The Cream of the Channel Islands

The Cream of the Channel Islands

Melanie Tomlinson explores the lovely island of Jersey as a guest of Travel Solutions

If you love to travel but hate the faff, there are few destinations to match Jersey.  Easy and fast to get to … manageable size to explore … no language barrier … great climate … an island famous for its wonderful cuisine, plus an ambience that, largely due to the island’s location in the Bay of St Malo, has more than a hint of the ‘français’ about it.

I’ve been recommending Jersey for years to people who are looking for hassle-free holidays, but it actually took a familiarisation trip with Channel Island experts, Travel Solutions, to open my own eyes to the holiday potential of this totally charming island.  Easy, accessible, temperate and English-speaking it may be, but that doesn’t mean bland!

Jersey is the biggest of the Channel Islands, but it is still just 5 miles long and 9 miles wide – small but, as they say ‘perfectly formed’!  It enjoys the warmest summers and the mildest winters in the British Isles and its gorgeous coastline has some stunning (and super-clean) beaches as well as delightful coves.  Its strategic position between England and France mean that the island has had a turbulent history and, if exploring castles and forts is your thing, you won’t go short here!

Modern history awaits the curious visitor, too, and I would heartily recommend a visit to the Jersey War Tunnels, the vast network of underground tunnels built by more than 5,000 slave labourers during the Nazi occupation of the island.  Initially designed to allow the German occupying infantry to withstand Allied air raids and bombardment in the event of an invasion, in 1943, the tunnel network was converted into an emergency hospital. This is a fabulous visitor resource, revealing stories of hardship, privation and courage and giving a memorable insight into the character of Jersey’s redoubtable island community. Liberation Day is celebrated every May 9th, making this a great time to visit Jersey.

In early August each year visitors also flock to the island for the famous Battle of the Flowers which just has to be one of the most spectacular carnivals in Europe!  Flower covered floats, musicians, dancers and entertainers create an amazing atmosphere and remind us that flower growing is actually a major industry here.  It’s all a bit mad: Chelsea Garden Show meets Mardi Gras … one not to miss, if you can arrange your holiday timing to suit. There is also a wonderful Christmas Festival so do consider Jersey for an off-beat winter break … or perhaps you’re come for the Film Festival or the Live Music Festival – there’s always something special happening.

They (mercifully) drive on the same side of the road as we do, so hiring a car is easy-peasy and, to my mind, well worth doing so that you explore the real Jersey beyond the main resorts and the capital, St Helier. There are 350 miles of road here and the top speed limit is 40mph, so perhaps this is the moment to think about cycling.

Jersey has fabulous local produce, from Jersey Cream Teas and ice cream to Jersey Royal potatoes, great local cider (yes, there’s a Cider Festival too!) and amazing seafood.  Cafes and restaurants about and the island offers superb, high-end fine dining, reflecting the fact that this is still a tax haven, with a wealthy clientele.  Not surprisingly, there is also fab shopping and those who love their retail therapy will be interested to learn that Jersey has no VAT, just a Goods and Services Tax (GST) which currently stands around 3%. Just sayin’.

So where to stay? I checked out range of hotels with Travel Solutions and would be confident in saying that there really is something for everyone, plus the company often has really good package deals on offer, direct from Belfast with flight time of just 1 hour and 20 minutes.The 4 star Pomme D’Or Hotel overlooking St Helier’s Liberation Square and yacht marina, is perfectly situated and just a short stroll away from the capital’s many attractions. Its Victor Huge Suite offers ultimate luxury with service to match, but I was also impressed at its great family rooms.  Great catering here, too, with the emphasis on local, seasonal produce and frankly inspired menus.  Breakfasts are super-hearty and the hotel’s Friday Night Seafood Buffet is (justifiably!) something of a local legend.The Merton Hotel at St Saviour is actually a full-on resort, perfect for energetic young families, but ideal for a couples retreat too … it has the space and the facilities to suit all comers!  Self-catering options invite guests to enjoy the freedom and privacy of an apartment with all the convenience of a hotel, while the hotel itself has a good range of modern, comfortable and well-equipped rooms to suit couples, friends and families. It’s the facilities which give The Merton its standout appeal, with Aquadome and FlowRider, Fitness Centre, Sports Facilities and even its own live entertainment Centre, the Star Room.  The resort’s eateries are just as varied and exciting, from classic Italian to great American classics at Jersey Joe’s!

Close to the beach, shops, bars and restaurants of St Helier, The Mayfair Hotel has a wide range of services, facilities and entertainment, including Health Club, Games Room and a Kids’ Club.  Its traditionally-presented junior suites and bedrooms offer rather more in style and substance that its 3 stars might suggest and service is warm and friendly.  Nice, vibrant, lounge bar with regular entertainment and a cheerful, airy, cafe, indoor pool and pleasant rooftop terrace all ensure that this is a hotel which really pulls in the repeat bookings – always a good sign!

The family-owned and run 2 star Norfolk Hotel is a super budget option; clean and comfortable and offering its guests a good (and heated!) outdoor pool and a pool room.  Just minutes’ walk from St. Helier’s town centre, Havre des Pas beach and the beautiful Howard Davis Park, the hotel is an excellent choice for families on a budget, with everything you’d expect from a well-run hotel plus a few extra touches and a genuinely friendly atmosphere.

Call me to find out more about short breaks and holidays in Jersey.