If Sark doesn’t spring to mind when you think of the Channel Islands, let me shine a spotlight on it, because this tiny island near the Normandy coast is sublime. Fly from Gatwick to Guernsey, arriving at lunchtime to enjoy Guernsey’s fabulous food, then take a ferry from St. Peter Port. Arriving in Sark in under an hour, you’ll be enchanted by the unspoilt island’s amazing greenery, striking coastlines and old fashioned charm.
Where to drink
Run by Guernsey boy Mark, who moved to Sark four years ago, The Bel Air pub is at the top of the hill where The Toast Rack empties out its passengers. The Toast Rack, if you’re unfamiliar with Sark slang, is a carriage that visitors can clamber onto after disembarking from the ferry. They’re then towed uphill by tractor – the only motorised vehicle allowed on the island.
Luggage is taken directly to guests’ hotels, all of which are in walking distance, as the island is only just over two square miles in size. But if you still have sea legs, horse drawn carriages line up here like a cab rank – or you could do what I did, and head straight to the pub.
The Bel Air is cosy, and you can imagine piling around the fire in winter. The beer garden is almost tropical in foliage, with plenty of outside seating, as well as a children’s play area, giving parents the perfect excuse to “break up the journey.”
“I moved here because I wanted a slower pace of life, but there’s something on every weekend,” says Mark, mentioning the folk festival, the sheep racing, and this weekend’s build-a-boat competition – along with the Bel Air’s Friday night meat raffle, Saturday BBQ, and music from 83 year old DJ Silver Fox.
Where to eat
I arrive at La Sablonnerie in bare feet and a wet bikini, after a calamity with the tide in a nearby bay. I’ve salvaged my soaked clothes, but my shoes have been swept out to sea, so I arrive for lunch in a state of disarray at odds with the impeccably dressed waiters in black bowties and waistcoats.
The bottoms of Vivian Leigh, Laurence Olivier, and even John Bergerac Nettles have graced the dining chairs (and possibly the bedsheets) of the award-winning Sablonnerie, while proprietor Elizabeth Perree, glamorous in a black backless dress, looks after her guests in the manner of Joan Collins hosting a soirée.
I’m left in no doubt that the waiters have seen wilder sights than me, when they rally round seamlessly, putting my wet clothes in the tumble dryer, and kitting me out from their own wardrobes. And so I sit eating lobster in the glorious grounds, wearing a Batman t-shirt, and a pair of men’s sandals, several sizes too big.
Where to stay
At Stocks Hotel I eat Sark lamb a few feet from Mark Llewelyn Evans, the Welsh National Opera’s principal baritone. The room is in stitches as he tells a story about his mother phoning Steven Spielberg, before launching into a rendition of Some Enchanted Evening, which does irrevocable damage to my mascara.
“Mark’s my godfather,” says Hugh Rees-Beaumont, who’s sitting on my right, in red trousers. Son of the Seigneur, Hugh is effectively the Prince William of the Channel Islands; Sark has a unique status as an island – not part of the United Kingdom or the EU, its unique feudal system is run by the Seigneur who is appointed by the Queen. Across the table, his sister Sibyl tells a risqué anecdote involving handcuffs, and Victoria Joyce, of the English National Opera (and also of Mark) sings something from La Rondine by Puccini.
I am in the midst of the Sark Opera Festival , and it’s fabulous. Taking place over several days, in bijou locations including La Seigneurie Gardens, tonight’s performance at Stocks is an immersive dining extravaganza, in the four-star hotel that was originally built as a farmhouse in the 1700s.
Stocks Hotel has a rich history, having been occupied by the Germans when they took over the island during the Second World War. Everything is marvellously efficent: staying at Stocks means your Eggs Benedict is served immediately, your room is filled to the rafters with shortbread, sloe gin and handmade chocolates from the nearby Caragh Chocolates, and your towelling dressing gown is replaced instantly when you bring it back from the beach streaked with seaweed.
Its garden is magical, the swimming pool can be used by anyone who eats there, and aside from the opera, special events include foraging trips and murder mystery dinners.
What to do
Don’t be deterred by the 90s throwback websites, or the tumbleweed that floats by when you email anyone – just launch yourself at the island and trust that everything will be wonderful. Anything you want to do can be arranged – here are a few ideas:
- Visit the observatory. Unsullied by street lights, Sark has been declared the first Dark Sky Island so do some spontaneous star gazing, or book a visit to the observatory
- Take a tour. Learn Sark’s history on a guided walking tour or ride around the island in a horse drawn carriage.
- Hire a bike. With no cars allowed, you’ll need to walk or cycle. Hire a bike at Avenue Cycle Hire or A to B Cycles.
- Go on a boat trip. Look out for dolphins as you explore Sark’s coastline. Chartered trips, kayaks, and snorkelling gear can all be sorted.
- Stroll around La Seigneurie Gardens. After enjoying the blooms, catch a performance at the amphitheatre or eat cream tea at Hathaways.
Montessori supports the Sark Opera Festival.
Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here