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La Valette Farm, Sark, Channel Islands
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La Valette Farm, Sark, Channel IslandsPitch a tent in the east-facing field of La Valette Farm's campsite on the tiny isle of Sark — the smallest of the four major Channel Islands — and on a clear day, with the cliffs dropping away dramatically into the sea, you get a pristine view of the French coast, 20 miles off in the distance.

Though physically closer to France than the English mainland (which is about 80 miles to the north), Sark is a British Crown Dependency. But that's not to say it's just an extension of England, as influences from both nations have blended to produce a unique culture that was - up until 2008 - the last remaining feudal state in the western world, making it a little piece of history, too.

In 1565, after the island had been ravaged by the Black Death and become known as a place 'of pirates, thieves, brigands, murderers, and assassins', Elizabeth I granted Helier de Carteret the first Charter as Seigneur - head of the feudal government. This was based on the condition that he kept the place inhabited (with less dangerous folk), had 40 musket-wielding men as a defence force, and paid the Crown a twentieth of a knight's fee annually - two quid in today's money.

La Valette was built by those first 16th-century inhabitants and remains the only property on the island never to have been sold. Its history is etched on the stone buildings, which, though badly damaged during the Nazi occupation here - another interesting chapter in the island's chequered past - retain many of the original features. And today the whole place seems to encapsulate Sark's appeal: history, nature, and a warm welcome.

La Valette Farm, Sark, Channel Islands


Though the island does offer some of the essentials of 21st-century living — broadband and decent mobile phone reception — the picturesque 40-minute ferry ride from its larger sister isle, Guernsey, is essentially a journey back in time. There are no cashpoints, streetlamps, or cars here. Not that you need a car, as Sark measures just two square miles, so you can easily explore the islands unspoilt natural beauty by horse and cart, bicycle, or simply on foot. And there is plenty to discover - from wonderful flora and fauna to the secluded beaches, where more than a dozen people represents a crowded day.

La Grande Greve is the island's best sandy beach, but at the time of writing it was inaccessible-due to a landslide. There are plenty of alternatives, including Dixcart Bay, which looks spectacular in the dancing morning sunlight. The island has caves too, including the Gouliot Caves, which are protected for their large population of anemones and well worth a day's exploration.The paths leading down to beaches and cave systems are steep, though, so not for the very young or old.

La Valette Farm, Sark, Channel Islands


La Valette provides a perfect base from which to explore the island, but has plenty to offer in its own right. It is still a fully functioning farm (you may get a sideways glance or two from the resident dairy cows), and around the rear of the farmhouse you'll find the campsite proper, which is essentially a pitch-where-you-like field, but with breathtaking views and direct access to the cliff path and seashore below. Though the cliffs are sheer, it's only a five-minute walk down to the beach at Greve de la Ville, where you can watch the sun set and maybe take a midnight dip, then lie outside your tent in blissful silence gazing up at the stars through an unpolluted sky - the best end to a day exploring a very unique destination.

COOL FACTOR A campsite with stunning cliff-top views, and a farmhouse boasting half a century's worth of history on an island abundant in natural beauty, with unique attractions and a culture that offers a rare step back in time.

WHO'S IN Tents, responsible dog owners and their pooches - yes. Groups are happily catered for but should book in advance in summer. The island's rough tracks are not ideal for buggies or disabled access, but if you make the trip, you'll be offered a pitch. Campervans and caravans - no.

La Valette Farm, Sark, Channel Islands


ON SITE The campsite consists of a large, gently sloping, east-facing, cliff-top field. Pitch where you like, but bear in mind it is a little exposed when windy, so it's best to hug the hedged edges of the field - more protective fencing is planned. Frame tents are available for hire if you'd prefer to leave your tent at home, and come with airbeds, table and chairs, crockery, cutlery, pots and pans, water carrier, and camping stove. The facilities block has hot metered showers (£1 for about 4 minutes); cubicle washrooms with shaver points; and a communal washing-up sink. The showers are powered by solar panels, and shower water is recycled to toilet cisterns. There's a small, slightly dated children's play area. Home-made marmalades and fresh farm produce are available to purchase. No campfires allowed, but small disposable BBQs are okay (ask permission beforehand).

OFF SITE Only 3 miles long and 1V4 miles wide, but packed with beautiful natural scenery, the island is a rambler's paradise, and you're never far from a tea room if it rains. Take a boat trip with George Guille (01481 832107; www. welcometosark.com) around the island to see abundant birdlife - including puffins. For those with a head for heights, La Coupee (see www.sark.info) is a narrow isthmus joining the main part of the island (Great Sark) to the small southern peninsula known as Little Sark. It's just 3 metres wide, with a heart-quickening 80-metre drop on either side, but offers views of the most dramatic scenery in the Channel Islands. La Seigneurie (01481 832208; www.laseigneuriegardens.com) has, since 1730, been home to the Seigneur (or Lord) of Sark, and was built on the site of the 6th-century monastery of Saint Magloire. In addition to its history it has wonderful gardens.

FOOD AND DRINK La Sablonnerie (01481 832408; www.lasablonnerie.com) is the only restaurant on Little Sark. It's quite expensive, but offers romance in droves; work up an appetite in the exquisite garden, then try some locally caught seafood, followed by an unforgettable starlit carriage-ride back over La Coupee. There are only two pubs on the island - the Mermaid (01481 832022) and the Bet Air (01481 832052) - both within a 10-minute walk. The beer is very affordable and the local characters are colourful, but gastropubs these are not. Try Stocks (01481 832001; www. stockshotel.com) for a more congenial setting. GETTING THERE Take the ferry from Guernsey (www. sarkshippingcompany.com), or Jersey (www.manche-iies-express.com), or a private charter. On arrival it's £1 well spent to get pulled up Harbour Hill. For that you get a padded seat on a quirky cart to take you up the steep dirt track (there isn't an inch of tarmac on Sark) leading into the village. From here it's a 10-minute walk to La Valette.

OPEN All year.

THE DAMAGE Adult £7 per night; child (under-11) £4. Pre-erected tents an extra £18-£45 per night (depending on size). Credit cards not accepted; no cashpoints on the island.


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