This charismatic cluster of islands nudges up to the coast of Normandy. Although British Crown Dependencies, they are peppered with French flavour, golden beaches and picture-perfect villages. The Channel Islands paid a harsh price for their location, however, during the Second World War. They were the only part of the British Isles to be occupied by German forces. The vivid scars on the landscape are still visible, from the coastal observation towers to Nazi bunkers.
For the first time this year the islands are coming together to hold a joint festival, celebrating the 70th anniversary of their liberation. The five-week Channel Islands Heritage Festival (bit.ly/CIHfest) started last weekend. It runs until 11 May, with a host of events such as a re-enactment of wartime life at Guernsey's Castle Cornet, tours and guided walks. The highlight is a one-day carnival on Liberation Day on 9 May.
The Visit Channel Islands website (visitchannelislands.com) lists the events on each of the islands. For full details of events in Guernsey, Alderney, Herm and Sark go to visitguernsey.com and for Jersey go to jersey.com.
A tale of two islands
To tie in with the festival, two of the islands' hotels have teamed up to offer a four-night break split between them. Two nights are spent at the Atlantic Hotel (01534 744101; theatlantichotel.com) on Jersey, which has a Michelin-starred restaurant, and two at the Old Government House Hotel and Spa (01481 724921; theoghhotel.com) on Guernsey, which was used to house German officers, and is serving a special Heritage Festival four-course dinner in The Brasserie.
The package costs £499pp including car hire, tickets for the Jersey War Tunnels, copies of two books on the occupation, dinner at both hotels, and an afternoon tea accompanied by anecdotes about the occupation. Book through the Atlantic Hotel.
To dig deeper, ACE Cultural Tours (01223 841055; aceculturaltours.co.uk) has a guided tour led by Second World War expert Dr Mark Baldwin from 14-20 June, entitled "The Channel Islands: Occupation & Defence". In Alderney it takes in some of the best surviving Atlantic Wall structures in Europe, after which the trip moves to Guernsey, where highlights include the La Vallette Underground Military Museum. In Jersey, the group will meet the Channel Islands Occupation Society. The trip costs £1,495pp including accommodation, half board and flights from Southampton to Alderney, returning from Jersey to Gatwick.
Walk on the wild side
Walk on the wild side
Ramblers Worldwide Holidays (01707 331133; ramblersholidays.co.uk) has a two-week walking holiday split between Jersey and Guernsey, tramping along the islands' footpaths and hedgerow-trimmed lanes, weaving along the coast and dipping into tropical gardens and coastal fortifications.
The next departure is on 9 May and costs from £1,199pp including half-board accommodation, flights from various UK departure points to Jersey (returning from Guernsey), inter-island ferries, a tour leader and transfers.
The little island of Sark is car-free, which makes exploring on two wheels ideal. UTracks has a one-week, self-guided, three-island cycling holiday taking in Sark, Jersey and Guernsey (0845 2417599; utracks.com; April-October). During the day on Sark, you can picnic on dramatic headlands dotted with wildflowers, and meander through the pretty village before hopping on the boat back to Guernsey. The trip costs from £790 with B&B, inter-island ferries, maps and bike rental, but not flights.
Donkey's Days Out (07781 433611; donkeydaysout.co.uk) offers themed cycling tours in Guernsey including a two-hour trip to a local cider farm – with tasting (£17.50).
Outdoor Guernsey (07781 130403; outdoorguernsey.co.uk) offers kayaking tours of Guernsey's hidden coves and bays. From April to June it also runs two-hour trips around car-free Herm to see the breeding colonies of puffins; price £35.
Channel Islands Direct (0844 937 095; channelislandsdirect.co.uk) offers three nights' B&B at the White House Hotel on Herm from £379pp including flights from Gatwick to Guernsey and return transfers to Herm. Other UK airport departures are available.Reuse content