Us Guerns love our national anthem, the first line so befitting of how we view our precious island home, 'Sarnia Cherie, gem of the sea'. But the Bailiwick of Guernsey is more than just one beautiful isle – we are fortunate to be surrounded by more gems of the sea, all of which have their own unique characteristics and outstanding beauty.
And for many the most glistening jewel amongst these precious rocks is Herm Island.
Like most Donkeys I have so many fond memories of times spent on this petite pearl of a place barely three miles off our shores; early childhood long summer days were spent on Harbour Beach, Fisherman’s Bay, Belvoir Bay, the Carribeanesque Shell Beach, or jumping off the dunes; many happy nights have been enjoyed in the Mermaid Tavern or Ship Inn with friends; and weekends have been passed camping in the fabulous Seagull campsite, including a memorable one in a tiny tent on the cliff edge side of the site during a violent thunderstorm the first time I introduced my own children to Herm’s wonders.
But in all the years I’ve revelled in the delights of day trips and Captain’s Table nights, I’ve never experienced the luxury of staying over in, what is to me a coveted prize, The White House Hotel. Maybe because the island is so close we deem staying in a hotel on our own doorstep a tad decadent. But after enjoying my first ever night there a couple of weeks ago, I have promised to indulge myself in this pleasure at least annually from now on. And with the great packages the hotel now offers, this is more affordable and accessible than ever before.
In what has, so far, been another hit and miss spring/summer, we were lucky enough to book one of the weather-friendly evenings to wend our way across the Little Russel on the Trident after work and treat ourselves to a night at The White House. It was the Friday of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee long weekend and an absolute corker of an evening. The boat was filled with happy campers looking forward to quality time with friends and family and an air of eager anticipation for the weekend to commence.
In my youth The White House Hotel had a bit of a ‘stuffy’ reputation – reserved for the suited gentry - but has thankfully adopted a much more relaxed and affable approach welcoming their guests with warmth and outstanding customer service. One tradition they have maintained however, which I applaud, is no TV, clocks or phones – they really don’t suit Herm so why should they be there? As soon as you step off the boat onto what is an award-winning garden of an island and enter the tranquillity of the White House, you literally feel all of life’s daily pressures slip from your mind and physically feel your shoulders lower themselves a good two inches.
We were directed to our room which, to my cart-wheeling joy, was not a mere room but the quaint, beautiful gem within a gem, Harbour Cottage – a separate one-bedroom dwelling with its own garden and lounge area. It was spacious, well equipped (even a selection of CDs so you can instantly heighten the atmosphere by adding a bit of operatic Mozart to the mix) and has obviously been recently modernised, as have all the hotel rooms, with a fresh look and a spotless ensuite.
We wandered over for a pre-dinner drink at the busy Mermaid, then chose to soak up the evening sun and tranquillity of the Ship Inn courtyard and enjoy a delicious evening meal of seafood starters and steak mains. Another string to The White House’s already very plumptious bow is their first class wine cellar which boasts an extensive and carefully-selected collection from some of the world’s finest vineyards. Jonathan Watson, the island’s hospitality manager is a self-confessed oenophile (or wine-buff to thee and me) and runs the increasingly popular wine-tasting weekends (the next one is 21st / 22nd Sept so book your place now!). He keeps adding to the hotel's wine list, organising the purchase of all of Herm's French wines direct from vineyards, negociants and producers from Bordeaux, Loire, Champagne, Burgundy, Rhone etc., and has built up an impressive collection.
After a superb meal and quality bottle of red we enjoyed a chat with the Hotel Manager, Sion Dobson-Jones, who’s been running the hotel for just over three years and has an undeniable passion and love for the place. You can see the way he talks and interacts with all the guests and the rest of the White House team that his focus is on high quality service mixed with the right level of friendly warmth and concern for your comfort.
Sadly we had to leave our haven the next morning but not before we fulfilled our list of ‘things to do in Herm before returning to Guernsey.’ Again good fortune smiled on us and it was a perfect morning with glorious sunshine and not a breath of wind. We were treated once again to the great service of the hotel staff with a ‘full English’ in the Ship’s garden, just opposite our treasured little cottage. We then walked off that over-indulgence with a stroll around the whole island - looking its absolute best in the June sunshine. We enjoyed watching the island’s pheasant community dotted around the fields and on the common and went out to clamber on the rocks where my hunter gatherer man couldn’t resist doing a bit of foraging. Yes, he quickly found an ormer but left it in peace and I won’t tell you where!
After picking up shells on Shell Beach and gazing enviously down at the mid-morning sunbathers on Belvoir (I so wanted to join them) we made our way over the top of the island and spent our last 20 minutes ‘shopping’. With just a couple of shops in Herm, it always amazes me how much you can find that you want to buy. They seem to have a vast array of everything that everyone needs!
Reluctantly, we made our way to Rosaire Steps and sat wistfully in the sun waiting for the Trident to take us back to our larger gem of the sea. My first experience staying at The White House Hotel had surpassed my expectations and was nowhere near long enough. I wanted to go back, laze on the sun loungers of the Harbour Cottage garden or join the other guests by the aqua blue swimming pool. And I wanted to spend another evening dining on fine food and wine and curl up in one of the cosy hotel lounge sofas with an after-dinner coffee and a good book or crossword or board game.
But that will have to be another time... now when’s that wine-tasting weekend again?