ASK people about Guernsey and their knowledge will often be limited to it being an island in the channel with good dairy products and favourable tax arrangements.

It’s a trio of cliches I would have been restricted to ahead of my visit to the Channel Island, and it is a perception the tourist board admits is a challenge to overcome.

But it's an impression that is changing, partly thanks to its emergence is a gastronomic tourist destination.

The island’s sandy wind-swept beaches and rocky cliff-top walks remain a strong drawn, and you won’t see a travel brochure without a postcard image of a landscape which combines British ruggedness and Mediterranean elegance.

And the tax arrangements are no exaggeration, with a division of the tourism board dedicated to persuading wealthy individuals to relocate to the island.

For a taste of traditional luxury you can do much worse than The Old Government House Hotel, Guernsey’s only five star hotel, and home to several times chef of the year Simon McKenzie.

A hotel for more than 150 years, it was the official Governor's last residence, retaining an old worldly charm - despite numerous alterations and even a Nazi occupation.

The food reflects the refined home-cooking of billionaire founder Beatrice Tollman, such as chicken meatballs and McCarthey salad.

But it is with special events like the forthcoming Guernsey International Food Festival events were executive chef Simon McKenzie gets to flex his creative muscles.

On a dazzling but gusty afternoon in the hotel’s shady Olive Grove, we try dishes he will cook as part of a chef exchange with St Lucia, which includes a scallop ceviche with gin and tonic granita - made with Guernsey’s own Wheadon’s gin - and a beautiful plate of pork belly and langoustine with fennel.

Gin has clearly taken the island by storm, and as well a number of superb examples served at the OGH, there are even two craft distilleries.

Both can be spotted at bars around the island, but it is Luke Wheadon’s eponymous creation we have the pleasure of trying at his distillery, housed in the stunning boutique hotel he co-owns with his brother Matthew.

The marketing materials boast there’s a lot of Guernsey in the small batch gin - and it's hard to argue with that when one of the key botanicals rock samphire was hand-foraged from the island's cliffs.

The samphire has an intense piney flavour on its own, but gives the liquor a subtler rock mineral-like quality, which Luke talks through with guests during tasting evenings.

These take place in an Oriental style cellar adorned with copper stills, making for a compelling reason to visit on top of some top quality food, individual rooms and assured service - or as Luke calls it, “luxury with your shoes kicked off”.

Bella Luce’s restaurant serves some fantastic local seafood, such as oysters, scallops and lobster, but it's the beef where things get really serious. Guernsey is well known for its dairy herds, but not for beef, so they use patiently hung premium cuts of Hereford. The dedication to top quality is obvious by the ruby-hued meat and deep grassy flavour, best had with a red wine jus, béarnaise and triple-cooked chips.

The love that has gone into this understated luxury is no accident - but there is a nice coincidence with the Wheadon family’s stewardship of the historic property. Luke and co-owner Matthew’s grandmother once lived there as a child - a fact they only discovered after buying the hotel.

As well as distillers there are also a growing breed of artisan producers, such as Katherine and Stephen Paine of Haut Maison. The couple claim to be retired but admit to spending many hours a day toiling in their acres of orchard tending to a vast array of fruits, which they make into liqueurs and jams.

Collecting varieties like stamps, they boast figs, damsons, loganberries, plums and scores of different types of apples.

The make raspberry liqueur and creme de cassis - as well as a zingy horseradish vodka, ideal for a Bloody Mary.

One place making the most of their small batch product is The Hook, a stylish sushi, restaurant and cocktail bar spread over three floors, with a flinty decor with incredible views of the port.

Taking part in the forthcoming Guernsey Cocktail Week, we watch the serious bartenders test run their latest creations, which includes a ‘wolverini’, which uses both the creme de cassis and loganberry liqueurs from Haut Maison.

As well as modern and traditional luxury, there are also more modern boutique hotels and restaurants emerging, such as Hotel Ziggurat, which from the heart of St Peter Port has a distinctly Moroccan and Levantine theme to the decor and restaurant, with must-try dishes such as king prawn with duqqa - a spicy pistachio paste - and Turkish style savoury pastries.

With so much going on, there's no sign the island is being left behind from the mainland.

Guernsey International Food Festival runs September 23 - October 2, with two free entry weekends of food and drink plus a host of evening dinners, tours, trails and tastings.

Old Government House executive head chef Simon McKenzie will work alongside chef Craig Jones of Cap Maison in St Lucia on Thursday September 29 while Simon will also host a British Game gala dinner.

Bella Luce will host a Taste of Southern India with Brighton’s Curry Leaf Café on September 22, and an experimental Taste the Senses supper with Great British Menu chef Michael Bremner of 64 Degrees in Brighton.

For full event details visit, where you’ll also find accommodation and travel packages.

Guernsey Cocktail Week, featuring Haut Maison, Wheadon’s Gin, Blackdown Artisan Spirits and Havana Club, runs September 16 - 24 (

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