fact that local fisherman helped restock the tanks (and that when the fish get too big they’ll be released back into the ocean).
Seventy five percent of the fish are also local varieties, which admittedly does mean that a lot of them are brown/grey rather than glorious Nemo-esque technicolor, but it’s a quaint place to spend half an hour on a rainy day (which is exactly what we did) especially if you go in with a childlike sense of humour.
There’s also a great sea view from the cafe.
How to Get to the Guernsey Aquarium
It’s a short ten-minute walk from the main bus terminus in St Peter’s Port – the map below shows exactly where it is. It only costs £5 for adults to get in (less for kids and OAPs). I admit if they put the price up more, it might not be worth the money.
7. Check out the Dentist’s Chapel
The tiny chapel of St Apolline is dedicated to Apollonia, a martyr in Ancient Egypt who, after refusing to renounce her faith, had all her tetth forcibly removed – and, once canonised became the patron saint of dentists and all those who visit them!
Should you have an appointment looming you might want to pay the chapel a visit.
How to Find the Chapel of St Apolline
It’s located on the north east side of the island on Le Grande Rue.
It’ll take you about 25 minutes from St Peter’s Port on the no61 bus.
8. Find the Fairy Ring
Officially known as the Table des Pions, this circle in the grass is part of local legend as it’s said that fairies dance around it a night – and, if you walk around it three times making a wish it will be granted.
The reality is possibly a little bit less romantic – Visit Guernsey say that the spot was actually a picnic spot for Government officials inspecting roads (which comes with questions of it’s own to be fair).
Personally, I’m going with the fairy story.
Where to Find The Guernsey Fairy Ring
It’s located on the Southeast point of the island, just outside Piedmont
The 61 bus will get you nearby, then it’s about a 20 minute walk to the site.
9. Shop by the Side of the Road
Hedgeveg is a Guernsey tradition – all over the island people growing their own fruit, vegetables or flowers, who make pickles and jams or who have chickens that lay eggs put any extras for sale in little boxes by their front fence.
There’s a price on the merchandise and a little locked box attached to the side where you place your money if you want to buy them.
You literally could shop for a whole meal if you got up early enough – I saw eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, butternut squash on my travels.
The honesty system is so revered that the occasional thefts of cashboxes even make ITV news!
How to Find Hedgeveg
You just have to wander and spot it. One great way to acquaint yourself with the island, is to take the 91 or 92 bus from the town terminus as these lap the island.
If you stay on it for the whole 90-minute loop it’ll only cost you £1 and you’ll get a real feel for other things to do in Guernsey as you go round.
10. Eat Butter
That’s not unusual you might say – but, come on, when did you last actually spread butter on anything? But Guernsey butter is not to be missed.
Guernsey cows can’t digest beta-carotene that’s found in grass (and is also what turns carrots orange) and as such they make the brightest yellow butter you’ve ever seen.
It’s unsalted but seriously creamy.
For the true Guernsey experience have it on a piece of Gache (a local fruitcake pronounced gosh) or, get your fill at one of the Old Government House Hotel enormous afternoon teas.
Oh, and Guernsey milk is also naturally high in A2 protein which can make it easier to digest for people who often find dairy difficult.
There were more odd things I wanted to do while I was there, but I just didn’t have time – you, however, might also want to check out the old burial sites on the island,, go play with some Guernsey goats or check out the Guernsey tapestry which shows the history of the island (in stitching!!!).
If you get the chance to try them let me know what I missed in the comments section below…Oh, and don’t forget to just take in the beautiful scenery – it really is a pretty island.
Where to Stay
I’m a big fan of the Fermain Valley Hotel in Guernsey. It’s not where I stayed this time as we wanted to be closer to town and have a spa, but,I prefer it. Even though it’s still quite traditional in its design it feels more modern and had a lovely view of the sea.
Who Writes Differentville?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author living in Sydney.
My travel articles have been published in titles including The Australian, Body & Soul at the Sunday Telegraph, RAC Horizons, Jetstar magazine and more.
I like the weird, the wonderful and anything that makes me jump and down with glee like I’m about three. That’s what you’ll find here.