Guernsey Press

Fermain Cafe needs no States interference

I SUSPECT like most of your readership, I pick up my GP, read the front page headlines and let out at best an audible groan or more often than not, a series of expletives. Saturday morning was no exception. We now find that the States, which seems to be unable to galvanise itself to focus its efforts on any of the fundamental issues facing the island – education, housing to name just two, has managed to focus its attention on of all things, the Fermain Beach Cafe.


This is a great little business which is a credit to the island and of course, to any rational islander, needs absolutely no States interference whatsoever. Whilst most beach kiosks in the island 21 years ago were offering a teabag floating in a polystyrene cup as the height of sophistication, this humble business operating out of premises which it upgraded and modestly enlarged, managed to bring top-notch food and wine including fresh seafood to the beach-going public – in short, the sort of great food you get when you eat at a chiringuito in Spain or beach-side restaurants in the Algarve. And it has received recognition in the national media.

Now, if Mr de Freitas was relying on just me to support his business he would have gone bust long ago – like many no doubt, I can only frequent it on the occasional days I feel motivated enough to go on a bit of a cliff walk – even my electric bike can’t make it up the hill on the way back. So, he must be doing something right, as on the occasions I have been there it has been absolutely packed. Food arrives speedily, beautifully presented and can all be washed down with a beer or bottle of vino. There is always a lengthy queue but it has always been well worth the wait on a sunny day. Having built up a great, well-run business, now enter the States bean-counters to see how things can be ‘improved’. Sadly, in Guernsey there are those that seem to know the price of everything but the value of nothing. I think Mr de Freitas captures it beautifully in his own words, which are almost poetic ‘the cafe and the valley, they are like a little diamond, if you polish it too much, it loses its sparkle’.

Here we have a small cafe which visitors probably expect little from and are absolutely blown away by the offering. Now, you could build a three-storey structure there but then it would be no more than a typical restaurant anywhere and Fermain’s absolute beauty is in its simple, understated appearance. A little cafe building, restored Martello tower and public toilets cunningly disguised as an old Napoleonic-era guardhouse/magazine – Oh, hold on, how clever, that’s what it is.

Of course, the States could and should have taken a different approach. The sensible, decent approach would have been to firstly ask Mr de Freitas if, having run the restaurant so successfully for so long, he would like to extend the lease, or as ultimate landlord, perhaps to discuss upgrading the structure in partnership with him if he/they felt this warranted the investment. As he rightly states, the lack of parking, difficulty in reaching the bay, etc means that trade will always be limited unless parking is hugely increased and the road opened to regular traffic or some form of minibus/ shuttle service – sadly in this case, the provision of 50 expensive cycle hoops is unlikely to increase footfall.

Now, let’s look at the States’ attitude to all our other beach kiosks. Most are hopelessly small buildings, more suited to the 1960s when serving ice creams and tea baskets was the order of the day – despite the enthusiasm and efforts of those who run them, they have limited ability to offer quality hot food, etc and even less ability to provide some form of shelter to punters on days when the weather is inclement. The States’ attention would be better focused on improving these structures rather than trying to make an extra buck by mucking about with one that actually offers what a tourist (or island resident) in 2024 would expect. Of course, anyone seeing now how things are playing out at Fermain would be reluctant to make any great investment in any of the other kiosks.

One suspects that probably greater forces are at play here. Given how the States has mismanaged and neglected much of its vast property portfolio (think Castel Hospital, King Edward Hospital) and its asthmatic approach to efforts to maximise revenue from those assets it is indeed surprising to find they have suddenly proceeded with quite so much gusto over the Fermain cafe as soon as the lease was due to end. They seem quite content to hand over large tracts of pavements, roadways and other public areas to restaurants on the basis the modern tourist demands alfresco dining in return for little more than an admin fee (when these areas can generate very lucrative income with numerous covers and sittings), and yet poor old Fermain Beach Cafe has come in for special attention and indeed, notwithstanding this being an idyllic spot, could now be a three-storey building.

I seem to remember that when the Vazon Bay ‘kiosk’ was redeveloped some years ago the States flatly refused to let a second storey be built (the logical intention of the then proprietor being to have kitchens, changing rooms etc at the ground-floor level with the restaurant at first floor with great views over the bay). Instead all that could be built was a restaurant with a first class view of a car park.

I sincerely hope there is no change at Fermain Bay – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.


La Rocque

Rue de la Rocque