I caught myself in daydream this morning: a child was running with gleeful abandon across a vast expanse of fine golden sand. A blue sky arched over wind-whipped waves, who flashed their white smiles at the sun before collapsing into the warm embrace of the beach. As I turned, fresh breeze catching at my hair, there was not another soul to be seen for miles, only the watchful presence of an old fortress standing lookout across the idyllic scene.
This was no fantasy of a tropical far-flung island. My daydream involved neither long-haul flights nor impossible expense. My vision was of Jersey – a crystal clear memory of our autumn family holiday last year on the UK’s very own idyllic beach island hideaway.
A mere 160km from the the British mainland (roughly the distance from Bristol to London) , the Channel Islands are a glorious mixture of stunning coastline, gentle farmland and charming settlements. History runs deep in these strategically placed islands and with Normandy just 20km away, the influence of France is reflected strongly in their unique culture and cuisine. With plenty of opportunity also for outdoor leisure pursuits both on land and sea, the Channel Islands are truly something special.
Small is beautiful
Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands, yet one of the huge advantages of a holiday here is the ability to get pretty much everywhere on the island in half an hour. ‘Everywhere’ includes over twenty spectacular and varied beaches, the bustling capital of St. Helier and numerous tourist attractions.
To give you an idea – we disembarked from our ferry at St. Helier on Jersey ‘s south coast at breakfast time. We battled our way through the morning rush hour of Jersey ‘s capital and having escaped, headed to our hotel – the West View, located in the far north of the island. We were enjoying a cup of coffee and biscuits in our hotel room twenty minutes later. Later that morning and another fifteen minutes in the car, we found ourselves on Jersey ‘s west coast, walking barefoot along miles of gloriously unspoiled, empty sand. It was at this moment that we both decided my husband should pack in his London commute so we could relocate to Jersey!
The compact nature of the island also has other advantages. Location of accommodation, for example, becomes much less of a consideration: with everywhere within easy reach, you are able to take advantage of the best prices or most suitable facilities for your holiday, regardless of where they are. Cycling and walking adventures take in many more points of interests and substantial challenges such as a round-the-island walk become a realistic prospect.
Life’s a beach
With its four varied and beautiful coastlines to choose from, Jersey is a perfect choice for beach lovers. Best of all, with everything so close together you can beach hop to your hearts content!
St. Brelade’s Bay like much of Jersey ‘s sun drenched southern coast, is a good option for traditional bucket and spade holiday fun. With acres of sheltered golden sands, gentle waves and a pretty promenade to explore during ice-cream stops, it has everything a young family needs to wile away a lazy summer day. You can even try out a spot of kite-surfing and volleyball. The new craze that is paddle-boarding also seems to have taken off here – either that or the couple we were watching from the beach hadn’t read the surfing manual right.
Dune backed St. Ouen’s Bay is a wild stretch of beautiful beach running almost the whole length of Jersey ‘s west coast. Washed by large Atlantic waves and subject to a strong swell, this is the ultimate destination for Channel Island surfers. Sand yachting and kite flying are also popular activities here. With our toddler still a few years off international surfing stardom, we took advantage instead of the 8 km or so of empty beach. For pure scale and open space for kids to just run and run, it is hard to imagine a better location.
If wild, rugged and dramatic coastline is more your thing then head to Jersey ‘s north coast. Vertiginous, cliff-hugging coastal paths, tiny beaches nestling in secluded coves and fishing boats bobbing serenely at their moorings make the north coast hard to beat in terms of natural beauty.
We loved Plemont beach for its sheer good looks. Accessible only by steep steps down the cliff-face, its seclusion makes for a quieter beach experience. As the tide goes out, more of the beach opens up to explore with sea caves adding to the natural drama. The cliff-top cafe is pretty good too so despite the tucked away location, there is no need to forage far for food. We spent a happy half day on Plemont paddling with Roo and using her as an excuse to build a sand boat – one of my favourite childhood beach activities. The day was topped off with early supper at Les Fontaines Tavern. With good pub grub, a cosy atmosphere and views to die for, this family friendly eatery definitely comes recommended though it’s worth booking ahead to avoid a wait for a table.
