How French day-trippers fell in love with Guernsey

St Peter Port is the main route into Guernsey for many daytrippers
St Peter Port is the main route into Guernsey for many daytrippers - Visit Guernsey

“Victor Hugo planted this oak tree 150 years ago, and named it ‘the Oak of the United States of Europe’’”. Our Anglo-French tour guide pointed at a grand tree in the gardens of Hauteville House, where the French writer lived in exile for 15 years.

It was a funny phrase to hear here on Guernsey, the Channel Island just off the coast of France – especially with Brexit just barely in the rearview mirror.

A dependency of the British Crown, like its neighbour Jersey, Guernsey has never been in the EU, but it is in the Common Travel Area and, as such, easily accessible for Brits. Post Brexit, however, the French are required to show a passport to come to the Channel Islands, when previously they simply needed to flash their national ID cards.

But last summer – perhaps partly in the name of unity; certainly in order to make it easier for France’s Anglophiles to visit – a scheme allowing French nationals to make day-trips to Guernsey and Jersey using their national identity cards was introduced. It’s now been extended to the end of September 2024, after the number of French day-trippers rocketed.

“A lot of French don’t have passports,” he observed Rod, a native Guern and guide for Tuk Tuk Guernsey, “so allowing them to come with their identity cards for a day-trip brings a lot more French people in”.

A new direct flight route from Paris also launched earlier this year, indicating a growing French interest in this charmingly eccentric community.

On the crossing from Saint-Malo, I met Marianne and Agathe, a mother and daughter from Avignon, who had spent the previous night travelling back to the South to retrieve Agathe’s forgotten passport. “Alas, there is a border now,” said the young woman, reflecting on her faux pas. The duo were heading to Sark, the car-free island in the Guernsey island grouping (called the Bailiwick), having read about it in a travel book.

Another passenger, Kristelle, was heading to Guernsey on a solo trip to indulge her love of all things Anglais. “I’ve always wanted to go to Guernsey,” she said. “I like the respect and politeness of Les Anglais – the way people queue up neatly to wait for the bus and the whole ‘mind the gap’ thing!”

St Peter Port has a quintessentially English feel
St Peter Port has a quintessentially English feel - Nick Després

While Anglo-immersion is one draw, most French people who visit are also on a literary pilgrimage. “Victor Hugo is the first thing on their list,” said Jennifer, who works at the tourist office in St Peter Port. “We even have a Victor Hugo map with all the places he used to go.”

The author of Notre-Dame de Paris and Les Misérables (which was finished on Guernsey) is almost god-like in the French public consciousness: some two million people followed the procession of his state funeral, and countless roads, schools and town squares in France are named in his honour.

The Red Drawing Room of Hauteville House, now a museum celebrating the life and work of Victor Hugo
The Red Drawing Room of Hauteville House, now a museum celebrating the life and work of Victor Hugo - Robert Harding / Alamy

Nathalie lives in Paris, but owns a home close to the Manches Iles ferry embarkation point in Normandy – from which two ferries run each week – and visited Guernsey for the first time last year.  “We went because we wanted to see the Victor Hugo museum, otherwise I think we could have gone to another island,” she said. “We reserved the museum then a fish and chips lunch right next to it; it was enchanting, a dream.”

Nevertheless, French visitor numbers to Guernsey are still dwarfed by those of their British counterparts, who make up about half of all visitors to the island. Geography is a common draw, with outdoor activities – such as hiking, biking and wild swimming in popular spots like the Victorian-era La Vallette Bathing Pools – proving popular.

La Vallette Bathing Pools offers tidal pools just a 10-minute walk from the centre of St Peter Port
La Vallette Bathing Pools offers tidal pools just a 10-minute walk from the centre of St Peter Port - Angus McComiskey / Alamy

The local cuisine draws its fair share of visitors, too. Along the seafront, a string of restaurants – amongst them the excellent Le Nautique and Balthazar – serve up seasonal menus blending elements of French cuisine (fresh oysters, unctuous sauces, delicately cooked fish cuts) with a distinctly British twist (gravy, wellingtons, posset for pudding). The milkshakes – served in local spots like The Kiln in the rugged north of the island – are ambrosial, thanks to lashings of the famous Guernsey milk.

But if the culture is British-leaning, it is also a thing apart. For one, its currency is unique (it even has a one-pound note), as is the delightfully old-fashioned time-card drivers are asked to put on dashboards for parking (which is free).

It is also a place of contrasts. There’s a huge financial sector, with PwC and Barclays offices, and high net worth types attracted by low income tax and a lack of capital gains and VAT – but there’s also a strong folkloric tradition, with tales of pookas (goblins), fairies and haunted houses (along the west coast you’ll even find old seats for witches). Over the years, Romans, Vikings, Gauls, pirates, German soldiers, Norman dukes and international financiers have all considered this a place worth fighting for.

Strolling out of Hauteville House, I met a group of jovial French retirees, friends from a Rotary Club in northern France. “I feel at home here in Guernsey,” Bruno, one of their group, told me provocatively. “I’m Norman, you see!”

With the Oak of the United States of Europe stretching 150-years tall behind us, I took his words in the best of humour.

The Old Government House Hotel & Spa
The Old Government House Hotel & Spa - Chris George

Hannah was a guest of Visit Guernsey ( and stayed at the Old Government House Hotel, formerly the official residence of the Crown-appointed Lieutenant Governor who historically presided over the island. Doubles from £233 per night (01481 724921;