Introducing Jersey

Anna Hyman had been away for too long. The years had gone by so quickly and her last visit must have been at least 12 years earlier. It was definitely time to return to Jersey.

And so it was one mild early autumn afternoon in 2023 that she and a friend, who had never been to Jersey, touched down on the island just 50 minutes after their flight’s departure from Southampton airport.

Old landmarks had vanished

Jersey airport had certainly changed, it must be double or treble the size of the one I had known all those years earlier. And through the windows of the taxi taking us to our hotel I realised it was more than just the airport that had changed. Old landmarks had vanished or at least were obscured by new builds.

Friend Rob had been longing to visit Jersey for ages and also to have a glimpse of the sea, so we had chosen a sea front hotel on the edge of St Helier so we could have the best of both worlds, convenient for the Island’s capital and its buses, but also with sea views.

Jersey Museum and Art Gallery

But where to start! I am something of a creature of habit and always my first port of call when visiting St Helier has been to call into the Jersey Museum and Art Gallery – followed, if possible, by at least a coffee under the vines, but preferably with a celebratory glass of wine or even lunch. So, armed with the very useful Jersey Heritage Passes, which gave us admission to the museum, early on our first morning we set off to explore and introduce Rob to some of the story that is Jersey.

The portrait of the Edwardian beauty Lillie Langtry painted by Millais was still there, as was the restored Victorian House built early 19th century once the family home of a local Doctor before he and his family fled to France to escape creditors. We also took time to check out the museum’s Geopark Visitor Centre (explaining the geology of the island) and also watch the 20-minute film about the island’s history.

An introductory bus tour

As it was Rob’s first visit to the island, and we had limited time, it seemed to be a good idea to take one of the organised bus tours to give us our bearings. We were glad that we did. We opted for a four-and-a-half-hour tour covering both the east and west of the island (including a lunch stop).

We had heard that the Channel Islands, whilst not part of the UK, are Crown Dependencies and have been since 1066  (they were once owned by the Duchy of Normandy) and that Jersey has its own independent administration/parliament. The islands lie much closer to France than they do to England and it is still possible to hear people speaking in the Norman-French patois

Island highlights and crab salad for lunch

Terry, our excellent, entertaining and knowledgeable driver/guide pointed out to us as many of the island’s highlights as he could fit in. Highlights of  the tour included St Brelade with its glorious wide sandy beach and where we stopped for large and fresh crab salads for lunch at St Brelade’s Midbay Café. Next door I spotted the Midbay Stores with its windows crammed with enticing buckets, spades and fishing nets. They might have been for little people, but I wanted one.

Unfortunately there was no time for a glimpse of the tiny Fisherman’s Chapel with its ancient murals;  but there was time on the tour to stop briefly at Trinity on the island’s stunning north coast; St Martin dominated by brooding Mont Orgueil castle (worthy of a visit in its own right); and St Ouen’s Bay with its miles of sandy beach and lovely clear water.

Along the roadside and in the gardens beautiful soft pink Jersey Lilies (Amaryllis Belladonna) were coming into bloom.

A lesson in buying tickets and finding the bus

Next day we set out to explore on our own. Top of our must-see list was the Jersey War Tunnels. Jersey, along with the other Channel Islands, was the only British territory to be occupied by Germany during WW2.

But first the need to master how to buy bus tickets and how to access the buses. Ticket buying thanks to the lovely staff who took us through the ticketing system was swiftly dealt with. But where

we wanted to know, did we catch the bus. “Through the doors at the back” said our lovely ticket lady. “The times and destinations of the buses will come up on the overhead screen – go and stand under the relevant Stand sign”.

Dutifully we did, and almost to the minute the corresponding Stand door on the back wall of the building swung open revealing our No 8   bus to take us to the War Tunnels.

The War Tunnels

The bomb proof war tunnels were built by forced labour prisoners of war to protect the German garrison on the island. Over 560 prisoners died during the process of hewing out some 16 tunnels from the rock.  Work on the tunnels stopped in 1943, after which the tunnels were converted into an underground hospital for the wounded. 

As it happened the allied landings never took place. Germany surrendered in 1945 and a year later the tunnels were opened for sightseers.

