48 hours in Jersey

Lying closer to France than England, Jersey is a home from home with continental flair. And it packs a host of attractions into a small area – from sandy beaches and coastal walks to a fascinating history. By Keith Richards

Jersey
WHY GO NOW?

Why go now?

Autumn in the largest of the Channel Islands is special – the crowds have gone, the weather is warm, and the sea mists lend the place a magical air. Jersey measures only five miles by nine, yet is jam-packed with variety. There are well-marked cycle-paths and walks, golden beaches, and aptly named inlets such as Devil's Hole (a gaping chasm where the sea crashes into caves), and Bonne Nuit Bay (where boats bob on calm waters). Family Fun Week over the coming week interestingly overlaps with a Real Ale Festival (25-27 October); the island's half-marathon will be held on 18 November; and the Fête dé Noué (29 November-3 December) promises late-night shopping, street entertainment, concerts, food, craft stalls and ghost walks.

Beam down

Condor Ferries has autumn offers ( condorferries.co.uk, 0845 345 2000) for foot passengers from £85, and a car with two people from £295. The ferry that goes from Portsmouth to the dock at St Helier takes around 12 hours, but catamaran services from Weymouth and Poole take four. British Airways ( www.britishairways.com, 0845 77 333 77) flies daily from Gatwick. British European (0870 567 6676, www.british-european.com) has daily flights from London City, Gatwick and other regional airports. Fares are around £100 if booked in advance and if they include a Saturday night.

Get your bearings

There are plenty of taxis at the airport, and car hire is easy and cheap – Hertz (0800 735 1014) and Avis (01534 519100) have two-day deals for around £45. Or catch one of the regular buses into St Helier – about a 15-minute journey. Jersey Tourism's ( www.jersey.com, 01534 500777) main office is in Liberation Square, St Helier; its informative website will prepare you well with maps, suggested walks, and all the usual visitor information. Culturally Jersey is ambivalent – the island is British, the language English, the road and place names French, and the food international. There are clear influences from other nationalities, notably Madeiran Portuguese migrant workers who were brought in to help tend the eponymous royal potato, and stayed.

Checkin

There are clusters of inexpensive B&Bs everywhere. Expect to pay around £20 per person per night. Two of the many that offer sea views are the Lyndhurst (01534 720317, www.jerseyhotels.com/lyndhurst) and the Bryn-Y-mor Hotel (01534 720295, www.jerseyhotels.com/brynymor), both on Route de la Haule in Beaumont Village. The Beau Couperon (01534 865522 www.jerseyhols.com/beaucouperon), in tiny Rozel Bay, is a one-off, in a converted Napoleonic fortress. Rooms with balcony and sea view cost £39 per person – but be warned that it is closed from November to April. At the top end of the scale, the Atlantic Hotel (01534 744101, www.slh.com) in St Brelade, looks across St Ouen's Bay (pronounced "wons"), with outdoor and indoor pools, and the most stunningly situated tennis court on the island. Doubles start at £175 per night; half-board deals are available from £210 per night including a rental car.

Take a ride

Catch the land train (Les Petits Trains de Jersey) from the stop opposite the Grand Hotel in St Helier. The 30-minute ride along the broad sweep of St Aubin bay (£5 return) ends at St Aubin village. The English/French commentary describes local history, and some royal intrigue involving local lass Lillie Langtry. When you get to St Aubin itself, stroll towards the harbour, turn right at the NatWest Bank where the road curves back inland, to find the pick-up and drop-off point for Jersey Cycletours (01534 482 898) (8.30am to 10.30am daily). Daily hire is £10 (pay £15 and they'll deliver the bike to you anywhere on the island). A cycle path forks off from the road and follows the ghostly line of the island's disused railway. Follow this to the Corbière lighthouse four miles on – if the tide is low, you can walk across.

Take a hike

There are plenty of country, coastal and town walks, many of them enlivened by pubs selling locally brewed Theakston's, Director's, and beer from Jersey's Randall's brewery. Walking on the rugged north coast requires time and stamina. The stretch from Bonne Nuit Bay to Bouley Bay (bus number 4 connects both to St Helier) is the best bit, and, if you've time, carry on down into Rozel Bay and take bus number 3 back to town. Explore the west from Corbière Point – head off around L'Oeillere headland north towards La Pulente. The Pulente Inn serves good local beers and seafood. Views of the island's longest bay, St Ouen's, give a sense of the proportions of the island. The windswept dunes give the place a desolate feeling. Continue along the broad expanse of this surfing paradise following La Grande Route des Mielles towards the ruins of Grosnez Castle. Turn back when you're ready. Or take a detour up to the Val de la Mare reservoir.

