From a Roman fort to uncrowded beaches, sense the magic in Alderney, a warm, peaceful and relaxing escape in the Channel Islands, where you can fully unwind. Breathe, relax, and enjoy “the Alderney feeling”.
Don’t go to Alderney. You won’t like it. In fact, don’t even read my article, and I hope you have a great staycation elsewhere on the British Isles! I wish I could keep this up, but of course, I’m joking. The truth is, as anyone who follows me on Instagram will know, I adored my weekend break in Alderney. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I feel hesitant in sharing my experience of this charming island, for fear that word will get out, and that one day the island might change.
Alderney is the third-largest of the Channel Islands, behind Jersey and Guernsey, located 8 miles from France, and 60 miles from the UK. One of the less-visited Islands, Alderney is still refreshingly uncommercialised – but with modern luxuries, beautiful beaches and sumptuous accommodation – offering a unique holiday experience to, in my opinion, rival any of the other more popular islands.
As the closest of the Channel Islands to the south coast of Great Britain Aurigny Air Services offers direct flights from Southampton in just 40 minutes. Ideal for me, living just a 10-minute drive from Southampton Airport, and made getting to the island a breeze. Flights from other airports require a transfer in the small, friendly airport on Guernsey, so a little more complicated, maybe, but ultimately still worth it to experience this hidden gem.
Alderney’s simple way of life and breathtaking scenery provides the space to reflect and feel blissfully rejuvenated – complete escapism from our modern world. There are no crowds, no queues, and no traffic – just fresh air, incredible wildlife, an abundance of flora and fauna, and around 50 miles of footpaths and ancient trails to explore. The historic town of St Anne, intriguing Roman forts and Victorian defences are fascinating – and the island naturally lends itself to an outdoor lifestyle, kayaking, hiking, cycling, swimming.
You don’t just visit Alderney – you feel a connection with the island. The unspoilt, wild landscape, magnificent coastal views and beautiful beaches dotted around the 10-mile perimeter are utterly enchanting. You can’t help but relax and completely unwind as you marvel over the architecture, or investigate the many historic forts.
Every day on Alderney is an adventure – even for the locals. Some who had lived there for years, told us they still find hidden gems (even bays!) they never knew existed. They are living in paradise – and so are their children. Alderney has the only school in the British Isles where children take their swimming lessons in the sea!
There’s a family-run farm providing the entire island with delightful local produce, a cinema, starry skies, various events running throughout the year – and that’s not to mention blonde-haired hedgehogs and blue letterboxes – I mean what more could you want?
It’s truly unique – and the community spirit is unparalleled. The magic touched me with, as they describe it, “The Alderney Feeling”.
Just a 5-10-minute transfer from the airport took us to our hotel (you can walk it in around 20 minutes), The Victoria, conveniently located at the bottom of Victoria Street, in the ‘capital’, Saint Anne. It’s a perfect location, close to all the action and within easy reach of the coastline and main sites of the island.
Our lovely host, Ally couldn’t have made us feel any more welcome, and inside was beautifully light and airy, with coastal-themed interiors, home-from-home touches and contemporary charm. Sister-hotel, The Georgian (on the same street opposite The Victoria) looked every bit as attractive and inviting, and is another excellent holiday option.
Close by our hotel was Cycle & Surf, the shop where we had pre-booked our electric bikes. Andrew, who runs the shop with his wife Kathy, was fabulous. They have turned this essential hire shop into an island gem, with the latest top-of-the-range electric bikes, and a range of designer and casual wear – all very reasonably priced. I walked in to see a floaty beach dress, jumper and lace t-shirt I couldn’t resist.
It was time for lunch. We strolled up along the cobbled street to Le pesked, the only French restaurant on Alderney, and we were in luck. The Alderney Food and Drink Festival had started, and, as a lunchtime special, the fabulous Brittany chef David Ollivrin was serving up five dishes for two, for just £20. The food, made from local produce, was delicious. My personal favourites included the Alderney Crab Spring Roll in plum sauce, Moules and Marinated Pork Brochette.