In those early days and until comparatively recently the long tunnels were dark, rather cheerless, horrid places. But today with the help of well-displayed archive material telling the story of the Nazi occupation and how the islanders coped, the tunnels are slightly less harrowing.

And a Jersey Wonder

Also on site is a Garden of Reflection and a War Trail along with a new updated tea room, toilets and shop. And it was in the tea room that I discovered my first Jersey Wonder. Jersey Wonders have been in existence for ages but I had never before been in the right place to actually sample one.

I seized the moment! Each family seems to have its own recipe but basically it is a dough made from butter, sugar, flour and eggs, which is then cut, twisted into shape and cooked in hot oil. Not exactly exciting to look at, but I really liked mine and would definitely indulge again.

Black Butter

Another island speciality, apart from its wonderful oysters and delicious Jersey Royal potatoes, is Black Butter. In spite of its name, it’s actually a preserve made from peeled apples, cider, liquorice, lemon, sugar and spices and stirred over a low heat for almost two days until it is reduced to a sort of jam like consistency.

It’s cooked in an enormous, heavy based pan and stirred continuously with a special, long -handled wooden paddle. It’s delicious spread on bread or served with cheese, cold meats, etc.

So much to see and do

If there is a problem with Jersey it is that there is just too much to see and do, especially on a short visit like ours. We had to be selective – and we both agreed that two other must-sees had to be La Mare Wine Estate and the Jersey Zoo.

The Jersey Zoo

Both of us had been admirers of the late Gerald Durrel, the naturalist, conservationist and founder of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Jersey Zoo.

I am not a frog lover but even I was enchanted by the stunning sapphire blue of the dart frogs perched on rocks in their tank. But it was the gloriously landscaped outdoor enclosures that really captivated us.

In one, cute little meercats sat bolt upright keeping their eyes open for danger, whilst in another the petit, handsome, and aptly named golden-headed lion tamarins sat in their trees keeping an eye on us.

The playful orangutans kept us amused for ages as they swung effortlessly along on ropes and branches, in contrast to the slow-moving ponderous gorillas – who actually could move quite quickly when a keeper threw something interesting, like food, to them. And who could not fail to fall in love with the large flock of graceful, elegant salmon pink flamingos wading in and out of their pond and stream.

Jersey’s own vineyard

Jersey has its own vineyard – La Mare Wine Estate. I had been before and it had been interesting way back when, but its even better now offering even more interesting tours along with a very informative tasting session – there is also an excellent café and shop.  We seriously rated our lunch of Ham Hock and Black Butter Terrine slices with salad.

You can do your own self-guided tour around the Estate. However, we opted for the full guided experience and tasting, and very good it was too.  La Mare is a fascinating place currently owned by Jane and Trevor Owen who purchased it in 1997. Parts of it like the charming old farmhouse date back to at least 1797 and today the estate, run and managed by an obviously dedicated and talented team, covers at least 25 acres.

New vines are being planted, and the growing selection of wine on sale in the attractive shop also includes  a range of spirits, liqueurs and other goodies. The Black Butter on sale is made from the Estate’s cider apples by the way, and the chocolates are made on site by a professional chocolatier from top quality cocoa beans. Part of the revenue from the chocolate sales goes back to the cocoa farmers who grow and tend the plants.

In the evening, after dinner in the very good restaurant of our hotel,  we would take a stroll along the promenade – past the Elizabeth Marina where some very expensive looking craft bobbed up and down on the moorings. We paused every now and again to see if we could spot the ferry coming into port whilst watching some glorious sunsets as the sun dipped behind the headland.

A change of plan!

Our last morning involved a Jersey experience that I had never experienced before – the weather had changed overnight and a thick fog enveloped the island. We feared the worst. We got to know Jersey airport pretty well whilst we waited for the fog to clear and planes were able to take off again.

More information

Radison Blu Waterfront Hotel

We stayed at the very comfortable and welcoming four star Radison Blu Waterfront hotel overlooking the marina and fairly close to the centre of St Helier. Because of a mobility problem we chose to eat in the hotel in the evenings rather than walk into St Helier. Dinner was excellent with plenty of choice and good service, and we gave the breakfast buffet with its plentiful options top marks.
Tel: +44 1534 671 100.