Clustering just off the coast of France, the islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Sark, Herm and Alderney overflow with exquisite coastlines, beautiful harbours, shaded lanes and old-world charm. The warm Gulf of St Malo ensures subtropical plants, superb local seafood and an incredible array of bird life.
The larger islands of Guernsey and Jersey are the main entrypoints, with a plethora of flights and ferries from both England and France. Air links between Guernsey, Jersey and Alderney are good, while fleets of ferries also connect them and the other islands. Accommodation and eating options abound, for details and transport information, see the islands' websites.
During WWII, the Channel Islands were the only British soil to be occupied by the Nazis, and poignant museums – some housed in old war tunnels and bunkers – provide an insight into the islanders' fortitude.
The islands are proudly independent, self-governing British Crown dependencies and sport a wealth of quirky anachronisms. English is the main language and although place names may look French, local pronunciation is very different. The islands print their own version of the British pound – it isn't legal tender on the mainland, but you can use British money on the islands. The Channel Islands aren't covered by NHS or EHIC cards, so make sure your travel insurance includes medical treatment. Tourist entry requirements are the same as for the UK.
Remote Alderney (www.visitalderney.com) is the third-largest island. Its village capital St Anne is picture-perfect; its wealth of bird and wildlife includes blonde hedgehogs and 7000 squawking seabirds.
At 9 miles by 5 miles, Jersey (www.jersey.com) is the biggest of the Channel Islands. An offshore finance centre with a rugged north coast, key sights are the Durrell Wildlife Park (www.durrell.org) and the thought-provoking Jersey War Tunnels (www.jerseywartunnels.com), a former WWII underground military hospital.
On steep-sided, car-free Sark (www.sark.co.uk) transport is by bike, tractor or horse and cart – the island (measuring 3 miles by 1.5 miles) has a magical, castaway feel.
Tiny, traffic-free Herm (www.herm.com) is just 1.5 miles long and half a mile wide. Flower-strewn hills are framed by white sandy shores – Shell Beach is a superb spot for a swim.
The second-largest island, Guernsey (www.visitguernsey.com) features a captivating capital, St Peter Port and stunning sea-cliffs and sandy bays. Victor Hugo's former home, Hauteville House (www.victorhugo.gg), and Castle Cornet (www.museums.gov.gg) are the big draws.