Re-fuelled, we met at the bottom of Victoria Street for our Round-the-Island tour with Alderney Tours, led by John Horton, the Island Bird Observatory Warden (as seen on BBC Countryfile and CH4 Little British Islands). This two-hour minibus tour is the perfect introduction, offering the opportunity to learn about the geography, history and wildlife, and to get your bearings of where everything is, before heading out on your self-guided explorations.
John is the perfect tour guide, professional, knowledgeable – and with a great sense of humour. But, like many of the Islanders we met, it’s not his only day-job. John’s passion for birds and wildlife is what led him to take a career break as a Metropolitan Police Officer to establish the Channel Isles first accredited bird observatory – where numbers and variety of birds soon far exceeded expectation. Just a couple of weeks into the job, John observed a group of 16 Ring Ouzels coming to rest on the fourth green of the golf course, adjacent to the observatory. He thought: “This is going to be awesome!”
And it has been an enormous success. One of John’s first bird-ringing sessions resulting in the recording of over 40 Firecrests! Alderney has established itself as an important place for migrating birds – one of the most exciting islands in Britain for seeing and monitoring birds, both in migratory transit and in seeking undisturbed nesting sites.
We stood at the headquarters of the Alderney Bird Observatory, based in ‘The Nunnery’ – the best-preserved small Roman fort in Britain. “With such huge historical importance, the plan is to develop this into a publically-accessible heritage site” John explained as we admired the surviving walls of this impressive fort.
John lives at the lighthouse, just a short walk from ‘The Nunnery’, juggling his roles as tour guide and bird warden. He seemed equally passionate about both, telling the group no two days are the same.
John dropped us back at Cycle & Surf, where our electric bikes were waiting – ready to take us back up Victoria Street to meet another of the locals.
General Manager, Tracey Farquhar-Beck had offered to give us a hard-hat tour of new luxury hotel ‘The Blonde Hedgehog’ (think Soho House and The Pig Hotels) opening this September. Encircled by the quiet cobblestoned streets of Saint Anne, the hotel is composed of three buildings, The Blonde Hedgehog, Clarence House (next door), and The Corner House (opposite).
Tracey told us the back story. Owner Julie-Anne, business entrepreneur and founder of charity Zamcog, is opening her first hotel – along with the restaurant and a new butcher’s shop. Currently living in London, she will soon be relocating from London to live in Alderney and personally manage her island ventures. An investment welcomed by the locals – supportive of Julie-Anne and excited for the increased tourism more luxury hospitality on the island might bring.
We had some time to relax back at The Victoria, reflect on our day – and share our enthusiasm for the special place we felt so fortunate to have discovered, before heading out for dinner over the road at The Georgian.
The ground-floor of The Georgian offers a great option for a pre-dinner drink, or relaxed dining, with the cosy warmth of a traditional pub, or head upstairs, as we did, to enjoy the refinement of The Orangery, with more of a fine-dining feel, ambient music, candles and elegantly dressed tables.
In contrast to the bar, The Orangery restaurant is light, airy and contemporary, with beautiful, modern landscape paintings adding vibrant colours to the white walls. The windows slide open to the full width of the building – showcasing a panorama of mature island trees in their immaculate Georgian terraced garden full of pretty wallflowers and hanging baskets.
We ordered from their 2 Mile Menu, as the name suggests all ingredients (very) locally sourced. Our alfresco-style dining was made complete with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, tomato bruschetta, freshly caught Alderney scallops, and Kiln Farm Sirloin Steak with Georgian House melted butter. If only there had been time for dessert – we were booked on the Bat & Hedgehog walk with the Alderney Wildlife Trust – it would have been the Speculoos Cheesecake, or possibly the Affogato.
