Jersey: Channel-hop into a different way of life
A long weekend in tranquil, cushy Jersey makes you do things you wouldn't dream of doing at home, says Julie Burchill
Saturday 30 July 2011
Jersey is so rich that it doesn't have grey squirrels, only red; even the seagulls, elsewhere dissed as "rats of the skies", look squeaky clean and prosperous here. You can imagine offering them a slice of Mother's Pride and them saying, in a Leslie Thomas voice, "I say, d'you mind terribly if I don't? You wouldn't happen to have a crust of that 20 quid thingy on you, would you – the Shepherd's Loaf? That's the one!"
Jersey's only apparent immigrant presence is from Madeira – another island which is itself a byword for flowery affluence. Jersey has a church where the stained glass windows are Lalique. The island's most famous offspring, Lillie Langtry, was a vicar's daughter who bagged a prince, bewitched Oscar Wilde and died rich and loved in Monaco; even its good-time gals don't end up badly. Oh, and to buy a property in Jersey you need to have lived there for 10 years or cough up £125,000-worth of taxes per annum. When John Nettles, who played Bergerac in the detective series that did so much to raise the profile of the island, tried to buy a house there he was at first given the bum's rush for not meeting the criteria.
You can see why he tried, though. Jersey is lush – like France without the French. The beaches, the food, the street names... all French, and then the people open their mouths and they're NOT SNEERING! A season here and you might well be craving for the rough-and-ready mainland; the locals call it "getting off the rock" and say that cabin fever sets in every few months on this island just nine miles by five. But a long weekend here is gorgeous.
We stayed at L'Horizon Hotel – cool and cosy in equal parts – slap-bang on St Brelade's Bay, recently voted the sixth-best beach in the British Isles by TripAdvisor. I do love a proper, cold lap-pool with a view of the sea, but to find one with a Cab Calloway soundtrack is something to write home to the mainland about indeed. At sundown an exceedingly elegant lady in eau-de-nil plays "Little Spanish Town" in the lounge as we nurse Martinis and await the thrills of the Michelin-starred Grill.
It's like the sepia past collided with the hi-tech present. The narrow roads are made for horses and carts, so in lots of places there are, somewhat scarily, no pavements, even though Jersey appears to have more vehicles per head than ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD! St Helier's Liberation Station looks like an international airport, but it's a bus terminal. The island of 87,700 people is divided into parishes, each with a Father of the Parish, a Parish school and a separate police force – but there's the unmistakable whiff of International White Trash in the designer air. It's like someone once said about Monaco: "A sunny place for shady people." And personally, that suits me to a T. Or rather, to an S.
Jersey, in its tranquil, cushy lushness, makes you do things you wouldn't dream of doing at home. Not in the usual sleazy what-happens-in-Riga-stays-in-Riga way. It makes you a bourgeois for a weekend, who gets a kick from doing deeply bourgie things.
Like a lot of animal-lovers I don't do zoos, finding them somewhat sad, but I happily walked around the amazing Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust for six hours (I usually don't do walking, either) where, among the many "animal ambassadors", I particularly enjoyed some apparently gay orang-utans, a flock of pink flamingos (Barbie storks!) and an otter pup called Kevin. Even more incredibly, I found myself at the marvellous Jersey Pottery centre in Gorey, happily painting a pig and a plate for hours. My companion, an art teacher by trade, produced a pink flamingo-painted vase which would have fetched a four-figure sum at an Art Nouveau auction. She said that it was the first time she had ever known me to be quiet for more than five minutes at a time, so potent was the calming effect of the activity.
AND O, THE RESTAURANTS! Everything tastes better in the sun and Jersey is the sunniest place within 50 minutes of Gatwick. You can sit outside of amazing world-class joints like Sumas in Gorey (in the shadow of the amazing Mont Orgueil Castle, which for 600 years protected Jersey against French invasion and which is totally brilliant to visit); or the Oyster Box in St Brelade's, sipping – OK, slurping – ice-cold Chablis (the French aren't all bad...) and eating fruits de mer which was quite happily minding its own business that very morning (lots of Jersey chefs dive for their own materials – so flash!), looking out over a shimmeringly clear sea. And do it perfectly happily knowing that you're not living out the tragic cliché of Britisher fancying himself living out the French good-life dream.
Our long weekend in Jersey passed in a blur of sunshine, seafood and Sancerre, but I was glad that on our last day we took Le Petit Train from St Helier's Liberation Square to St Aubin. We were looking at the beautiful, serene coastline, but we were hearing the history of the German occupation, starvation and enslavement of the Jersois. By the time of their liberation on 9 May 1945, there were no cats or dogs left in Jersey, and very few seagulls. The statue which commemorates their newfound freedom, in St Helier's Liberation Square, is shockingly beautiful and strange, almost Soviet-heroic-statuary-like, in the context of Jersey's lush loucheness.
In every dream home a heartache, the old song goes; Jersey deserves its day in the sun – even if the jammy so-and-sos DO get so much more of it than the rest of us.
Travel essentials: Jersey
* Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com) offers the widest range of services to Jersey, from most UK airports. Jersey is also served by easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com), British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com), Bmibaby (0871 224 0224; bmibaby.com), Manx2 (0871 200 0440; manx2.com), Blue Islands (08456 20 21 22; blueislands.com), Aurigny Air Services (01481 822886; aurigny.com) and Air Southwest (0870 241 8202; airsouthwest.com).
By sea, you can reach Jersey from Poole, Portsmouth and Weymouth on Condor Ferries (01202 207216; condorferries.co.uk).
* L'Horizon Hotel, St Brelade (01534 743 101; handpickedhotels.co.uk). B&B starts at £200.
* jersey.com: 01534 448800
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