When you're looking for somewhere in the UK that's really different – a little bit exclusive – you'd do no wrong in booking a trip to visit the Channel Islands. You'll almost feel as if you've been abroad. The Islands are an archipelago in the English Channel. Situated in the Bay of Mont St Michel, geographically they are closer to France than mainland Britain; Jersey is just 14 miles from the French coast. So, although the Islands are British Crown Dependencies with an allegiance to the Queen, you'll find the Gallic influence easily identifiable in the street and place names, not to mention a general ambience in the air.
Channel Island residents are full British citizens, with English the main language and Sterling the currency. But independent administration and judicial law comes under two Bailiwicks – the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which covers seven permanently inhabited islands (Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jetou, Brecqhou and Lihou) and the Bailiwick of Jersey, covering the largest of the Channel Isles. And it is only Jersey and Guernsey that accept motorhomes, with the other islands remaining virtually traffic-free idylls.
Jersey is the largest island, occupying 60 square miles of predominantly rural landscape. The triangular-shaped Guernsey is just over 24 square miles and, like Jersey, is also a patchwork of farmland, woodlands and rocky headlands, both with wide, beautifully sandy Atlantic beaches. With an important horticultural industry on both islands, the numbers of glasshouses present often surprises first-time visitors. Don't let that detract – you'll find wonderful opportunities to purchase roadside bunches of fresh-cut flowers or pick up fantastically fresh produce for supper.
You'll find narrow, winding lanes (campervans are best-suited to these islands; leave larger coachbuilts in the campsites and use the great network of public transport facilities) that are great for exploring when you're after a slower pace of life. Indeed, the network of Green Lanes has a maximum speed limit of 15mph and gives priority to walkers, cyclists and horse riders – perfect for motorcaravanners who like to get out and about without their 'vans.
With a rich and varied history, including German occupation between 1940 and 1945, you'll find plenty to discover about the Islands. But if it's just discovering some simply magnificent beaches, you've come to the right place. On Jersey, make a beeline for the south and east coasts – one long line of beautiful sand, with St Aubin's Bay sweeping into the capital, St Helier. The five-mile long St Ouen's Bay is considered the best for surfing. On Guernsey, the south-facing Moulin Huet Bay is one of the most popular, but head to the most northerly L'Ancresse Bay for, arguably, one of the finest spots in the British Isles.
Top five things to do in The Channel Islands
Visit the Durrell Wildlife Park. Set up over 50 years ago by Gerald Durrell, author (including his semi-autobiographical account, 'My Family and Other Animals') and naturalist, the wildlife park is sanctuary to more than 130 endangered species with an important rearing programme. The wildlife park is considered one of the best attractions to visit on Jersey.
Explore the cobbled streets of Guernsey's capital St Peter Port, enjoy the marina and soak up the atmosphere in one of the cosmopolitan cafes or restaurants. Don't forget a visit to Castle Cornet, which has stood guard over the town for 800 years; you'll hear the Noon Day Gun fire daily wherever you are!
Take a trip underground at the Jersey War Tunnels, which tells the story of the German occupation of Jersey during World War Two. The tunnel complex, a heritage site, plays host to a series of galleries detailing the experiences of those who lived through the war.
Do some island hopping to walk the Channel Island Way, a 115-mile route that takes in the coastlines of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Herm and Sark. Boats sail from St Helier to Guernsey (where you can hop on another 15-minute boat ride to Herm) and Sark. Both Herm and Sark are absolute 'must-see' destinations; they are traffic-free (except for farm tractors, bikes and horses).
Enjoy a wander around the lavender fields and gardens of the Jersey Lavender Farm. Find out how the therapeutic lavender oil is extracted and, at harvest time, watch the essential oils being distilled from the flowers. Then treat yourself to one of the unique lavender products from the shop. Lesser known but no less stunning is Le Noir Pré and the smaller Le Clos du Seigneur. These two adjoining wetland fields are the last remaining strongholds of the rare Jersey Orchid. The fields erupt with colour during May and June.
When to visit The Channel Islands
Liberation Day is a major mark in the calendar commemorating the liberation of the Islands from German occupation on 9 May 1945. Many events across all the islands take place on this day. In particular the five-week Channel Islands Heritage Festival captures the spirit of the Islands between April and May.
Also in May is the gleaming Jersey Boat Show in St Helier and the Jersey Food Festival, with events taking place across the island to celebrate the Jersey Royal potato, seafood and dairy produce. And in August, one of Jersey's largest and most colourful events, the Battle of Flowers takes place in St Helier. The spectacular carnival has been running for over 100 years. Guernsey also hosts floral festivals in spring and autumn.
Cheap overnight stops
Regulations on both Jersey and Guernsey mean that motorhomes must return to specified campsites every night (see below), therefore camping anywhere else is not permitted. Nonetheless, many of the campsites do run offers. Campsites tend to be open from April/May until September.
How to get to The Channel Islands
Taking a motorhome to the Channel Islands requires some planning. It is not possible simply to pitch up unannounced at a ferry port on mainland Britain and hop on a boat.
Condor Ferries operates a route to Jersey (St Helier) from Poole; there are also routes from Normandy in France if you plan to add the Channel Islands onto a trip to Continental Europe.
To travel to both Jersey and Guernsey (the only two islands that allow motorhomes/campervans) with a 'van, it is necessary to obtain a permit. Your chosen campsite on either island will make the booking for both your accommodation on site and the ferry crossing, and will obtain the permit. This permit, showing valid dates, must be displayed in the window at all times during your stay on either island. Separate permits are required for each island if you are going to visit both. Guernsey allows just 14 motorhomes on the island at any one time, which makes a visit all the more 'exclusive'.
Motorhomes are allowed to stay for a maximum of one month and you must have third party insurance and proof of ownership with you at all times. Vehicles must return to the booked campsite each night.
The maximum width of a motorhome allowed on either island is 2.3m; the maximum length on Jersey is 9.3m and on Guernsey it is 6.9m. That said, Condor Ferries requires exact dimensions. The 'van should not exceed a maximum weight of 3.5 tonnes when fully laden and you can only carry one gas canister up to 5kg weight (it must be turned off prior to boarding). Motorhomes exceeding the dimensions provided upon booking are unlikely to be able to travel.