Travel: Give me a break: Jersey on pounds 250

Simon Calder
Tuesday 05 May 1998 23:02

City to city: Charing Cross, Friday. You have pounds 250 to spend on a weekend break from the centre of London.

Simon Calder prescribes how to spend your time and money on the island of Jersey, where summer has already arrived

Down payment

Just within the London area, you can fly from Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton or Stansted to Jersey. The least stressful way to get to the island, though, is to walk across Hungerford footbridge from Charing Cross to Waterloo, and take the train to Southampton airport, just an hour away, for a five- day return of pounds 22.60. The lowest fare on Air UK (0990 074074) from Southampton to Jersey is pounds 68. Passports are not required for travel between Britain and the Channel Islands, but customs checks are made upon arrival in both places.

Instant briefing

You soon get the hang of Jersey (indeed, arriving on a daytime flight enables you to survey most of the small, ragged rectangle of an island). There is no tourist office at the airport, but the information desk can point you towards the No 15 bus, which runs several times an hour to the capital, St Helier. The tourist office in the capital (01534 500700) is on Liberation Square, near the harbour, and is open daily between 8.30am and 5.30pm.

Rest assured

Don't try caravanning; you're not allowed to bring one to the island. For real budget accommodation try camping (only at an official site, mind). Alternatively, the tourist office will fix you up with a roof over your head at one of the hundreds of hotels on Jersey. If you time your visit to coincide with the Good Food Festival (23-31 May), many of the hotels offer special menus.

Must see

Where to begin? St Helier's main thoroughfare, King Street, is a curious mix of country town, offshore financial centre and shopping haunt for day-tripping Bretons. From close by, a causeway leads out across the shore to the heroic remains of Elizabeth castle. Well worth the walk, but don't caught in a tidal trap - the Channel Islands get the highest tides in Europe, and the pompously titled "Chemin du Chateau" is rapidly submerged.

From your modest meanderings, you will have gathered by now that much of the topology of Jersey is made up of rifts, ramps and rocks. But somehow those gallant Victorian railway engineers pushed through a track from St Helier across to La Corbiere, the isolated "Land's End" at the climax of Jersey's fine shorelines - a kind of British Riviera. The stretch of line from St Helier to St Aubin is now an especially pretty woodland footpath.

The darker side of the island is near its centre: at the German underground hospital at St Lawrence you witness an extraordinary feat of engineering. The Nazis used slave labour to construct a toe-hold on British territory during the Second World War, and this hollowed-out hill was their most savagely successful achievement. The sad tale of occupation is traced out in an exhibition at the site (open daily from 9.30am to 5pm, pounds 4.60), which you can reach on bus 8a.

To lighten your mood, go to a graveyard. The church of St Sauveur de l'Epine, on the northern outskirts of St Helier, is perhaps the most serene place on Jersey, and pays simple tribute to the island's most celebrated daughter: Lillie Langtry, the Jersey Lily.

Must buy

The town's market, a handsome, airy structure wrought from Victorian iron, is always a flourish of flowers. Now, though, the first strawberries of the season are starting to edge their way in. Get stuck into a punnet before the demand from Wimbledon fortnight puts pressure on prices.

Smokers can stock up on cigarettes at duty-free prices.

Be sure to check your change before you check in for the flight home. Jersey issues its own notes and coins, which are hard to shift on the mainland.

Must eat

Strawberries apart, Jersey's main gastronomic attraction is seafood, and the best place to survey the range on offer is close to the water in St Helier.

Night moves

You remember Southampton? It has rather more night-life than you'll find anywhere in the Channel Islands. But optimists who are in search of a cheery, noisy pub should head for the Tipsy Toad in the hamlet of St Peter. This breezy barn of a place brews its own beer and serves it at much lower prices than you will find in Charing Cross - or Southampton for that matter.

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