Most hotels on Sark have been around for years and in the same families for decades.
Just five minutes on a bicycle from The Avenue (Sark’s main street), a dirt path flanked by a field of sheep connect Stocks to the rest of the island from its wooded valley. Paul Armorgie is part of the second generation to run Stocks Hotel on Sark, and hospitality clearly runs in the family. Even before we checked in, we met some of the Stocks’ staff coming back from a successful fishing expedition. They weren’t on the clock, but couldn’t have been more welcoming, or friendly.
The stone farmhouse has a number of outbuildings with large, spacious guest rooms and big, firm beds that guarantee a good night’s sleep. Stocks is the sort of place families, couples and single friends come to chill out and take it easy, not party. The farmhouse has a rustic, lodge feel, but no scratchy linens, and terrific, strong showers.
It’s a ten-minute hike down to Dixcart Beach, more pebbles than sand. And there’s an outdoor swimming pool with a small slide, and even a hot tub. The grounds are wide and open, with plenty of space for lounging around with a book, waiting for the coals on the barbecue to heat up for lunch time.
Stocks have two eating options: a formal restaurant with a gourmet menu, and the brasserie, which was just our style.
The chef uses local ingredients, which, on Sark, means lots of fresh seafood, lamb and beef. We were torn between two menus, seduced by the scallop starter at the main restaurant, but having had a glance at the seafood sharing board offered in the Brasserie earlier in the day, it was tough to shake the crustacean cravings.
Luckily, we didn’t have to choose. The approach at Stocks is flexible, and accommodating. We sat in the Brasserie and enjoyed the scallops before devouring a board heaving with fresh fish. We substituted the mussels for prawns, which wound up a favourite, dressed in a light lime sauce, and struggled to finish the crab, sea bass, mackerel and scallops.
Rest assured, we did, except for the smoked salmon. It’s not really seafood, is it? But let’s not get technical. Desserts looked good, but we stuck to the berries. When you’ve got the Channel Island’s oldest mulberry tree just outside, and berries so ripe they burst with black juice when picked, it’s easy to resist proper pudding.
Guests are encouraged to help themselves to the harvest. And calories are best saved for a Stocks speciality – the home-made aperitifs. Sark’s harbour master moonlights as Stocks’ winemaker, distilling sloe gin, and a wide variety of exotic liqueurs, including blackberry, celery, pineapple brandy and even Earl Grey wine.
Sark is a fair-weather island, and frankly, there isn’t a lot to do when it rains. But Stocks does offer indoor activities. There’s a reading room stacked with books, and enough large rooms so that you won’t go stir crazy. They also run art classes, and cooking classes, which can be arranged spontaneously should a rain cloud hover. A local masseur is on hand, and there’s a small gym in the old stables.
If you fancy heading further afield, La Sablonnerie on Little Sark offers Inn-type accommodation, also set within an old farmhouse and outbuildings offering better spaces for families to stay. It’s about a 20-30 minute cycle ride from the centre of things on Greater Sark, so best suited for those happy to stay put, or hoping for some exercise. It’s eccentric, but the warmth of owner, Elisabeth Peree, adds true character to the place.
We tried La Sablonnerie for lunch and its legendary lobsters. Warm temperatures and sunshine made sitting out in the garden a real delight. Bouquets of wildflowers grace the tables and there’s a convivial atmosphere among fellow diners. Few people who come to La Sablonnerie order anything except lobsters, which come with a choice of sauces. Our appetite was whet with the thought of a lime and ginger butter glaze.
The lobsters were delicious, but absent was the lime and the ginger, instead, served with a lemon. But if you’re a Londoner, just the thought of sitting outside, eating fresh, locally caught lobster, without having to fork out a half day’s wages is enough to bring pleasure. Elisabeth is the sort of hostess who will always try to squeeze people in, even when full up. And a stroll through the vast grounds, with vegetable gardens, fruit orchards, and dairy farm are a wonderful way to walk off a meal.
There are also self-catering cottages to rent on the island. A good bet would be to buy fresh fish on Guernsey to carry over on the boat for a truly local-style supper.
Stocks Hotel Sark
+44 (0) 1481 832 001
+44 (0) 1481 832 061