So there I was, perched precariously on an uncomfortable narrow seat in the tractor-hauled cart as it bumped its way up the hill heading for the main street ‘The Avenue.’ A few minutes earlier I had alighted from a rocky, one hour crossing on the boat from Guernsey. The rain had stopped, which renewed my enthusiasm for exploring tiny Sark, an island which is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey. It is unique in that it is a fiefdom granted to the Seigneurie of St Ouen in Jersey back in 1565, with the proviso that he kept the island free from pirates.
click on any image to enlarge words/images (c) Gilly Pickup
The ride in the tractor-hauled buggy, nicknamed the ‘toastrack’ due to its design, is one of three ways visitors can get to the village after alighting from the boat – the other two involve walking up a steep hill or hiring a horse and cart (£10 pp per hour when I was there). Even the ambulance and fire engine operate on the towed-by-tractor basis. There are no roads, just dusty, stony tracks and rural pathways, so for walkers, good footwear is essential. Those who prefer to cycle can hire one from a shop on The Avenue. Although most people visiting the island are day trippers like me, there is accommodation available for those seeking a chill out break including a couple of hotels, guest houses, self-catering properties and a few campsites.
Alighting thankfully from the buggy, I walked passed the prison, possibly the world’s smallest with only two cells – a local told me that it is still used for rare, overnight stays. I was heading for historic manor house, ‘La Seigneurie’ built around 1675. Though the house, permanent residence of the present Seigneur – the head of Sark, is not open to the public, the grounds are open daily and it is one of Sark's most popular attractions. There is a café in the gardens where I had coffee and cake then suitably refreshed, set off again past deep winding valleys bursting with wild flowers, white washed cottages and berry-laden hedgerows to the Hog's Back headland, a favourite spot with picnickers. Dixcart Wood is worth a visit too, in spring it is carpeted in bluebells and it remains a blaze of year round colour thanks to the profusion of celandines, primroses, three-cornered garlic, red campion and ferns which grow here. Those seeking more adrenaline fuelled pastimes can try coasteering, geocaching or kayaking while at low tide, there are coastal caves to explore.
Sark has no street lights so if locals go out at night they have to carry a torch to see where they are going. Since there is no light pollution, the night sky can be viewed in all its glory and Sark was designated the world’s dark sky first island in 2011. No special equipment is needed to enjoy the starry display but there is a powerful telescope in a small observatory – well, a shed really - primarily designed to keep star-gazers warm at night. If you go, you’ll be bound to see the creamy rich Milky Way, a display of shooting stars is almost guaranteed and you will be mesmerised by the twinkling lights of Guernsey far across the sea.
Read about Guernsey's wildlife here
The rest of my brief visit to the Channel Islands was spent in Guernsey, famed for its flowers and fabulous seafood and one of the few places in the world where Santa Claus arrives by lifeboat, rendering Rudolf redundant. It’s a small island, only 25sq miles, but has a variety of landscapes from rocky inlets to high-sided woodland and curving pastures. It’s easy to get whisked back in time as almost everywhere you look here there is evidence of a fascinating past, from medieval castles, forts and watchtowers to landmarks providing memories of the years when Hitler’s forces invaded the islands, particularly La Valette German Underground Museum and the Occupation Museum with its hoard of war relics. No modern fast food outlets are allowed on Guernsey either, it has stuck to its guns. No MacDonalds, Pizza Hut or Starbucks. Well maybe that’s no bad thing.
Victor Hugo was so enamoured with the island that he was inspired to write most of Les Miserables there during his 15 year stay. He described his new homeland as ‘the rock of hospitality, this corner of old Norman land where the noble people of the sea reside.’ I wanted to visit his house but it was closed so had to make do with standing outside and imagining what it might look like from the inside. I did get inside Castle Cornet though, last remaining royalist stronghold during the last throes of the English Civil War. Unfortunately for the governor’s wife, an explosion in 1672 in the gunpowder store blew off the top of the tower and she was killed. Today, it contains several museums, including one devoted to all things seafaring while its gardens are great for wafting round on a pleasant day.
Foodies should know that everywhere you go in Guernsey you’ll enjoy fantastic fare. Personally I like 'gache’, the local finger-licking fruit loaf traditionally eaten smothered with rich golden Guernsey butter. Fish fans must savour a bumper bowl of seriously fabulous ‘moules’, probably the freshest you’re likely to find. Add to that friendly locals, interesting scenery and inexpensive car rental and you’ll wonder, as I did, why it took you so long to visit.
images (c) Gilly Pickup
Sark Visitor Centre Guernsey Tourism
Condor Ferries operates year round services from Poole to Guernsey
Isle of Sark Shipping Company operate regular sailings from Guernsey to Sark
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has unveiled its 2023/24 cruising programme with more than 100 hand-crafted sailings and the introduction of new Journey Navigators across its fleet of smaller ships.
