Is this Britain’s best island break?
I’ve always had a soft spot for Jersey, largest and most southerly of the Channel Islands. It all started with Bergerac, the BBC detective series which beamed Jersey’s glorious coastline and verdant farmland across the world in the 1980s.
The envy of my friends, I first travelled to the island to interview actor John Nettles and his co-star Terence Alexander, chatting on a hotel terrace near Greve de Lecq on the rugged north shore. I can clearly remember being bowled over and not just by the charming Mr Nettles. I simply had no idea that this small island – just nine miles by five – was so beautiful.
In those days, Jersey was widely regarded as a safe, familiar destination with a touch of the Continent, a millionaires’ paradise where people drove on the left and spoke English but weren’t part of the United Kingdom. The self-governing States of Jersey also has historic links with France, just 14 miles away to the east, so many street and place names are French, lending a slightly exotic air to a community that still seems like home.
I’ve returned several times after that first eye-opening visit, more Bergerac interviews and travel articles but also a family holiday. So after a gap of ten years, I returned to the island in May to discover that Jersey has successfully moved with the times and now offers something for every age group.
Jersey was slow to embrace the inevitable rise of low-cost airlines so the first big change was flying in by easyJet from Luton. Flights are also available from Gatwick, Southampton, Newcastle, Manchester, Belfast and Dublin. Just 45 minutes after taking off, I was landing in Jersey and off to collect my hire car. Driving is easy here with a maximum speed limit of 40 mph and all hire cars are indicated by a red circle on the number plate so locals know you’re a visitor.
Base for my short break was the delightful Hotel Cristina, one of a wide choice of hotels offered by Silver Travel Advisor Partner, Jersey Travel.com. This friendly hotel must have one of the best positions on the island, set in terraced gardens on the slope above the broad sweep of St Aubin’s Bay. The bedrooms and public rooms have panoramic views across the outdoor pool to the sea, every table in the restaurant offering freshly cooked food with a view.
In fact food has become one of Jersey’s major attractions with many restaurateurs focusing on local produce – not just the famous Jersey Royals, milk and oysters, but fresh fish, home produced meat, vegetables, and even wine and cider. I enjoyed three great and quite different meals at The Salty Dog Bistro at St Aubin’s Harbour, La Cantina Italian Restaurant in St Helier and the Jersey Crab Shack overlooking St Brelade’s Bay. Visit in the autumn during Tennerfest when for six weeks, restaurants throughout the island offer special menus starting at £10.
There have been other developments since my last visit. In St Helier beside the marina, traffic has been banned from Liberation Square, named in honour of Jersey’s liberation from Occupation after World War II. Leading off it, a quaint new shopping precinct, Liberation Wharf, is the place to find quirky independent shops and local crafts. And the marina itself has been smartened up, enlarged and fringed by modern apartments, hotels and a cinema complex.
In the heart of St Helier amongst all the retail temptation, I found 16 New Street, a Georgian mansion restored from near-dereliction by the National Trust for Jersey. And near the west coast, just behind the spectacular 5-mile beach of St Ouen’s, I found the NTJ’s Wetland Centre where I watched marsh harriers quartering over St Ouen’s Pond from a spacious new wooden observation hide – a great place to introduce grandchildren to birdwatching!
So whether you’re a first-time visitor or a returner like me, here are a few things you really shouldn’t miss:
Meet the residents at Jersey Zoo. Fans of ITV’s popular series The Durrells won’t want to miss this enchanting collection founded by the late Gerald Durrell, whose love of animals was nurtured by his childhood stay in Corfu. Big stars – literally – are the gorillas and orangutans, but there are lots of unusual creatures here. Meet the Blue Crowned Laughing Thrush who does exactly that; the cute Asian clawed otters; and tiny pied tamarins with their white shawls and quizzical expressions.
Walk offshore at low tide. Jersey experiences some of the world’s biggest tidal falls that regularly reveal a hidden world. Join a guided group for a walk across the seabed to discover strange seaweeds and marine creatures. Best of all, time your trip for the Full Moon Walk to discover a magical world of moon shadows, luminous worms, and maritime adventure.
Learn about Jersey’s unique history. Jersey Heritage look after seven sites across the island including the Maritime Museum and Occupation Tapestry; Mont Orgueil Castle; Elizabeth Castle; and La Hougue Bie Neolithic site. Visit during 2017 and you can wallow in nostalgia at Jersey Museum where Bergerac’s Island looks at life on Jersey in the 1980s and even features Jim Bergerac’s famous Triumph Roadster! And don’t miss the Jersey War Tunnels, previously known as the Underground Hospital, built by forced labour during World War II.
With nothing more than five miles away, you can pack a lot into a short break in Jersey and still leave plenty to do for your next visit. The perfect island break for all ages and less than an hour from home!