Jersey has it all , stunning ocean views, sunny weather and some major tourist attractions. If it’s not on your list it should be!
A few years ago a friend wanted to go on an impromptu holiday, we had a limited budget and she suggested we go to Jersey. I’d never been, didn’t know much about it and had no opinion either way. I’d been to Guernsey as a child, which
St Matthew’s Glass Church featuring glass work by Rene Lalique
was small but warm and pleasant, although there wasn’t a huge amount to do. I suppose I was expecting much the same from Jersey. * I just want to add a wee edit to this, to say that my thoughts about Guernsey are based on my memories of a family holiday when I was about 8 years old; so I’m probably wrong about this. I’m sure there’s actually a fair bit to do here, it’s just my family weren’t exactly active travellers. We spent a large amount of time on a lovely beach and that was all, but this should probably reflect on us and not on Guernsey!
Anyway, I couldn’t have been more wrong about Jersey! It was definitely mild, and very pleasant, but this is one of the most surprising places I’ve visited. It’s full of hidden gems, including historical places of interest due to the Island’s involvement in WWII which shamefully I knew nothing about until this visit. I didn’t even know it was occupied by the Germans for a significant amount of time. It may be because my expectations were so low, but this has got to be one of the best and most family friendly destinations you can visit in the general area of the south of the UK or France – it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere after all. It’ll be more family friendly if you visit in tourist season which I suspect runs from around April to September as this means all the tourist season bus routes will be up and running and you’ll probably experience some nice weather. Check out http://www.jersey.com or http://www.jerseytravel.com for loads of info on what to do.
The Gerald Durrell Conservation Park
I did my usual bit of research before we left and had a pre-prepared list of things we could do, I’d discovered that the Gerald Durrell animal conservation park is on Jersey – it seems unfair to call it a zoo as it is way way more ethical and animal centred than any zoo I’ve visited before. I’m not a fan of zoos in general as their main focus is on profits and not the welfare of the animals – I don’t visit them anymore unless they’re rescue centres catering for animals who are unable to live in the wild or if they do some seriously special conservation work like the Durrell Foundation do. The Durrell Park is completely set up to conserve and breed endangered animals; they have one of the most successful breeding programs around and grow all their food for the animals on organic farms. The animals are not forced in any way to cater to visitors and the only time you are guaranteed to see anything is around feeding time, other than that all the enclosures are designed for the comfort and happiness of the animals, not the happiness of the visitors. They have meerkats, orang-utans and silverback gorillas to name a few, but none of the more controversial animals like elephants, which are well known to be extremely unhappy and have short lifespans in zoos as they need huge areas for roaming and constant company of other elephants in order to survive. This place is a must see for anyone who visits Jersey and/or champions animal welfare. They also run a lot of research programs aimed at gaining an insight into the issues facing endangered species and how we as humans can help them. If you are studying in this area you can even apply for an internship and help with the research program. Check out http://www.durrell.org for more info.
The next place on my list was a lavender farm – neither me or my friend were that fussed if I’m honest, it was probably the
The Lavender Farm
least exciting place to visit (or so we thought), but we had the time and it was on a bus route, as is everything – one of the nice things about Jersey is that in a week you can do all the tourist attractions without charging round and feeling stressed, whilst also enjoying the beauty of the Island. Anyway, the Lavender Farm was the most surprising place we went to. It was absolutely stunning, smelt amazing (as you’d imagine), and had a really peaceful atmosphere. We both loved it and actually thought it was the best thing we did by far – possibly because we were so pleasantly surprised by it. There’s more info to be found at http://www.jerseylavender.co.uk they also have a fabulous shop selling all the locally produced items. On the lavender farm hidden away is also a delightful gem called Reg’s Fairy Garden. Run by Reg (of course) who we met, a lovely older man who takes care of birds and animals and created a cute fairy garden for kids and adults to
Reg’s Fairy Garden
enjoy. It’s not a playground but a place to enjoy some tranquillity and enjoy looking at the pond and waterfall. Reg also does charity work – have a read about what he does here: http://www.reg-fairygarden.co.uk
The major attraction on the Island has got to be the Jersey War Tunnels, these are really impressive and are cut into the mountain. They were built by European slave labour and remain the largest permanent reminder of the 5 year German occupation. It’s full of artefacts, information and personal stories, I found it completely fascinating and the setting just makes it feel so authentic. I love historical settings that just immerse you in the stories simply with the environment they’re in. The space was used as a war hospital originally. One of the really special moments for me on this trip was seeing a little rowing boat that was the vessel the only successful escape to the UK was made in. A young guy rowed all the way from Jersey to the south coast of England in it – many tried and failed and died but he was successful. We were exceptionally lucky enough to meet the young man’s granddaughter in our hotel, she’d come to see the boat and I was just blown away by this meeting!
