The idea of a seaside vacation in the British Isles might be met with scepticism in some quarters but Jersey, Channel Islands changes the narrative with world class gastronomy, hospitality and interesting heritage attractions. Our House of Coco Team of Eulanda and Omo Osagiede visited Jersey to experience this.
The rain hitting the windows, as our aircraft lifted off from London Gatwick, was a stern reminder of Autumn. Unsurprisingly, the weather followed us across the English Channel as we landed in Jersey, Channel Islands. Expecting blue skies for a weekend seaside vacation in Autumn would have been optimistic. Undeterred by the wet start, our spirits were high and our curiosity piqued.
“The island is quite small really. It’s just 9 by 5 (miles),” our cheery taxi driver explained as we drove from Jersey’s airport into Saint Helier where we had booked accommodation at The Club Hotel & Spa. Weaving through compact streets gave us an idea of the small size of the island, something the locals in Jersey like to point out to visitors.
The locals are also quick to highlight that regardless of wherever you are on the island, you are never too far from the sea. They weren’t exaggerating. Along the coastal road from the airport, we saw the sun peek through the grey skies and gently kiss the tidal range off Saint Aubin’s Bay.
Jersey (officially known as the Bailiwick of Jersey) is the largest of the Channel Islands, a self-governing archipelago which sits 14 miles off the northern coast of Normandy (France) and approximately 100 miles south of the coast of England. Street names are in French but the locals speak English and Jèrriais (a native language spoken by a tiny minority).
Politically, Jersey is officially not a part of the United Kingdom and has its own legal and fiscal systems. However, the island depends on the British Crown for things like defence and international relations. In addition, although it is a European territory, it is not officially a member of the European Union. Pretty confusing right?
To further mix things up, the island was invaded by the Vikings in the 9th century, changed hands between the French and British, spawned an American colony (which later became New Jersey), and was occupied by the Germans during the Second World War. This patchwork of history provides an interesting backdrop for experiencing this seaside destination that leaves visitors with a lasting impression.
A ‘tasting safari’ of Jersey’s gastronomy
Jersey is perhaps best known for its status as a leading offshore financial centre. However stodgy or contentious that label might sound, it does nothing to diminish Jersey’s other attractions which include its beaches (Jersey has some of the cleanest water in the British Isles) and its world class gastronomy.
Late September, when Autumn is well underway, is prime shellfish season in Jersey. Fishermen sustainably farm high-quality, fresh lobster and oyster in the tidal range and rock beds surrounding the island. Fresh lobster and oyster are two items out of the Jersey ‘Big Five’ (cheese, black butter and Jersey Royal potatoes complete the list).
Keen to sample the island’s gastronomy, we quickly got our bearings and set out to visit Oyster Box, a chic-casual seafood restaurant in St. Brelade on the west of the island. Beginning life as a family-owned pottery, Oyster Box is a popular choice with locals and visitors, providing a quality dining experience and clear views of St. Brelade’s Bay.
From the bar/lounge, we enjoyed the ambience of the restaurant over a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a gin and tonic before being seated. The highlight of our experience was a platter of fresh Jersey Rock oysters from the Royal Bay of Grouville served with shallot vinegar. The flavours were clean, salty and delicate, qualities associated with the Jersey variety.
A dish of seared Jersey scallops served on a bed of pea risotto completed the presentation and served as a good introduction to Jersey’s famous seafood culture.
Creative gastronomy at Ormer Jersey
When it comes to food, Jersey packs a lot of quality into just 45 square kilometers. Over 300 restaurants are supported by a network of independent producers offering fresh local ingredients.
Like a magnet, Jersey has attracted a host of talented British chefs including Shaun Rankin (Ormer restaurant) and Steve Smith (Bohemia) who with other chefs and entrepreneurs, have succeeded in establishing the island’s food scene as one of the best in Europe.
The highlight of our tasting safari was a visit to Ormer by Michelin-starred chef Shaun Rankin. Located in the historic centre of St. Helier, the Martin Brudnizki designed interior gave a tasteful nod to the 1940s; with aged leather seats, silk wallpapers and distressed oak paneling.