Meeting point was at the Wildlife Trust shop, just a few doors up from The Georgian. Our expert guide, Roland Gauvain, then showed us how to use our bat detectors to search out bats as we wandered up Victoria Street and through the pretty Parish Church of Saint Anne. We find Pipistrelles – “just 4cm long but with a wingspan of 22cm” Roland explained. He was extremely knowledgeable about the life of bats, how they live, and their feeding cycles, I was surprised to learn they can eat up to 3000 midges in one night!
As darkness fell, we began our search for Alderney’s famous blondes. With no foxes, badgers, stoats or weasels on the island to worry about, Alderney’s rare blonde-haired hedgehogs thrive. With a population of around 600, they have dominated their brown equivalents. They are thought to originate from only a handful of pairs, brought to the island as pets in the 1960s – and (if you believe the locals) released from a Harrods bag. We spotted a few snuffling about, the first all curled up, just a ball of blonde spines!
Others had their beautiful pink snouts on show – each one uniquely cute and charming. Some quietly scuttled away, while others didn’t seem too fussed about us at all. The islanders treat them like little kings (and queens) feeding them when they come to their gardens – perhaps one of the reasons they are doing so well.
There are not many people who know more about our adorable British tiggywinkles than the Alderney Wildlife Trust – the island’s only organisation dedicated to the protection of the natural environment and local wildlife. Take part in one of their activities, walks or tours and your money will be put towards funding many essential projects in conserving their island.
Breakfast at The Victorian is excellent. Home prepared by Ally, made with local produce fresh from the fisherman or farm-to-fork and served in the pretty dining room.
Choose from healthy smoothies, continental, porridge, pancakes, a full Victorian House breakfast – or pre-order for overnight oats, soaked apples, or (as I did) a grilled kipper with a poached egg.
Alderney is about self-adventure, and, as Andrew from Cycle & Surf described it, “There’s nothing to do on Alderney, but there just isn’t enough time to do it all”. While Alderney might not have a tourism brochure packed with must-visit attractions and gift shops for its visitors, there was so much to go and see – to investigate – to explore. You could stay for weeks, months, years and still find somewhere new and exciting to spend a lazy day.
The Victoria provided us with a delicious packed lunch, picnic-style, and off we went on our bikes – in search of our own slice of this Alderney magic. We had a map, but one of the things I liked best about Alderney was that we didn’t need it. The enjoyment is in following the paths and discovering places as you go. It’s easy to lose yourself in the natural beauty, enjoying the moment, and seeing where the day takes you. And with the coastline of never-ending stretches of white-gold beaches, never too far out of sight, you can always get back on track, if needed.
Just 10 minutes into our journey and we came across a Blue Plaque – at the home where John Arlott, English journalist, author and famous cricket commentator for the BBC’s Test Match Special lived.
There are several more Blue Plaques dotted across the island – you can even pick up a leaflet showing the Blue Plaque Trail. Other distinguished people who were born or lived in Alderney include John Wesley, Founder of Methodism; TH ‘Tim’ White, a writer best known for publishing “The Sword in the Stone” and author Elisabeth Beresford, famous for creating The ‘Wombles’.
I wonder if the island’s adorable blonde hedgehogs could have inspired Elisabeth’s furry, long-nosed burrowing creatures (who lived peacefully under the parkland of Wimbledon Common, emerging secretly to clean up and repurpose the rubbish left behind by humans).
After passing the cute 18 hole golf course, Alderney’s colourful puffin statue, and the ‘Nunnery’, we arrived at Mannez Lighthouse, where if you are visiting May to September tours are available every Sunday.
Overlooking Fort Les Hommeaux Florains, with the sun shining and not a single soul in sight, we munched our way through our fresh crab sandwiches. The views were spectacular – easily one of the most peaceful picnics, just us and the birds, the gentle swashing of the waves below – one of the many highlights.
The north-east side of the island was my personal favourite, especially the beaches of Corblets Bay and Saye Bay. We swam at Saye Beach, named as one of Countryfile’s Beaches of the Year, and met some of the locals who were brilliant fun – welcoming us whole-heartedly into their self-formed ‘Alderney Beach Swimming Club!’
