100 miles from the coast of Britain, and just 14 off the coast of France, is Jersey, the largest of The Channel Islands. A Crown Dependency of the U.K., self-governing Jersey is a little slice of Britain, with a Gallic twist. With an area of just nine miles by five miles, Jersey packs in more history, scenery and character than destinations one hundred times its size. History looms large at every turn, from Neolithic architecture that predates the pyramids, to centuries of coastal defenses, which look as though they were abandoned only yesterday.
Jersey’s coastline is epic too, swept clean by some of the most extreme tides on the planet. Twice each day the waters rush out to sea, exposing miles of golden beaches and rock pools which stretch off into the horizon. Jersey’s capital, St Helier, embodies all the things that make Jersey so special, the history, the incredibly tasty produce, the tax free shopping, and the picture-perfect scenery. History’s footsteps echo throughout these streets. From the hobnailed boots of the Jersey Militiamen and English Soldiers who repelled French Raiders in the Battle of Jersey, to the jackboots of the 25,000 German soldiers who occupied the Island from 1940 until its liberation in 1945.
Coming to grips with Jersey’s incredible tangle of historical threads can be daunting, so be sure to spend an hour or two at the Jersey Museum before you head off to explore the island. If you like your history served up with salt, wander down to New North Quay to the Maritime Museum, and learn about the waves, vessels, mariners and legends that shaped this island. Right next door at the Occupation Tapestry Gallery, locals have woven their memories of World War Two into an innovative diorama, created to celebrate the island’s 50th year of liberation.
Between history lessons, you’ll find plenty of places to relax, dine and shop. If you like your shopping upmarket, take a walk up King Street. Or if you prefer things the old way, The Central Market serves up produce that has helped make Jersey a byword for quality and flavour. After you’ve explored the town, sit back and watch the tide roll out, then walk across St. Aubin’s Bay to Elizabeth Castle. And should the tide roll back in while you’ve been wandering the battlements and smelling the gunpowder, you can always ride Charming Betty back to shore. Jersey is compact, making it easy to explore. Country lanes and walking trails lace the island, ensuring Jersey’s views, attractions and surprises are never far away. Hop on a bus, rent a car, or walk the endless ribbons of coastal tracks which string together tiny fishing villages, bays and beaches.
Just to the east of St Helier is the parish of Grouville, home to one of the world’s ten oldest buildings, the 6,000 year-old La Hougue Bie. As is the case all over this island, history is layered upon layer here. During the 12th and 16th centuries, medieval chapels were built on top of this burial site. While on a nearby mound, a German bunker now houses a modern museum commemorating the thousands of forced laborers brought to the island to build German defenses. At the adjoining geology and archaeology museum, learn about Jersey’s Neolithic, Celtic and Roman times, as well as the hoards of gold coins and ancient treasure that has been unearthed from the island’s soil.
Take a ten-minute drive eastward through the quiet country lanes to Gorey, one of the island’s three main harbours. Casting its protective, medieval shadow over Gorey is Mont Orgueil. Built in the early 13th century, the castle served as a Britain’s first line of defense during its periodic wars with France until it was superseded by Elizabeth Castle in the late 1600s. Lose yourself in the twisting corridors, staircases and tunnels which lead to artworks like The Dance of Death and the Tree of Succession. Each of Jersey’s four coastlines has its own distinctive personality. Be sure to take in a few sections of the North Coast Path, which offers some of the island’s most dramatic views as it winds past coastal ruins and cliff tops blanketed with wildflowers. The path dips down to old smugglers coves like Bouley Bay, a beach now popular with scuba divers, and rises to windswept headlands like Sorel Point.
If you’re travelling with young’uns, sheltered Gréve de Lecq is the perfect beach to relax as lobstermen and crabbers come and go. And when the tide’s out, make your way down to the secluded sands of Plemont Beach and explore the rock pools and hidden caves. The atmospheric ruins of Grosnez Castle mark the end of the Northern coast, and from here the scenery changes again. Head south along the west coast, where craggy hills and patchworks of fields drop away to the warm sands of St. Ouen’s Bay and some of Europe’s best surfing. St. Ouen’s is home to an enormous sea wall that formed part of Hitler’s 2000-mile-long Atlantic Wall defense system.
Here you’ll find the Channel Islands Military Museum, a bunker complex crammed with military and civilian artifacts which tell the story of the island’s long five year occupation, and the struggles of 41,000 islanders who were left by Britain to fend for themselves. Back on the southern coast, the sheltered sands of St Brelade is a favourite with sandcastle-building families. It’s also the home of St Brelade’s Church, a medieval chapel whose foundations were first put down over a mile away. Legend has it that the work so upset local fairies, they moved the stones each night down to the shoreline until the workmen finally got the message. Just next door, take in the views from the old German command bunker at Noirmont Point, before taking the stairs down to Portelet Beach and the tiny islet of Janvrin’s Tomb.
On your way back to St Helier, stop in at St Aubin. Relax along the Bulwarks with an ice cream. And when the tide leaves the boats high and dry, wander across the harbour to St Aubin’s Fort. While the coastline serves up Jersey’s finest views, the island’s interior offers plenty for visitors too. Deep beneath the woods of St Lawrence, step again into the island’s wartime past at the Jersey War Tunnels, one of the many German underground complexes which honeycomb the island. Once a treatment centre, today this half-mile stretch of tunnels houses an incredible collection of wartime relics. Just up the road, return to a far gentler time, at the Hamptonne Country Life Museum. The past comes roaring back to life too, at the Pallot Steam and Motor Museum, which lovingly preserves the island’s mechanical heritage. While just a ten minute drive away is the Jersey Zoo, which has been helping save species from the brink of extinction for over 50 years. If you’re looking for history, adventure, incredible food, and total relaxation, Jersey weaves it all together into something truly magical.
It’s not quite British and it’s not quite French, but Jersey is 100% unique. .
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