Join Neil Sowerby on a tour around the beautiful isle of Jersey where he takes in beachside cafes and plenty of sea air
Crow, bird of ill omen. In French, La Corbière means a place where crows gather. A fitting name for the fearsome southwest tip of Jersey where the Atlantic swell pounds some seriously rugged rocks. A place to pick the bones of the shipwrecked dead until 1874, when a lighthouse was built. A lifesaver but a lonely billet for the keepers who manned it.
The island may have lost three of the four Michelin stars it held a decade ago, but the current food and drink scene is vibrant
It was the first in the British Isles to be built of reinforced concrete and is a good advertisement for its durability. We worried for ours on a first visit in 2014. The crows no longer nested on the cliffs and the lighthouse was now automatic, but the power of the ocean was unabated.
La Corbière is reached by a causeway, submerged at high tide. A bit Woman In Black. The charts said that high tide had just passed; so did the fresh spume drenching the track. We speed read the safety warnings, then trod out gingerly, breakers still crashing into jagged outcrops around us. Ahead lay our goal, the lighthouse, against a backdrop of gathering thunderclouds. It felt good to be alive – even in the Land of the Undead.
Fast-forward seven years and all is sun dappled on an unseasonably blithe autumn evening. Been there, done that, so we get no closer than a panoramic clifftop beer before sauntering the two miles back, as sunset gilded the woods. At our appropriately named hotel, The Atlantic, dinner awaited in its acclaimed Ocean Restaurant.
On a headland commanding the swathe of St Ouen’s Bay, this gleaming white haven in 10 acres of grounds, built by the Burke family half a century ago, has been given an Art Deco makeover by the current generation and looks a treat. With a top-class restaurant and bar, spa facilities and elegant lodgings with marbled bathrooms (ours was one of the coveted Ocean View rooms), it would be no hardship to sit out a storm here. I suspect my wife would hole up in the Palm Club wellness complex, where her Ultimate Vitality treatment (£165 for two hours) proved an invigorating success.
Next morning, with perfect Jersey weather continuing, our only dilemma was whether to lounge by the palm-fringed pool or go exploring the island’s unspoiled west coast. My wife had brought her binoculars and there was a prospect of bittern spotting at the Jersey Wetland Centre an hour’s walk away; decision made.
The journey was more exciting than the destination, where it was hardly avian rush hour in the reed beds. But what a beach walk St Ouen’s provides, five miles of hard sand and limitless horizons. Alternatively, if you are wary of swift tide incursions, take the path along the fortified anti-tank sea wall, built during the German occupation. This has always been a coastal stretch of strategic importance. Out in the bay La Rocco is the oldest of nine towers erected to defend the coastline during the Napoleonic Wars. Used by the Nazis for target practice, it is one of only three towers surviving.
Under a vast blue sky, we clambered down to the strand of La Pulente, admiring the haul of a couple of kelp foragers and wishing our own dog was with us for a sandy scamper. Dog walkers, becalmed surfers and lone joggers were the sum total of our encounters until we reached Le Braye, the best of the beachside cafes that dot the bay. El Tico, and the rest trade on the surfer vibe, while food is the focus here, served with epic views. Owner Jolyon Baker played DC Barry Goddard alongside John Nettles as Bergerac in the island’s greatest telly export. Rumours of remakes are rife. Forty years on, it seems a reboot too far. Jersey these days is more about cream than crime.
Jolyon’s chef son Joe has starred on Great British Menu and runs No.10 Restaurant and Bar in Jersey’s main town, St Helier. It’s on swish Bond Street, formerly known as Rue de la Madeleine. French heritage is everywhere. We dined at No.10 – it’s brilliant, the tasting menu’s of the culinary moment. Simple but unforgettable, a millefeuille of local Three Oaks tomatoes, chilled tomato and marigold oil broth, then lobster in a bisque with a claw meat brioche.
The island may have lost three of the four Michelin stars it held a decade ago, but the current food and drink scene is vibrant. Mark Jordan, who retained a star for 11 years at the Ocean Restaurant, now has to settle for a Bib Gourmand at his own seafront place outside St Aubin, Mark Jordan At The Beach, but we thought attention to detail in the seafood dishes merits more. At last, a lobster thermidor that celebrates the sheer freshness of the catch.
Mark’s successor at Ocean, Will Holland brings his own Michelin credentials, having won a star at La Bécasse in Ludlow in his twenties. The current Atlantic setting for his food feels, well, almost colonial-era Caribbean, with the presence of ceiling fans and jalousie windows with views of the sea. Nothing fusion about the food, just classic meat cooking for lamb and beef mains after an irresistible foie gras ballotine with blood orange and gingerbread.
