by Antonia Windsor, The Telegraph, June 15, 2018
When people think of going to the Channel Islands they usually weigh up the advantages between cosmopolitan Jersey or the more underdeveloped Guernsey and its outlying, car-free islands of Herm and Sark.
Alderney, the most northern of the Channel Islands, is often overlooked – which means fewer tourists on its glorious, sandy beaches and flower-strewn cliff paths. Inhabitants of the other islands dismiss Lapins (as Alderney people are affectionately known – after the many rabbits found on the island) as “2,000 drunkards clinging to a rock”. Perhaps this is a nod to the fact that the licensing laws are different from those on the other islands and there always seems to be a pub or off-licence open somewhere.
The shops are all independents – you won’t find a Boots or WHSmith or Tesco on old-fashioned St Anne’s high street. But it’s not just booze that the locals are fond of.
The island’s food festival runs from June 25 until July 6, with plenty of events aimed at celebrating local produce, as well as the best cooks on the island and beyond. The Braye Beach Hotel is running a nightly film and two-course meal for £20 in its private cinema, while distiller Luke Wheadon will be showing off his gin during a tasting night at the Georgian on June 27.
I can just hop on a plane, then?
Not quite. Just getting to Alderney is a bit on an adventure. The only direct flight involves clambering aboard a little Dornier propeller plane (just one seat on each side of a narrow aisle) from Southampton airport.
You’ll get to know a local or two, whom you’ll inevitably bump into again during your stay as the island is just three miles long and one and a half wide.
If you want fast food, swimming pools or major attractions, then Alderney won’t appeal. But if you’re on the hunt for a slower pace on an island you can walk around in four hours, where you can get within touching distance of blonde hedgehogs or elegant northern gannets, then Alderney is worth considering.
It’s a getaway that extracts you from modern life, although not from other people – that chap you said hello to on the plane may well become your friend for life, or at least the remainder of your stay.
Just how slow are we talking?
Well, it’s certainly not Oxford Circus on the first day of the sales. Your first stop should be the visitor information office at 51 Victoria Street in the capital – and only town – St Anne. Here you can pick up walking maps for the 50 miles of paths that criss-cross the island, or details of the half-day or full-day cycle routes. Hire a bicycle at either Cycle and Surf in town (£12 per day, £26 for electric, cycleandsurf.co.uk) or down at the harbour at Auto-Motion (£11 per day, £22 for electric, automotionalderney.com).
If you’d rather hire a car, then Braye Hire Cars can meet you at the airport (£35 per day, brayehirecars.com). It doesn’t seem to have renewed its fleet for at least a decade, but with a 35mph speed limit and no traffic lights, you won’t notice the difference.
While the Victorians left their mark on the island, building 18 forts and batteries along the coast, this wasn’t quite enough to satisfy the Germans. When they came in 1940, they spent five years mixing concrete to build bunkers and watchtowers. So if you’re a fort enthusiast, Alderney won’t disappoint.
Swing by the Alderney Society Museum (£3, alderneymuseum.org) – a treasure trove of memorabilia, including displays on the evacuation of Alderney’s entire population at the start of the Second World War and the process of removing 30,000 mines before they could return in December 1945 (Alderney celebrates Dec 15 each year as Homecoming Day).
It’s reasonably hipster-free
Fear not – if you see a bearded local then he’s probably not a hipster, but a member of the Alderney Wildlife Trust (alderneywildlife.org), which you’ll find a few doors down from the visitor centre.
The best £25 you will spend on the island is for the boat trip to the rocky outcrops of Les Etacs and Ortacs where you’ll witness the powerful sight of up to 8,000 pairs of nesting gannets. This is the ultimate sensory experience; their wings beating above you, their cries alternating in a cacophony of sound – and the undeniable smell of guano mingling with the salty sea air.
The tour pauses off the little island of Burhou, where you can watch puffins bobbing about on the water or diving for sand eels. If you are lucky you can sometimes spot seals and dolphins playing in the sea.
On land you can book an evening bat and hedgehog hunt. Equipped with bat detectors, which pick up the high frequency of echolocation, you can tune into the bats flying around St Anne’s graveyard at night, while torches will pick up the unique blonde spines of the island’s hedgehogs.
But I’m not nocturnal…
If you’re looking for somewhere to lay your head, you can’t beat the location of the Braye Beach Hotel (from £130 a night, telegraph.co.uk/tt-brayebeachhotel) right on the sands of an attractive northern bay, a 15-minute walk from the town centre. Take a room with a view and a Juliet balcony to make the most of the sea air.
If you’d rather pretend you’ve relocated, then take up residence at Les Pourciaux Cottage (from £850 a week, lespourciauxalderney.co.uk ), a self-catering option with views of Ile de Fort Raz and Longis Bay.
Before turning in, head to Cantina Number 6 (6 Braye Street) – a beachside restaurant in Braye with a floral terrace that serves excellent homemade pizzas and grilled fish. Or try the seafood paella at The Georgian House in Victoria Street (georgianalderney.com) – you can also stay in boutique rooms.