The entrance to the Jersey War Tunnels – literally cut into the mountain
There’s plenty of other historical things around the Island all related to their experiences during the 2nd World War. It really makes you think coming here, because they were so close to us geographically but had such a drastically different perspective of the war. A very humbling experience!
We also paid a visit to one of the Island’s 2 castles – Mont Orgueil Castle. It was very higgledy piggledy with loads to explore and discover – perfect for adventurous kids and adults. It’s right up on a hill so you get some amazing views of the ocean too. There’s a really beautiful bus ride to get there too. If you really like castles or have more time then you can go to Elizabeth Castle as well.
Another surprising little place we went to was the specialised Eric Young Orchid Foundation – it was a bit of a trek, requiring 2 different bus journeys and a walk but worth it in my opinion. They have one of the largest and finest orchid collections in the world – you’ll see some incredible flowers here. Even if flowers aren’t really your thing I think this place is worth a look. The collection has won tons of awards and is recognised worldwide as one of the best in existence. My absolute favourite one was an orchid that looks like a wee monkey’s face, but you’ll find ones that look like ballerinas amongst other things as well. Check out http://www.ericyoungorchidfoundation.co.uk for all the information.
I’ll be honest as I can’t really remember any major foodie places of interest but I was with someone who wasn’t that fussed about where we ate or drank – however there was a nice coffee shop called The Curiosity Coffee Shop in St Helier. They’re open 7am-7pm and you’ll find it on 14 Sand Street. Check out http://www.facebook.com/CuriosityCoffeShop for more info.There are also some fabulous and unique jewellery shops on Jersey – locally sourced pearls are a big thing. Also you’ll find the Catherine Best jewellery shop in a windmill in St Peter – extremely expensive but worth a look just for the artistry. Another fabulous hidden delight is Saint Matthew’s Glass Church featuring some awe inspiring glass work by Rene Lalique – the entire interior is basically all glass fully designed by the artist himself. It’s on a bus route so easy to get to. Have a look here for all the info you need: http://www.historyhouse.co.uk/articles/glass_church.html
If you haven’t heard of him, then Lalique is more famous for his jewellery and ornamental creations so this church is a real treat for art lovers.
Jersey is just one surprise after another with unique and quirky things dotted all around the Island – you’ll find what is apparently the largest shell garden in the world here, take a look if you have time as it’s really cute and someone has put an awful lot of effort into building it. There’s information here if you want to read more http://www.jersey.co.uk/attractions/shellgarden/
As you’ve probably gathered Jersey is filled to the brim with things to do, and it’s all extremely family friendly. It of course has lots of beaches and my friend and I hired bikes and rode around the town a lot. Be warned though, if you want to bike the whole Island it’s pretty hilly – so make sure your thigh muscles can cope!
Mont Orgueil Castle
Mine definitely couldn’t although I could probably do it now as I’m much fitter than I used to be and spend a lot of time in the gym biking. The only thing I’d do differently is that we stayed in a hotel that was about a 15 minute drive from town.
Next time I’d stay somewhere more central like St Helier – this is where the action is at, and late at night when we’d been out for a meal and a drink there were no buses back so we ended up spending unnecessary money on cabs. The Island is popular with retirees so the hotels are generally clean and quiet but also family friendly – it’s not exactly a stag party destination! France is also a daytrip away so if you have the unlikely event that you run out of things to do on Jersey you can always nip across and pay the French a visit. In summer you’re more likely to get some nicer weather here than most UK destinations too.
A beautiful miniature shell chapel
Jersey has definitely been my biggest surprise so far and I can’t recommend it enough; not just for families though but for anyone who fancies a relaxing break away with lots to see and do.
The largest shell garden in the world