The programme includes opportunities to witness Norway’s Langfoss Waterfall in spring, explore the Azores and visit Lapland in the summer months.
image : Aurora Restaurant on Borealis (c) Fred.Olsen
Trips range from two to 93-nights, with regional departures from Liverpool, Newcastle, Rosyth, Southampton, Dover, London Tilbury and Belfast. The programme also features the return of a fly-cruise programme, with Braemar based in the Caribbean for the winter months.
The new brochure unveils Fred. Olsen’s new Journey Navigators – Nature Scouts, Culture Curators, Maritime Guides and Entertainment Hosts. Guests who book a 2023/24 sailing can enjoy up to £250 per person to spend on board or up to £500 when booking a suite. Those who book a 2023 cruise but also want to travel this year, can take advantage of 10% off any new booking for 2022.
Martin Lister, Head of Itinerary Planning and Destination Experience Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, said:
“This has been such an exciting programme to curate. Our smaller ships allow us to offer special experiences for our guests and we’ve been creative with our itinerary planning to shine a spotlight on this. We will be cruising scenic waterways that are out of reach for larger ships, including the Kiel Canal, the Seine and Loire. Braemar is also set to repeat her record-breaking feat of transiting the ultra-narrow Corinth Canal – an experience not to be missed. We also know that guests want authentic experiences ashore so we are developing a programme to support this. In Madeira, for example, rather than simply visit the world-famous gardens, guests can meet with a local orchid expert for a garden tour, including that of a family-run orchid farm. Guests will find our new Journey Navigators on-board each of our ships to bring to life the Joy of the Journey and all that is great about being at sea from holding stargazing events out on deck, to tours of the Bridge to celebrate our maritime history.”
Highlights of Fred. Olsen’s 2023/24 programme of cruising include:
Bolette’s 14-night T2318 ‘Summertime in Lapland and Scandinavia’ cruise, departing Newcastle 1st July 2023. Prices from £2,099 per person.
Itinerary: Newcastle – Turku, Finland – Cruising Turku Archipelago – Oulu, Finland – Kemi, Finland – Holmsund, Sweden – Sundsvall, Sweden – Stockholm, Sweden (overnight stay) – Cruising Stockholm Archipelago – Aarhus, Denmark – Newcastle
For more details: Visit T2318 ‘Summertime in Lapland and Scandinavia’
Bolette’s 15-night T2327 ‘Volcanic Islands of the Canaries, Azores and Madeira’ cruise, departing Southampton on 14th October 2023. Prices from £2,099 per person.
Itinerary: Southampton – Praia da Vitoria, Portugal – Ponta Delgada, Portugal (overnight stay) – Santa Cruz, La Palma – Santa Cruz, Tenerife – San Sebastian, La Gomera – Funchal, Madeira – Southampton
For more details: Visit T2327 ‘Volcanic Islands of the Canaries, Azores and Madeira’
Borealis’ 10-night S2322 ‘Touring Southern Spain, Portugal & Gibraltar’ cruise, departing Liverpool on 22nd October 2023. Prices from £1,399 per person.
Itinerary: Liverpool – Lisbon, Portugal – Cruising Mouth of River Tagus, Portugal – Gibraltar – Málaga, Spain – Cádiz, Spain – La Coruña, Spain – Cruising by Tower of Hercules Lighthouse, Spain – Liverpool,
For more details: Visit S2322 ‘Touring Southern Spain, Portugal & Gibraltar’
Braemar’s 14-night M2401 ‘Latin America Civilisations’ fly-cruise. Flights from London Gatwick/Manchester, departing from Havana, Cuba 2 January 2024. Prices from £2,699 per person.
Itinerary: Havana, Cuba (overnight stay) – Progreso, Yucatán, Mexico – Cozumel, Mexico – Colon, Panama – Cartagena de Indias, Colombia – Santa Marta, Colombia – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba – Havana, Cuba (overnight stay)
For more details: Visit M2401 ‘Latin America Civilisations’
Balmoral’s seven-night L2411 ‘Mighty Waterfalls and Norwegian Fjords’ cruise, departing Newcastle 26th April 2024. Prices from £1,099 per person.
