The Channel Islands are comprised of a group of islands in the English Channel, located off the North-West coast of France. They incorporate two separate bailiwicks - the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which also embraces Alderney, Sark and Herm and the Bailiwick of Jersey, which is comprised of Jersey alone. They are British dependencies, but they are not part of the UK and have their own assemblies.
Jersey, the most southerly part of the British Isles, is located in the Gulf of St Malo, some 100 miles from the south coast of mainland Britain but a mere 14 miles from the nearest part of France. In fact, coastal Normandy is a part of the everyday scenery as viewed from Jersey's east coast, given average visibility.
It is by far the largest of the Channel Isles, being approximately 9 miles long by 5 miles wide, with about 50 miles of varied coastline of which a generous 20 miles of these are glorious unspoilt sandy beaches. Nowhere on Jersey lies more than 2.5 miles from a part of its very attractive coastline.
The long northern sweep provides most coastal variety, including jagged-edged peninsulas, high rock-strewn cliff faces, small solitary coves and rolling windswept seas.
In addition to its natural attributes, an attractive coastline combined with long hot summers, mild winters and an early springtime, Jersey has much more to offer visitors. Some of its ancient castles, such as Gorey and Elizabeth, can compete with the best for dramatic impact; there are a multitude of museums detailing the historical, military, marine and rural aspects of the island; craft pottery and flower centres for which Jersey is famous abound; a leisure complex, zoo, watersports and umpteen boat excursions are provided. Being a small island visitors will discover historically ancient relics set beside more recent monuments, which are none the less significant, such as the scattered reminders of German occupation.
Jersey is very much a modern-day success story, allying a flourishing tourism industry to the older, more established agricultural economy. In its capital of St Helier, with its staggering number of international banks, it is also able to offer an astonishingly successful offshore financial package, which in itself has attracted much wealth to the island. All in all, Jersey deserves her title of 'Queen of the Channel Isles', even if it is part self-promotion.
Guernsey is the second largest of the Channel Islands and from AD933 formed part of continental Normandy until it took the English side in 1204. This close association with France, both spiritually and geographically, is reflected in Norman Law, surnames and 'Guernesaise' that survives on the island to this day.
The island's very pleasing capital, St Peter Port, is a good base from which to discover Guernsey's many treasures, in addition to it having some of the best hotels and restaurants for relaxation. Offshore from the port stands Castle Cornet, originally a 13th century defensive bastion against French invasion, but now home to some of the island's most interesting museums. Another must-see attraction in St Peter Port itself is Hauteville House. Rising-up on a high point of the town, and overlooking the harbour, it was the retreat of the famous and extrovert French writer and poet Victor Hugo, the house where he lived out his 15 year exile.
Elsewhere on the island, at St Martin, is the attractive Sausmarez Manor house, home to one of the most ancient and important Guernsey families, now open to the public. Over on the rocky west coast is a stark reminder of the island's constant relationship with the sea. Fort Grey, once a formidable 19th century Napoleonic bulwark, is now the repository of the Shipwreck Museum, exhibiting mementoes from dozens of vessels wrecked off this infamous coastline.
Legacies from the 20th century also litter the island, reminding visitors that the Channel Islands were at the forefront of resistance to German invasion. The period of Occupation has left a labyrinth of fortifications and fascinating museums, like the German Occupation Museum at Forest, which contains intriguing memorabilia from a most dramatic period in Guernsey history.