For 2021 Michelin renewed the star status of Bohemia inside St Helier’s Club Hotel And Spa, which is a tribute to MasterChef: The Professionals contestant Callum Graham, who stepped up when serial star winner Steven Smith left. Smith’s tasting menu was the food highlight of our 2014 visit.
It was run close by a very different experience at Longueville Manor. For nigh on 30 years Yorkshireman Andrew Baird, head chef at this luxury hotel dating back to the 14th century, has matched classic technique with the island’s finest produce. Our local moles say quality remains high.
Lobster, crab, scallops, oysters – Jersey is a paradise for seafood lovers. At the affordable end, there is Faulkner Fisheries, who have a stall in one of St Helier’s indoor markets, but the top of St Ouen’s Bay is where they harvest and store their catches in an old military bunker. In summer it hosts a seafood barbecue.
Crab Shack is a year-round operation at two sites, one high above Mont Orgeuil castle on the east coast, the other bang on St Brelade’s Bay. The latter has spawned the neighbouring Oysterbox, a more casual-chic restaurant on the promenade of a beach voted the UK’s third best. A skate catch of the day and linguine with crab from the bay delighted us.
As did the corner of this laidback little resort just a couple of miles from our base, which is home to two beautiful ecclesiastical buildings. The parish church dates back to the 12th century, the glorious pink granite of its interior embedded with shells and pebbles. Next door in the graveyard overlooking the ocean is an even earlier building, the Fisherman’s Chapel. Restoration early last century unearthed fragments of medieval frescoes, the most striking of which depicts the Annunciation.
It’s a luminous spot. That’s the beauty of Jersey. The coast from St Aubin all along to St Helier and beyond is busy, busy, but on this compact island – nine miles east to west, five north to south – there remain wonderful spots off the beaten track.
Drive the Green Lanes, a 50-mile network of country lanes across 10 of Jersey’s 12 parishes. Look for the signs. They were designated to reveal the island’s beauties and have a speed limit of 15 mph with priority given to walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
Or, if you choose to go on foot, as we did, try the defunct Western Railway track, turned into a sylvan footpath, the final stretch of which took us to La Corbière. On our final day, we again joined it near The Atlantic and took it east across the country to St Aubin. Its terminus is in St Helier, a town I don’t warm to. Still, it has its compensations. Before dining at No.10 we took refuge in the sumptuously facaded and ultra-convivial Lamplighter pub on Mulcaster Street, which has the island’s best range of ales. Elsewhere, look for beers from St Helier’s own Liberation Brewery.
If food, drink and walking aren’t your priorities here are four rewarding tourist destinations:
Mont Orgeuil Castle
Dating back to King John and the early 13th century, it has been sympathetically restored and enhanced by art installations and interpretative displays without sacrificing the fun factor. Amazing view over Gorey harbour. Castle Green, Gorey, JE3 6ET, Jersey
The Durrell Wildlife Park
A unique sanctuary and breeding centre for endangered species and HQ of the Conservation Trust created by the great naturalist and writer, Gerald Durrell. The 32 woodland acres are a delight to wander around in their own right. A current campaign is to save from extinction the Mountain Chicken, one of the world’s largest frogs. La Profonde Rue, Jersey JE3 5BP, Jersey
The Eric Young Orchid Foundation
Opened in 1958, it is one of the world’s finest collections of orchid hybrids. The exotics gathered in the display houses are spectacular and it was one regret we couldn’t risk buying a couple to survive the plane journey home. Moulin de Ponterrin Street, Victoria Village, Trinity JE3 5HH, Jersey
Jersey War Tunnels
Between October 1941 and January 1944 thousands of forced labourers from all over conquered Europe hacked through rock in the cruellest conditions to construct more than 1km of underground chambers and corridors. The complex was meant for military use, then as a medical centre for injured German soldiers (never used). Refurbished in 2001, it is both a poignant memorial to the fallen and a totally riveting, interactive history of the Occupation, striving to understand the feelings of all involved. To stare down the unfinished tunnels, with all their ghosts, is to stare into hell. Les Charrières Malorey, Jersey JE3 1FU, Jersey
The Atlantic Hotel 50 bedrooms, B&B from £182 per room per night; two-night Gourmet Break from £320 per person per stay; two nights half board and get a third night free from £280 per person per stay; three nights B&B and get a free three-course dinner from £230 per person per stay. It is the only Channel Islands member of the Small Luxury Hotels of The World collection. Le Monte de la Pulente, Jersey, JE3 8HE
We flew from Manchester to Jersey with easyJet. The island’s airport is a 10-minute taxi ride from The Atlantic. Since our emphasis on this trip was walking we took advantage of the ultra-reliable Liberty Bus network. An Unlimited Three Day pass costs £21.
For full information on the island go to Visit Jersey. Jersey passes are available saving money on attractions.
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