We were looking for somewhere a bit unusual and interesting for a five-day break. As we perused the attractions of European capitals and other tourist hotspots, we saw a mention to visit Jersey. Cally had been there once on business (typical of business trips, there was no sightseeing). I had never been. Giving the proximity to our home base in the UK and all the great things we were reading, we decided Jersey was for us.
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Whilst part of the British Isles, Jersey is actually located closer to France, being just 14 miles from the French coast and 85 miles from the English coast
Jersey is only 9 miles long and 5 miles wide and has a population of around 100,000 people.
In the recent history of Jersey, it was the only part of the British Isles to be occupied by the Germans. Jersey was occupied between 1940 and 1945 (see the Jersey War Tunnels paragraph later in this blog for more information ).
One of the most famous commodities of Jersey is undoubtably the Jersey cows, which have been exported to many countries around the world. The milk is highly prized as it has a slightly higher fat content than the usual full fat milk.
Getting there and getting about
Jersey has a single airport based in St Peter. Given that the island is so small, it is not far from the airport to anywhere you may be staying. Taxis are freely available and reasonably priced. There is also a local bus service which departs outside the arrivals terminal and takes you to Liberation Station in the capital St Helier. The bus takes about 30 minutes. The return bus drops off outside departures. You also have the option of arriving by ferry from the UK ports of Portsmouth, Weymouth and Poole.
We chose the Hotel de France located in St Helier, we loved the French Chateau look of the place. The hotel is just an 18-minute taxi ride from the Airport and features an ayurvedic spa and indoor pool, 2 restaurants and a bar making it a perfect couple’s getaway or maybe a ladies pamper weekend. More on this hotel later.
Accommodation is readily available all over the island from small boutique b&b’s to larger spa hotels like the Hotel de France and covering a range of budgets.
For a foodie, you have travelled to the right place. There are hundreds of high quality eating establishments scattered around the island. Jersey is renowned for its Jersey milk and its potatoes. The milk and potatoes develop a special flavour. The unique environmental conditions include soil type, salt air blowing across the fields, and also the rich grasses that the cows eat.
For those who like sweet things, Jersey fudge is a particular highlight in any food shop on the island. Less well known are things like Jersey black butter, not actually a butter at all but more like a pureed Christmas mince pie filling. This is not to everyone’s tastes (nor mine!!) but certainly worth a taste. It’s super sweet and is used in place of jam on toast or as a chutney with cheese.
My favourite of all the foods on offer was the seafood. Lobster, crab and oysters are all excellent in Jersey. Being an island means the shellfish are always amazingly fresh and abundant.
Places to visit
With a population of around 33,000, St Helier has third of the islands total population. We enjoyed a day of strolling around St Helier, taking in the different architecture and a little bit of hustle and bustle by the locals. The Central Market in Beresford Street is a beautiful Victorian building with the period typical ornate cast iron structure and a central fountain. Right next door is the Beresford Market which is predominantly fishmongers. There are plenty of excellent restaurants, pubs and cafes as you walk around the city. Try to get down to the harbour as there is a lovely and interesting walk around the promenade.
La Mare Vineyard
Jersey is well placed to grow wine, having a warmer climate than the UK. The island is usually about 2 degrees warmer than the UK south coast. The vineyard grows its own grapes, processes and bottles white, red and rose wines on site. Wine tours and tastings are available, or you can just visit the shop to buy the produce to take away if you prefer. The vineyard has a lovely onsite café for a snack or delicious lunch. As the weather was nice, we chose to sit on the patio overlooking the vineyards while having a rest and relax. Oh, did I mention the lovely wine as well.
The vineyard also makes an apple brandy, a cream liqueur (obviously made with local Jersey cream) gin, vodka and cider. For those with a sweet tooth, they also make sublime chocolates and some baked treats. Before you go, look on the website and you can check what days they are making chocolates and they will have samples around for you to try.
Durrell Zoo – (or Jersey Zoo)
The zoo is surprisingly brilliant. I say surprisingly because they don’t have the obvious big 5 animal species so I was expecting it to be a bit lacking in wow factor. Normally my favourite animals are the tigers and I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the zoos population. There are over 130 different species represented. Gerald Durrell was massively into the less obvious animals, frogs, lizards, monkeys, birds and also in the ecology of a wildlife reserve. It is beautifully set out in magnificent gardens, fabulous in themselves, and the animals are in well thought through enclosures. I know not everyone agrees with zoo’s, but in my view they do a fantastic job of educating people and also putting money into endangered species and research.
The meerkat enclosure is a must for kids (and for Cally !!! lol) they have tunnels to get into the middle of the enclosure and then bubbles to stand in and watch from the centre, some meerkats are literally inches from your head and just carrying on as normal. It was fascinating.