Itinerary: Newcastle– Cruising Lysefjord, Norway – Cruising Hardangerfjord – Eidfjord– Cruising Maurangerfjord and Furebergfossen– Cruising Åkrafjord and Langfoss Waterfall – Bergen– Cruising Nordfjord – Olden – Cruising by Hornelen – Åndalsnes – Cruising Romsdalfjorden and Isfjorden - Newcastle
For more details: Visit L2411 ‘Mighty Waterfalls and Norwegian Fjords’
For more information on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ new 2023/24 programme, visit fredolsencruises.com/just-released. Book online, call Reservations on 0800 0355 242 Mon to Fri, 8.30am to 6pm; Sat, 9am to 5pm, or contact your ABTA travel agent.
image (c) Fred. Olsen: Braemar going through the Corinth Canal
Swan Hellenic 's new 5-star ship SH Vega will launch ahead of schedule in July, departing Helsinki Shipyard for the cultural expedition cruise pioneer’s Arctic Summer Season.
Celebrating the elegant ice-class ship’s maiden cruises, Swan Hellenic has launched an Arctic Summer Season Sale that helps make this remote wilderness more accessible with reductions of up to 70% off brochure fares for guests booking before 20th June.
For solo travellers the single supplement will be waived for bookings in the sale period. These substantial savings bring Swan Hellenic’s trade partners outstanding opportunities to boost their business.
The Arctic Summer Season Sale prices feature on the Swan Hellenic website where there is also information on the new SH Vega, including choice of Arctic cultural expedition cruises.
Ranging from 9 to 20 days, these discounted maiden season cruises are an opportunity to explore the Arctic, from the Svalbard Peninsula to Iceland’s landscapes of ice and fire, Greenland’s dramatic majesty, the Northwest Passage and the wilds of Northern Canada.
“We’re excited to launch this special celebration of our new purpose-built ice-class ship, which makes her extraordinary maiden cruises uniquely accessible and irresistible,” said Swan Hellenic CEO Andrea Zito. “We look forward to boosting our sales partners revenues and spirits in a challenging period, attracting new curious-minded adventurers to experience the Swan Hellenic difference.”
images from Swan Hellenic
About Swan Hellenic
Swan Hellenic was relaunched in July 2020 to continue the spirit of cultural expedition cruising the company pioneered in the 1950s. Building on its British roots, the new company has a global cultural cruising outlook dedicated to providing guests with the opportunity to ‘see what others don’t’.
Swan Hellenic's purpose-built ships feature elegant Scandi-design interiors, extensive outdoor spaces and dedicated expedition facilities. SH Minerva and SH Vega, two new 5-star Polar Code PC 5 expedition cruise ships with ice-strengthened hulls, respectively launched in December 2021 and arriving in September 2022, each accommodate 152 guests in 76 spacious suites and staterooms, the majority with large balconies. A slightly larger PC 6 ice-class vessel, SH Diana, accommodating 192 guests in the same distinctive comfort and style in 96 staterooms and suites will arrive early 2023.
All three ships feature three dining venues; the Swan Restaurant, Club Lounge and Pool Bar & Grill and are being built to comply with SOLAS Safe Return to Port requirements. Dedicated to guests with a passion for adventure and cultural exploration, the company’s meticulously planned itineraries explore landscapes, wildlife, people and unique cultures of the world’s less travelled regions.
The crews each include a team of 12 seasoned expedition guides, expert speakers and lecturers for a total complement of 120 and 140 persons respectively, offering outstanding staff-to-guest ratios to deliver the highest standards of attentive personal service.
For more information about Swan Hellenic, please visit www.swanhellenic.com
or call +44 (0) 207 846 0271
Havila Voyages newest passenger ship, environmentally friendly Havila Castor, will operate the classic coastal route between Bergen and Kirkenes.
Havila Castor's energy-efficient hull design was created to handle the varied Norwegian coastal weather.
image (c) Havila Voyages
The ship has the world's largest passenger ship battery pack with 6.1 megawatt hours (MWh) meaning the ship can sail emission-free for up to four hours.
"We have a state-of-the-art ship with large cabins and stylish Nordic design that our passengers will be able to enjoy to the fullest” (CEO Bent Martini.)
Martini explained, "Our ships are the most environmentally friendly passenger ships to sail the classic coastal route between Bergen and Kirkenesand. Havila Castor will be the first ship to sail into the world heritage site of the Geirangerfjord silently and emission-free." He went on, "The ship's propulsion is a combination of natural gas (LNG) and the battery pack, so reducing CO2 emissions by up to 30 % and NOX emissions by 90c%. This means that ships of Havila Voyages are the most environmentally friendly ships that sail the coastal route. Our investment in climate, environment and sustainability is more than just words. We will deliver from day one on the requirements that were set in the contract with the Ministry of Transport”.
