St Martins, Channel Islands

Photo: The Bella Group

It seems like it’s never going to stop raining. Though it’s been almost a month since March was supposed to go out like a lamb, it’s been cold, wet, and dreary almost the whole time. Bring on those May flowers already.

Freesias, roses, and wisterias are already starting to bloom on the Channel Islands. The islands, which sit in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy, are known for their sunny summers, extensive gardens, and colorful blossoms. The island of Guernsey, in particular, is famous for its gorgeous flowers. The parish of St Martin enters theirs in floral competitions each year.

But beautiful flowers are only one reason to visit St Martin. The southeast coast of Guernsey is also known for its steep cliffs, nature trails that meander atop them, and quiet beaches. There’s a sculpture park, on the grounds of the historic Sausmarez Manor, that displays 200 contemporary artworks each year. St Martin’s Parish Church has a prehistoric carved statue menhir at its entry gate. Jerbourg Point, a breeding ground for gulls, offers views of the Little Roussel channel and smaller islands. Plus a historic Norman manor house is now a small, family-run hotel in the green valley.

Photo: The Bella Group

The Hotel Bella Luce is just a short stroll from Moulin Huet Bay, with which French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir fell in love and painted in the late-19th century. You immediately feel at home—or at least at the home of your favorite childless relatives—when you arrive at the hotel. There are oak floors and stacks of antique suitcases in the building that was constructed in the 12th century. Green vines and new buds climb its granite walls. Parisian furniture, including velvet armchairs and little writing desks, are in the individually decorated rooms. They each have a view of the sunshine-filled gardens or the ripple-free pool.

Since you don’t have a long itinerary during your visit, you do something you rarely allow yourself to do your first afternoon on Guernsey: nothing. Well, not nothing exactly. But you don’t plan on leaving the hotel. Instead, you start with a salt-and-oil scrub, to soften your skin, at the spa. You move to the pool, where migrating birds stopping for a rest are your only companions. You learn about the history of gin and its production during a Gintroduction in the cellar of the hotel, where Wheadon’s Gin is produced in copper stills. It ends with a Wheadon’s and tonic in the cool space. Then you decide you’re ready for a late lunch outside in the courtyard.

Majestic tulip trees stand guard over the walled courtyard, which manages to be both formal (white tablecloths) and relaxed (comfortable gray chairs) all at once. The menu features lots of local seafood. Since you can’t decide on one dish, you select the Bella Luce Fruits de Mer, so you can try a little of everything. Before the seafood platter arrives, you switch from your gin and tonic to a glass of Champagne. Soon everything from lobster to chancre crab to oysters to winkles are set in front of you. There’s dipping sauces, garlic butter, new potatoes, and a salad, as well. Your afternoon of nothing has turned into quite a feast.

By the time you set down the last mussel shell and wipe the butter from your fingers on your napkin, the sun has started to disappear. The white lights strung around the courtyard have begun to twinkle. While the scent of evening dew has started to fill the air. It was well worth the wait for those (almost) May flowers.

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