The frog centre has an unusual mix of mostly endangered and poisonous frogs, some in very vivid colours such as strawberry red or lime green. Again, a great one for the kids to try and spot the animals in amongst the foliage.
Jersey War Tunnels
We found this part of our Jersey visit to be very thought provoking as it chronicles the occupation years and the trials and ingenuity of the population to survive. There is no glorification or prettying up of the displays, they are often slightly brutal in their matter of fact truth.
Jersey was occupied by the Germans during WWII and some 5000 slaves were used to excavate over 1000 metres of tunnels into the side of cliffs. The tunnels were intended to allow the Germans safe shelter from the Allied troops. In 1943, the tunnels converted into an emergency hospital. The Germans occupied Jersey for 5 years but met little resistance from the locals who had no way to really overcome the thousands of German troops.
The life of a local was largely to try to adapt to the new way of life in the hope they would survive. The tunnels museum takes visitors on a journey through the tunnels and the rooms within, each one filled with stories of bravery, betrayal and survival. Allow at least 2 hours for your visit but up to 4 hours if you want to really read all the displays and see all the rooms. The museum has a café on site serving all the usual café options.
Mont Orgueil Castle
The castle overlooks the beautiful fishing port of Gorey, which in itself is a lovely place to visit. Please don’t dash straight through Gorey on the way to the Castle, stop and enjoy the cafes and the gentle relaxation of this quaint village or an ice cream (obviously made with Jersey cream) on the beach.
The castle is an 800-year-old medieval fortress and has been wonderfully preserved for future generations to visit and understand the history of the area. The Castle costs about GBP13 with the usual concessions available. It’s quite a walk up from the bus stop to the castle entrance so wear sensible shoes and take your time.
An island fortress, Elizabeth Castle covers 24 acres with a history dating back some 15 centuries from 555AD. The castle clearly shows the scars of its history having been damaged in various battles not least the German occupation in 1940 – 1945. WW2 saw many buildings damaged, some of which have never been repaired.
A visit to the castle costs about GBP13 with the usual concessions or around GBP16 if you want the return boat journey. Well worth including this in your Jersey visit itinerary.
The castle can be reached either by walking across the sands at certain times of the day only, which takes about 20 minutes (expect to get wet feet as there are rock pools along the walk) or by amphibious vehicle, the vehicle takes about 7 minutes. We used the amphibious vehicle for the novelty and the speed of the journey.
Hotel de France
Courtesy of Jersey.com
As mentioned earlier, we stayed at the Hotel de France and it is truly magnificent. A very imposing building with fabulous gardens and terraces. If you don’t fancy staying here, you can always visit the Ayurveda spa for the day. Treatments include Indian head massage, full body hot stone massage or a half or full day spa package. A full day spa package costs around GBP295. Not the cheapest day out, but for a special treat it’s well worth considering.
Hop on Hop off Bus
Pic by Jersey.com
The Liberty bus is a local route which allows tourists to see the island. We are great advocates of the value and convenience of HOHO buses and usually take them if available. For just GBP8 for an individual ticket, you can take the bus on various routes around the island. If you are staying longer then you can buy 2, 3 or 7 day passes. This very reasonably priced bus ticket gives you a fantastic chance to get out and explore. The island really isn’t that large and it won’t take you too long to get to anything. The bonus is you can enjoy the scenery along the route.
Le Moulin de Quétivel
National Trust For Jersey Pic
This is only surviving water mill on the island. You can get a sense of the traditional ways of milling and the agricultural heritage of Jersey. The mill was particularly important during the German occupation in WWII. Open from May to September, the Mill would make a fascinating few hours for children.
The coast of jersey is quite beautiful. There is a great coastal walk that can take you to secluded beaches and grand vistas. For those so inclined, there is kayaking, paddleboarding, scuba diving and surfing available. Yes, you really can go surfing on Jersey. There are a number of companies on the island who offer coastal tours and activities. The boat tours to view local islands and ocean wildlife including seals are popular. We always like to do boat tours. You get an entirely different perspective when looking back to land from the ocean.
Visit Jersey If You Can
Our intention is to give you a good feel for Jersey. A visit to Jersey delivers enjoyment and value to your valuable vacation time. Our recommendation is to spend a few days in Jersey at some time in your life. You will not regret the trip.
We are the authors of our travel blog. Wayne is semi-retired and travelled quite extensively during his working years. Cally is a freelance business consultant who has also travelled widely. Both of us love to travel and we get away as often as our finances will allow us.
Please check out our travel blog for advice to help you choose a destination. Then head on over to our travel booking pages and make your dream a reality.