Havila Castor is also built for climate-neutral fuel alternatives such as hydrogen and ammonia. With current technology, gradual blending of biogas will further reduce CO2 emissions. As well as reduced emissions, other properties include heat recovery from sea and cooling water as well as a food concept that includes food sourced from short-haul and local producers. The menu on board changes during the sailing to reflect the areas in which Havila Castor sails.
Martini explained, “Our goal is to cut food waste on board and we have a unique food concept which, among other things, means that we do not have a buffet. There has been a lot of positive feedback regarding menus. We are very much looking forward to getting the ship on the route along the Norwegian coast on the maiden voyage”.
Antigua and Barbuda Minister of Tourism and Investment, The Honourable Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez, was joined by Royal Caribbean Group Vice President of Government Relations, Americas, Russell Benford, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Antigua and Barbuda and Royal Caribbean Group to bring thousands of job opportunities to the people of Antigua and Barbuda in June.
Minister Fernandez said, “Royal Caribbean is one of the iconic brands that is part of the foundation of cruise tourism in the Caribbean and this initiative will not only see a huge cadre of our tourism professionals become gainfully employed while being ambassadors for our country, but will further strengthen the partnership between the Government of Antigua and Barbuda and Royal Caribbean. It’s a win-win solution for all of us.”
The Minister also spoke of the Government’s careful and successful management of the coronavirus pandemic that gave Royal Caribbean the confidence they could hire the services of citizens of Antigua and Barbuda, "knowing our people are vaccinated, fully trained and possess the skills needed to add value to Royal Caribbean’s operations. The relationship between Royal Caribbean and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda goes back well over 30 years,” said Benford. “We have supported each other through the most challenging times and signing this agreement demonstrates the strength of our partnership and will result in boosting the tourism economy.” He added, “I take this opportunity to congratulate Minister Fernandez as well as our entire team involved in moving negotiations forward that will benefit the people of Antigua and Barbuda. This is a good day for the travel industry.”
In congratulating Royal Caribbean for its service to Caribbean tourism, Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority CEO, Colin C. James remarked, “Antigua and Barbuda have enjoyed a strong rebound in cruise arrivals in January and March of this year and Royal Caribbean has been a major part of that. This new partnership will impact hospitality employment opportunities for the destination in a positive way that goes beyond just welcoming cruise passengers to our shores.”
The employment initiative on Royal Caribbean’s ships will commence with a major job fair in St. John’s for nationals and residents of Antigua and Barbuda. Employment opportunities are in positions including the Marine sector - junior seaman, junior engine man, assistant electricians; the Operations Sector - storekeepers, cruise, youth and sports staff, laundry and restaurant attendants, waiters and bakers. In the specialty sector, vacancies are available for positions including in the casino, entertainers and photographers. “This is the tourism industry performing at its finest”, James concluded. The new employees will be Antigua and Barbuda’s cruise guest ambassadors and further strengthen the existing Royal Caribbean partnership.
ABOUT ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA:
Antigua (pronounced An-tee'ga) and Barbuda (Bar-byew’da) is located in the heart of the Caribbean Sea. The twin-island paradise offers visitors two uniquely distinct experiences, ideal temperatures year-round, a rich history, vibrant culture, exhilarating excursions, award-winning resorts, mouth-watering cuisine and 365 stunning pink and white-sand beaches - one for every day of the year. The largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands, Antigua comprises 108-square miles with rich history and spectacular topography that provides a variety of popular sightseeing opportunities. Nelson’s Dockyard, the only remaining example of a Georgian fort a listed UNESCO World Heritage site, is perhaps the most renowned landmark. Antigua’s tourism events calendar includes the prestigious Antigua Sailing Week, Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, and the annual Antigua Carnival; known as the Caribbean’s Greatest Summer Festival. Barbuda, Antigua’s smaller sister island, is the ultimate celebrity hideaway. The island lies 27 miles north-east of Antigua and is just a 15-minute plane ride away. Barbuda is known for its untouched 11-mile stretch of pink sand beach and as the home of the largest Frigate Bird Sanctuary in the Western Hemisphere. Find information on Antigua & Barbuda at: www.visitantiguabarbuda.com
Representatives of the Royal Caribbean Group, Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Authority following the signing
images (c) RCI / Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Tourism
I'm Gilly, award winning journalist, travel/ cruise writer & author of 12 books. Credits incl: Telegraph, CNN, Daily Mail, Independent, BBC mags, Country & Town House, The Scotsman, Best, My Weekly, trade titles etc