Sadly, it was time to head back as we had a boat tour booked, especially to see the puffins and the gannets. We got to the pontoon harbour meeting point where Roland from The Wildlife Trust, and the rest of our group, were gathering.
The waters were a little choppy, but arriving at the isle of Burhou and seeing the puffins, one of the most iconic birds resident in the Channel Islands, made it all worth it. They live here from late March until early August, the only time they spend on land, until heading back to the sea for the rest of the year, out in the Atlantic. These colourful seabirds are instantly recognisable by their bright beaks. Sadly, puffins are now red-listed and classified as a vulnerable species. The Alderney Wildlife Trust monitor the population and help protect them from threats.
Next stop was Gannet Rocks (Les Etacs), home to almost 6000 pairs of Britain’s largest seabird! And we didn’t need the binoculars here to watch them swooping and diving from the shore, we were close enough to smell them, we could almost touch them – and what a display! Incredible, another holiday highlight for me. We chatted to the skipper, Bugsy, who we had earlier encountered in Victoria Street. As he is also the island’s resident fishmonger, I thanked him for my breakfast kipper!
We finished a perfect day with dinner at Cantina Number 6, Braye Street. A cheerful restaurant with a brilliant blue front door and painted window frames, set against cream brickwork, desert-style plant pots and rustic wooden sign. The Latin American vibe continued inside, guitars, retro numberplates and colourfully painted oars mounted on the wall, a trendy cocktail bar made from old tea box shipping containers, mosaic tiles, and ornate cushions. Earn hipster points by ordering a ‘Perfect Storm’ – their version of a ‘Dark and Stormy’ but with a special secret ingredient! From the kitchen, I enjoyed some fresh local oysters, Caribbean Fish Feast – polished off with a strawberry shortbread sundae. True to their garden-kitchen ethos, our waitress came in from the terrace door with some fresh mint leaves in her hand – a group of locals were enjoying her Mojitos. We were feeling the vibe here so, following a recommendation from our waitress, sipped on Espresso Martinis, outside on the balcony overlooking Braye Beach.
Alderney is an ideal destination for a digital detox, story-book-style adventure, relaxing beach holiday, or all three rolled into one. With spectacular sunsets, sunrises, wildlife and stargazing, romantic moments are never too far away. It’s idyllic – and I found myself completely captivated by its charm. I discovered “the Alderney Feeling”, and I know I will return.
MAKE IT EXTRA SPECIAL
Alderney is an area unpolluted by artificial light and therefore shows off the night sky to its best advantage. In the evening Fort Tourgis is the recommended place to go and is easily accessible for views of the Milky Way and when shooting stars are often nightly events. With the island having a milder than average climate, it’s easy to grab a blanket and enjoy a few hours stargazing on this beautiful island.
Afternoon Tea at Braye Beach Hotel
Braye Beach Hotel is (currently) the only 4* hotel on Alderney, situated directly on Braye Beach – one of the best bays on the island. Non-guests are also welcome to enjoy their bar, restaurant and terrace area for morning coffee, a light lunch or early evening drink. For a romantic afternoon enjoy a sumptuous champagne afternoon tea in their signature Seaview Restaurant, to include freshly made salmon and prawn sandwiches, scones, cakes and chocolate delicacies.
Drink coffee in Jack’s Brasserie
A trendy stone brick coffee shop located on Victoria Street – directly opposite The Victoria. Recently taken over by Richard, formerly from the Braye Beach Hotel. He is a great character, full-of-life – and knows how to make an excellent coffee. Sit outside and relax in the sunshine. Also open for breakfast and lunch, or a cold beer and wine.
Getting there →
Fly in less than 1 hour from Southampton airport by sea in just over an hour from Guernsey or Normandy
* Lead image: Alderney_Braye beach, scenery by Jake Woodnutt