Pretty, compact and with food to die for, Jersey is reinventing itself and the luxury Club Hotel & Spa in the island’s capital, St Helier, is the perfect base from which to explore.
What springs to mind when you think of Jersey and the Channel Islands? Jersey cows, potatoes and cream teas? Or perhaps pensioners’ bus trips or John Nettles as the ’80s TV detective Jim Bergerac? As more affordable flights and holiday packages have driven us further afield to more exotic locations, it’s easy to overlook what’s on our doorstep. But the sweeping sandy beaches of Jersey, the biggest of the Channel Islands, could rival any in the South of France.
What’s so appealing about Jersey is its compact size and laid-back attitude, and I was fortunate to spend a weekend at The Club Hotel & Spa, a luxury boutique hotel in the island’s capital, St Helier, which proved a great base from which to explore. Although the hotel doesn’t have a sea view, the harbour is just a short walk away, as is the bus station, which serves the rest of the island.
And after a morning pounding the pavements, the hotel’s spa is a lovely place to wind down and get pampered. I had a full body massage which, I can confirm, left me so relaxed that staggering back to my room felt like a struggle! The hotel’s afternoon tea is also a must – no trip to Jersey is complete without sampling clotted cream from the famous Jersey cows, with a generous helping of Jersey Black Butter; a traditional take on jam, made from a rich mixture of apples, spices and Jersey cider. I enjoyed it so much I stocked up at the airport before I left.
The afternoon tea at the hotel’s Bohemia restaurant offers far more than mere scones and your typical tea sandwiches, delicious though they were – the selection of delicate cakes and fancies, created by Head Pastry Chef Ellen de Jager, was exquisite. The mini egg custard and rhubarb crumble served in an eggshell-like container, and the lemon and basil tartlet with shards of white chocolate and gold leaf were both beautiful, in both taste and looks. While the chocolate, salted caramel and peanut mayhem was just as sweet, sticky and delicious as it sounds.
I would urge visitors to venture beyond St Helier to experience the true beauty of Jersey – and after all those sweet treats, you’ll be needing a brisk stroll to walk them off! While there are lots of family-friendly attractions dotted around the island that are easily reached by car or bus, walking and cycling is also a great way to travel, and there are a number of bike hire outlets in St Helier.
This is the perfect destination if you like getting outside and filling your lungs with fresh sea air, and you can choose to spend a day fishing, diving, sailing, horse riding or kayaking, should the mood take you.
If you enjoy a more sedate weekend, I can recommend spending a lazy Sunday morning gazing at the pretty fishing boats in Gorey harbour and venturing up the hill to Mont Orgueil Castle. When the sun is shining, this is Jersey at its picture-postcard best.
But if there’s just one thing that any visitor to Jersey should most definitely add to their itinerary, it’s dinner at The Club Hotel & Spa’s Michelin-starred Bohemia restaurant. Head Chef Steve Smith is a gastronomic genius and it’s no accident that this is the only restaurant in the Channel Islands to make it onto The Sunday Times’ Top 100 Food List in 2014, and remains at the top of its game. Inventive, playful and often surprising, the nine-course tasting menu is a triumph of flavours, colours and textures, with every detail delivered to perfection. Butternut and Parmesan with shitake and quail egg; crab custard and tart; smoked leg of Anjou pigeon served on hay with pastrami on toast and Cevennes onion – every dish was superb.
If I had to choose a standout course, it would be the scallop with celeriac, apple and smoked eel topped with a generous shaving of black truffle. But it’s hard to forget the desserts of blackberry parfait, apple and verjus; and the rhubarb, Champagne and yoghurt, which were both works of art. The menu captured my imagination and held my attention from start to finish in a way that few, if any, others have. And naturally, the service was equally as outstanding.
While visitor numbers to the island have some way to go before reaching Jersey’s tourism heyday of the ’70s and ’80s, there’s no reason why this pretty and compact island – that feels as French as it does British – shouldn’t continue to be a much-loved spot for either a grown-up long weekend or a family holiday.
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