Lunch on the run

The Rozel Bay Inn (01534 863438) serves plates of bangers and mash, bowls of steaming moules, and fresh battered cod (around £8) in a quiet harbour setting. The Frère de Mer (01534 861000, closed Monday) at the top of Rozel Hill has views across to France, and specialises in grilled local lobsters, crabs and fish.

Window shopping

St Helier's main shopping area is King Street and the surrounding pedestrianised roads. There is no VAT on purchases, but goods aren't necessarily cheaper than on the mainland. Wander around the old Victorian market in Halkett Place with its cast-iron roof and central fountain. There's a continental atmosphere, with stalls laden with flowers, meat, fruit and vegetables. The nearby fish market (Beresford Street) completes the assault on the senses; it operates Monday-Saturday, 7.30am-5.30pm. Even if boats aren't your thing, try browsing in some of the ubiquitous suppliers of chandlery and clothing to the sailing fraternity. Battricks is situated by the harbour in St Aubin, and Sheep's Clothing (24 Queen St, St Helier) sells genuine Guernsey and Jersey woollens, and other fabulous knitwear.

Aperitif

This is an island of cosy bars rather than trendy hangouts. Worth a pre-dinner stop are the Fisherman's Bar in the Dolphin Hotel on Gorey Pier, or, at the other end of the island in St Aubin, the touristy but atmospheric bars of the Old Court House Inn (01534 746433).

Dining with the locals

The small village of Gorey (16) conceals some great places to eat. Try the Village Bistro (01534 853429 – closed Monday), or the more expensive and buzzing Suma's (01534 853 291) tucked into Gorey Hill and overlooking Mont Orgueil Castle and the harbour. Zanzibar, (01534 741081) on St Brelade's Bay (17) is a funky place with leopardskin upholstery and a good range of fish and meat dishes (closed Sundays).

Sunday morning: go to church

St Matthew's Church at Millbrook, is open to visitors Monday to Friday and Sunday afternoon (closed Saturday). A Sunday morning service is held at 11am. Known as the "Glass Church", this is a must-see: its interior is stuffed with Lalique glass, a beautiful gift to the island from a wealthy local resident.

A walk in the park

The island is one large park where roads play the part of paths – more than 40 miles of road have been designated "Green Lanes", which have a 15mph limit. Walkers and cyclists take priority over cars. But the best green space is Jersey Zoo, up in Trinity. Gerald Durrell's Wildlife Preservation Trust houses rare and endangered animals in a relatively natural setting. This is serious conservation in action. Buses 3a, 3b, 8b and 23 all stop outside.

Bracing brunch

The Gunsight Café (01534 735806) on the seafront at the bottom of Beaumont Hill, opens at 8am every day except Wednesdays during winter. It serves full English breakfast, and almost anything else you might want – a good place to linger over the papers and a mug of steaming tea. L'Horizon Hotel (01534 743101), on the sea wall at St Brelade's Bay, is a long-established provider of a classic buffet brunch.

Write a postcard

Apart from the usual picture-postcard views of sand and seagulls, seek out the historic views of Jersey, some from the German occupation, or the planes landing at the airport in the 1920s – back then the runway was the beach. A peaceful green space for creative scribbling can be found through the tunnel to the east of St Helier. Here Howard Davis Park has a bandstand, a Second World War cemetery, and a bench by the sea is only a short walk down Beach Road.

Cultural afternoon

Don't miss the Jersey Museum (Caledonia Place, St Helier, next to the bus station) – with award-winning audio-visual displays, it charts the island's fascinating history. The museum is also HQ for the Jersey Heritage Trust (01534 633300, www.jerseyheritagetrust.org), which can offer plenty of other ideas. Crawl through the stone tunnel into the burial chamber of La Hougue Bie (01534 853823) pronounced "Hoog Bee" – a 6,000-year-old Neolithic burial mound in a secluded woodland setting at Grouville, with a medieval chapel built on top (open daily 2 April-5 November, 10am-5pm).

The icing on the cake

Originally built as an impregnable artillery store and barracks for the occupying army, the German Underground Hospital is in Meadowbank, St Lawrence (bus 8a from St Helier). Hewn from the solid rock by Russian slave labourers, this network of tunnels was converted to a casualty clearing station in 1944. Now a museum, it is a fascinating and sobering place, with thought-provoking presentations of the island's occupation during the Second World War. Or visit Liberation Square in St Helier, with its stunning and inspiring "liberation monument". This bronze statue of flag-waving islanders conveys the sense of what it must have been like to be liberated after the German occupation.

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