Philosophically speaking, Great Britain is a hotbed of multi-ethnic culture, from the small fishing towns in Cornwall to the rolling highlands of Scotland, from the global colossus of London to the Brecon Beacons in Wales. However, you will be hard pushed to find somewhere that infuses French and English culture as well as the small island of Guernsey.
With half of the road names in French, and its own branch of pidgin French that is still spoken by some of the elder and more traditional residents, it is easy to see the level of influence that French culture has had on the island. So, with this in mind I set off to spend my weekend investigating the French connections that the island has with continental Europe.
Apart from the geographic proximity and linguistic nuances, if you were to ask the locals for their view on the island’s main connection with France then many of them will tell you the tale of Victor Hugo’s residence on the island during his exile from France in the 19th century. Banished for daring to criticise Napoleon III and his regime, Hugo first moved to Jersey before settling in Guernsey at his home, Hauteville House, near the town centre. It was here that Hugo wrote some of his most famous works, including Les Miserables, before returning to Paris in 1870 after fifteen years on the island. Hauteville House was donated to the city of Paris by his heirs in 1927 and is now a museum restored to the conditions found during Hugo’s residence. I paid for the one-hour long guided tour and spent my time soaking in the ornate decorations as well as the spectacular views of the town and harbour.
After that delectable slice of Guernsey history, it was time for dinner and cuisine in Guernsey is something that takes the best of both worlds from the UK and France. In the same restaurant I had the option of a seafood platter, akin to the fruit de la mer found in France, or a classic English fish and chips. With Guernsey being an island, the restaurants are abounded with fresh delicious seafood. Do not worry if you are not a fan of fish as there are plenty of other great dishes for you to tuck into. One thing I must say however is the restaurant prices are a bit more expensive than found on the mainland, however as Guernsey has a higher cost of living due to its status as an offshore finance centre it is understandable.
Aside from the factors mentioned above, the whole pace of life on the island seemed to me to be a little more ‘French’, that is a bit slower and more relaxed than might otherwise be found in the UK. This was even more exemplified by the time Sunday came around. With barely any traffic on the road, Sunday appears to be a day of family meals and post-food walks. After I had visited a great French bistro for lunch, I partook in one of these walks, wondering around the town centre and its surrounding neighbourhoods, just grateful to be taking in a new sense of life and culture on an island that is not all that far away from home.
After I had finished my explorations I had to head back to the hotel and pick up my bags before I made the short trip back to the airport. The weekend had flown by and unfortunately it was now time to head home. However, if you need a refreshing break or a bit of a culture holiday, then I recommend having a weekend in Guernsey, be it a French or English way of life you are looking for or a mixture of both.