I’d like to suggest a sunshine getaway that is close enough to the United Kingdom to be a domestic flight and yet has its own history and culture, as well as loads to see and do – Jersey!
This largest of the Channel Islands is in fact only 120 square kilometres in area, which makes it easy to explore. Also, the island is shaped kind of like a giant solar panel, tilted to face south, and enjoys around 2,000 sunshine hours per year.
Its official title is the Bailiwick of Jersey but what does that mean? A bit like the Isle of Man it is a British Crown Dependency, with the United Kingdom responsible for the island’s defence. But unlike the Isle of Man it is not actually part of the United Kingdom. Which is understandable as it’s actually only 14 miles off the coast of France. Jersey is self-governing with its own legal and financial systems.
So the place names are French but you don’t’ need to put a +44 code in front of a UK mobile. There’s a local dialect called Jerriais but the people seem English. On the coinage Queen Elizabeth doesn’t wear a crown because here she’s a Duke. The telephone boxes are yellow instead of red. It’s all very confusing.
But what should you do while you’re visiting Jersey? Here are my top 5 things to do in Jersey?
A walking tour of St Helena
The wedding cake mansions and pale painted houses of St Helier are testament to the high net wealth of residents in this tax haven but the tiny capital is full of interesting history. I went on a walking tour of St Helier with Blue Badge guide Arthur Lamy, something of a Jersey expert and a fund of entertaining and insightful stories.
There are bits of original 16th and 17th century architecture such as the Elizabeth Castle in the harbour. The early 1800s covered markets have magnificent gates and then there is a lot of late 19th century expansion. There are also around 50 banks…
Beaches and coast path walking
From Corbiere’s lonely lighthouse to the black heads of suited surfers at St ouen’s Bay and the pounding waves against the pink and green cliffs at Plemont, Jersey has a spectacular coastline. Here guide Arthur Lamy came in handy again with plenty of advice.
The coastal walking paths are wonderful, as are the broad sandy beaches. From the north coast you can see the other Channel Islands of Guernsey and Sark, as well as the Paternoster rocks. If you are a hiker, try the new Channel Islands Way walking path, which takes you through a number of the islands.
History in Jersey
From Waterloo veterans to Breton potato pickers to Cornish stonemasons to Polish waiters, Jersey’s is a history of immigration. The Jersey War Tunnels attraction presents a compelling tale of wartime occupation by the German army for five long years.
Mont Orgueil Castle, perched above the village of Gorey with its cute multi-coloured houses, is a whacking great fortification from the days after the Duchy of Normandy was no longer under the British Crown.
Jersey for nature lovers
Apart from all that magnificent coastal walking, Jersey Zoo is worth a visit. The pioneering conservation centre was founded by celebrated naturalist Gerald Durrell in 1959. Far from being a traditional zoo this animal sanctuary is at the cutting edge of efforts to save endangered species worldwide. There are also globally important protected wetlands in Jersey.
Eating and drink in Jersey
Jersey is famous for its high teas – it is the home of real Jersey cream after all – and there are several options for spending a civilised afternoon around a cake stand. For a traditional high tea experience try Rosie’s Tea Shop on Market Street in St Helier.
Out in the countryside don’t miss the divine strawberry and lavender gateau at the Jersey Lavender farm.
Jersey restaurateurs are blessed by a wealth of amazing locally grown produce, including seafood and the annually anticipated Jersey Royal potato. A Parish parochialism emerges as everyone seems to have an opinion as to where the best of these are grown.
If you just want takeaways on the beach, just east of St Helier at Havre des Pas the Thai Dicq Shack café does marvellous takeaways that can be eaten sat on the beach. For a rowdy night out in St Helier the Royal Yacht is without equal; it has a number of bars and a heaving dancefloor.
Whatever you choose to do, the charm of Jersey’s quiet lanes and kindly people is unrivalled.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you visited Jersey in the Channel Islands? Can you recommend other things to do in Jersey?