TRAVEL: Ooh la la – a touch of the Med in the English Channel

Portelet Bay, St Brlade, Jersey.
Portelet Bay, St Brlade, Jersey.
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Annie Lewis reports on the Mediterranean paradise that got lost off northern France, along with all of its culture and cuisine. 

Situated 109 nautical miles from white English cliffs and filled with luscious green botanicals, white-roofed mansions and set in a Mediterranean microclimate, you’d be forgiven for thinking the island of Jersey belonged in a mainland European paradise, not the English Channel. 

St Helier Marina, Jersey

St Helier Marina, Jersey

On the doorstep of France, Jersey has a relaxed Gallic lifestyle where the language is predominantly English, creating a perfect hybrid of culture, food and scenery. For an island which is only nine miles wide and five long, it has an impressive array of stunning beaches and bays, hundreds of restaurants, miles of country lanes and plenty of history – perfect for everyone.

You arrive in style when travelling on the Condor Liberation. While the fast-ferry made a speedy beeline for the Channel Islands,we lapped up delicious food from its Casquets Bistro and goodies from the  fragrant duty free shop while enjoying panoramic views from our own airline-style  designated seats.

On the approach to Guernsey, the top deck was the perfect spot from which to cast a glance over to St Peter Port, before embarking on the last leg of the journey to Jersey’s capital, St Helier.

After a five-hour journey, Jersey’s cosmopolitan main hub  provided the perfect opportunity for retail therapy, a well-deserved drink and chance to explore the old town. Armed with every high street shop you could think of, the town’s architecture and appearance matches any Medi terranean hotspot. Therefore, it came as no surprise to learn that St Helier was twinned with the Madeira capital of Funchal in 2012.

Lavender Farm, St Brlade.

Lavender Farm, St Brlade.

Roughly 15 minutes from the port was our base for the weekend, Hotel Cristina. Situated on a hill in St Aubin, the bar terrace and our balcony room overlooked the gardens and bay for spectacular views of the southern part of the island.

Sitting on the terrace, tucking into a cream tea and watching black horses gallop across the sandy shore of St Aubin’s Bay, it was hard to believe I wasn’t in the south of France. The staff at Hotel Cristina were as warm and good-humoured as everyone else we met, especially when seagulls were diving for our scones. There are some aspects of English life that can’t be escaped.

While exploring, it became clear that the Second World War still leaves a massive footprint on the island. The Jersey War Tunnels provided an accurate account of what life was like during the German occupation of the island from 1940-45.

The temperature drops instantly as you walk into the underground time tunnel and you’re accompanied by period big band music and the sounds of explosions to immerse yourself in the experience. It’s incredible to learn through interactive displays and holographic characters that despite Jersey being completely defenceless after the British abandonment, life on the island sailed smoothly until the collapse of the Nazi regime in 1945. For an island which Churchill stated had ‘no strategic importance’, it holds a complicated story clearly told through the remainder of the tunnels and underground hospital.

Jersey is famous for its lavender, and rightly so. The Lavender Farm in St Brélade is the home to four flowering lavender fields.The site is equipped with a quaint café and a distillery where lavender is transformed into oils, soaps and perfumes which are sold around the island. The farm is strongly fragranced with the sweet smell of rosemary and lavender, so it’s tricky to leave without smelling like these plants.

Portelet Bay, in St Brélade, seemed like a hidden escape on the south-western part of the island. With golden sand and clear waters, it’s kept away from the bustle of the busier beaches in St Aubin. After the downhill walk to the shore and therefore the steep climb back to the cliff top, Portelet Inn is a country cottage-turned-pub with an extensive menu and great selection of iced drinks.

Jersey spoils you for choice when it comes to restaurants, bars and cafes. This small island caters for every cuisine, but I repeatedly found myself at classic crêperies. St Malo’s Crêperie in St Helier offered every crêpe combination you could think of and more. Their witty French staff, quick service and outdoor suntrap proved popular with the local ‘Jersey beans’ so I knew I had done something right.

My three-day stay on the island was short but definitely sweet.

The easy, comfortable journey via Condor Ferries, the relaxing stay at Hotel Cristina and the island itself created a perfect package for a relaxing weekend break. Whatever type of holiday person you are and however old you are, Jersey offers something for all the family.

TRAVEL FACTS:

Pack your car with all you need to enjoy your break to the full  –  bikes, camping gear, surfboards and golf clubs, and set sail for this beautiful island. All you have to do is drive onboard your Condor Ferry, sit back and relax. Enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner in one of the spacious passenger lounges. £52pp for a car, two adults and two children, one way from Poole.