Through the open kitchen, we watched the head chef and his team put on a masterful performance, with food transitioning seamlessly between kitchen and front of house. Our starters from the à la carte menu payed homage to Jersey’s local produce with hints of international influence: tuna tartare served with purees of Japanese dashi, soy gel, miso, and cucumber and a modernist crab dish served with peanut, gingerbread, apple, pear and dill oil.
Ormer’s bar is somewhat of an attraction in itself where you might find a glass skull, a miniature phone booth, and clear jars displaying a variety of colourful ingredients. These are just some of the unusual tools of the trade used by Diogo Freitas, Ormer’s talented Portuguese bartender. We were held spellbound as he created his signature cocktail ‘Red Light District’ for us; a work of art and a testimony of his creativity.
Exploring Jersey on two-wheels
Food isn’t the only reason to visit Jersey. Our weekend itinerary included a mix of activity and relaxation and Jersey provided great opportunities for both.
Jersey is divided into parishes, the largest being Saint Helier. Our hotel, which was located only a ten minute walk from Liberation Square (the epicentre of activity in Jersey), was the perfect launching pad for our adventures on the island.
On this occasion we leaned towards a self-guided tour on two wheels. Jersey has a well mapped, signposted, island-wide cycle network covering over 350 miles. We hired bicycles from Zebra Car & Cycle hire in St Helier for £12 each for a day’s hire including helmets and locks.
We mapped a route from Liberation Square by the marina to the lighthouse at La Corbière on the island’s southwest. The impressive bronze sculpture of islanders lifting the Union Jack was our first landmark of many Second World War heritage markers. This particular landmark was installed in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of the island’s liberation from Nazi Germany.
The coastal route along St. Aubin’s Bay took us past beaches, parks and quaint little beachside cafes. However, Autumn flexed her muscles and the weather took a sudden turn for the worse, forcing us to shelter in a local cafe in St. Aubin to wait it out. By the time the rain was done, the unanimous decision was to head back to The Club Hotel & Spa for a relaxing treatment rather than working up more sweat. Exploring Jersey’s landscape would have to wait for another time.
Relaxation and rejuvenation at The Club Hotel & Spa
What the city-chic Club Hotel & Spa lacks in sea views (there are no idyllic beach sunsets/sunrises to see from this hotel), it more than makes up for with its fresh and contemporary design and access to the Michelin-starred Bohemia. Our Double Deluxe room was spacious with plush carpeting, luxurious bed linen and mattress and pillows which gave us a good night’s sleep.
The hotel’s contemporary dark wood and glass interior design created an ambience that was a cross between business and leisure. An ‘honesty bar’ providing guests with a ready supply of drinks and snacks was a nice addition. The concierge was happy to inform us about the hotel’s fast and free Wi-Fi.
However, the main attraction is the hotel’s subterranean spa. Access to the spa also allowed unlimited use of the indoor saltwater pool (great for the skin) and thermal suite. After our cycling expedition, the ayurvedic massage treatments, administered with luxurious herbal oils, left us feeling light and limber both in mind and body. We ended our spa day with a cup of herbal tea in a relaxation room directly adjacent to the saltwater pool.
Feeling suitably refreshed and restored, we headed back to Ormer for one last cocktail treat.
A small island with a big heart
Over more Diogo Freitas cocktail creations, we pondered how we would love to return in the summer to check out Ormer’s rooftop bar, do more cycling and visit some of Jersey’s heritage attractions.
With Jersey being only a ferry ride to the Island of Sark and to St. Malo (France), we considered planning a slightly longer trip next time to include these other destinations. In such a short time, Jersey had given us enough to make us feel welcome, relaxed and refreshed. This small island with a big heart had left a lasting impression.
The Club Hotel and Spa Jersey rooms start at £215 for a deluxe room and £445 for a master suite. For more information, call 01534 876500 or visit www.theclubjersey.com. Spa packages include a ‘Bohemia Lunch, Spa & Swim’ option for £89 per person.