Closer to France than it is to the UK, but belonging to neither, Jersey is an ideal weekend break even if you’re not a tax exile
Defiantly British, yet home to Normandy farmhouses and French street names, Jersey gets a bad press. “Only prosperous because of its tax status,” say critics dismissively, arguing that there is little to draw the typical traveller here unless they plan a golfing weekend.
But there is more to Jersey than its tax haven credentials and location for Bergerac, the strangely enduring 1980s detective series. From fine seafood to picturesque countryside and sea views, Jersey appeals to those seeking the outdoor life or simply a slice of Middle England 14 miles from France.
That said, preconceptions can easily be confirmed. Over a glass of sherry one evening, a fellow guest at my hotel laid out the case, quite seriously, for removing the protected status of Jersey’s woodlands and coastal fringes, and carpeting them with golf courses. “No-one comes here to walk,” he said.
Well, if they don’t, then they should. The north coast of the island boasts unexpectedly dramatic coastline. In the far north-western corner of Jersey lie the isolated remains of the 14th century Grosnez Castle, perched 200 feet up on the cliffs. On a clear day the sea views include the other Channel Islands, Guernsey, Sark, the Paternosters, Alderney, Jethou and Herm.
Drive or take bus no 4 to the viewpoint on the B63, overlooking Bonne Nuit Bay and Giffard Bay, and walk eastwards along the coast. You’re likely to see fulmars, shags, petrels and razorbills off the coast, and songbirds in the gorse and wind-beaten branches of native trees. In May a special treat is served up, with the arrival of flocks of puffins. A little further along from Giffard Bay is the rocky outcrop of Vicard Point; from here, you can either retrace your steps or walk for a further 50 minutes to Bouley Bay and have a drink in the Black Dog bar. Despite having a high density of car use, Jersey also has a decent public transport system, and even from a pub as remote as this you can catch a bus back to St Helier.
Walking the coastline built up an appetite, and when exploring Jersey’s eating scene, I found myself becoming more forgiving of the island’s continual emphasis on old Jim Bergerac. In search of Jersey oysters, I came across the Old Courthouse Inn, a wood-panelled restaurant overlooking St Aubin’s harbour, which looked familiar – and it turned it was used as the filming location for much of the social scene in Bergerac. The oysters came stuffed with cheese and garlic, and on a pleasant evening we settled into the flower-covered sheltered courtyard.
Seafood is a speciality in Jersey, and the city centre repays a visit, particularly to the Atlantique Seafood Bar at the Fish Market, where I opted for tapas of oysters, cuttlefish, whelks and octopus. But dining in Jersey is not all about pretension: one of the most popular places to eat and watch the sun set is Big Vern’s Diner, located on La Grande Route des Mielles, St Ouen’s Bay. Jersey’s version of surf'n'turf includes Jersey plaice, stuffed with prawns, and generous servings of vegetables and salad. Save room for a banana and walnut muffin, particularly if you’ve dipped your toes in the water.
Jersey also has a good deal more history than it is perhaps given credit for. To find out more, I made for Elizabeth Castle, built on a rock that was home to Helier, a hermit who gave his name to the island’s main town and was murdered by pirates in AD555. The 16th century castle stands half a mile out to sea from St Helier but can be reached at low tide along a causeway. I walked out, waited for the tide to come in to get a sense of how Helier would have been marooned here, and then took the hover boat back to shore. On the south side, tucked away, is a delightful secluded harbour, easily missed by most visitors.
Before leaving the island, I paid a visit to the home of one of conservation’s most colourful individuals. Jersey Zoo was created by the naturalist Gerald Durrell. This is a zoo with a difference, with few cages and an emphasis on genuine captive breeding programmes and the study of endangered species. The lowland gorillas are the highlight for most. Jersey is proof of the old adage that the traveller should pack an open mind as well as a suitcase.
Flybe flies to Jersey from London Gatwick and many regional airports, including Manchester, Belfast and Bristol. [Note from editors: this route is now with Easyjet]