For picnickers, it is worth stopping off to explore St Helier, Jersey’s charming capital before hitting the beach. St. Helier has an undeniably continental yet still familiarly British vibe. Men chat the day away , albeit in English, over their cafe au lait and papers at the side of a market square and many shops sporting accents in their names can be found nestled up next to UK highstreet staples such as Marks and Spencers. We picked up our picnic provisions at the colourful and bustling central market. Armed with freshly baked bread, french cheese and dripping ripe fruit for lunch we headed off to explore Jersey ‘s east coast.
Yet another impressive swathe of sand and with perfect picnic credentials, Grouville Bay is overlooked by Mount Orgueil Castle and the picturesque village of Gorey at its northern end. A deterrent to French invaders for over 600 years, the castle has excellent views across to France on a clear day. These days it is a popular family attraction. The views of France come for free on the beach below and despite the castle cannon firing and the occasional greedy gull soaring overhead, our beach picnic remained free of raiders, French of otherwise.
Outdoor Parents’ Paradise
Jersey has plenty more to offer outdoor families than just beaches. There are plenty of opportunities for walking and cycling on Jersey and we spent much of three day break exploring Jersey ‘s many footpaths – see the Jersey Walks page for family on-foot inspiration. I was particularly impressed by the allocation of Green Lanes – a picturesque network of small roads where pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders take priority and cars are restricted to a snail’s pace.
If I hadn’t been five months pregnant , I’d also have been on a bike in a flash. Bike hire is readily available from around £15 a day.Quiet, scenic roads and the feeling of covering lots of ground without actually going very far makes for family friendly cycling.
Many of Jersey ‘s tourist attractions also make the most of the island’s fresh, clean air. It is worth buying a Jersey Pass which gives free entry to 17 attractions and discounts for others. Our favourite day out was Durrell Wildlife Park, where kids and animal inhabitants alike roam wild through the woodland. Wandering through the heavily-laden vineyards and cider orchards of La Mare Wine Estate was another highlight. The well-guided estate walk gave a fascinating insight into the unique methods used to farm in an unforgiving maritime environment. Back in the shop we enjoyed sampling the final produce, including award winning wines and Jersey ‘s famous Black Butter – a kind of cross between apple jam and chutney, with generous amounts of cider and spices thrown in for good measure.
The weather was too good to investigate the many museums and historical sites on offer in Jersey and we sadly run out of time to visit the working lavender farm or any of the formal gardens. Roo would also have liked a few more days to try out the Aquasplash water park in St. Helier. We were all disappointed that aMaizin – Jersey ‘s adventure park packed with everything from dry-slope toboganning to giant bouncy balls- was closed during the winter season. At least there is plenty more to do on our next visit!
It is worth keeping an eye out for al-fresco seasonal events and festivals too. Jersey hosts two walking weeks in Spring and Autumn, including family friendly guided walks and there are plenty of events celebrating Jersey’s maritime heritage and cuisine. We were fortunate to visit during the beach polo – a unique event where the ponies arrive, like pretty much everything else on Jersey, by sea and the traditional earth divots are traded in for finely combed sand. Nothing has quite made me want to take up riding more than watching those polo ponies tearing up and down St. Brelade’s Bay in the bright autumn sunshine against a backdrop of blue sky and calm sea and Roo was pretty taken with them too when she was introduced to the sweating steeds afterwards.
If you want to take the outdoor thing one step further then there are also lots of campsites across Jersey. Despite if being a far cry from the back-to-basic tenting experience I normally favour, the neo-safari glamping at Durrell with its very own monkey dawn chorus is now firmly on our family to-do list!
Jersey is accessible by both boat and plane. I personally think that travelling by ferry adds a certain magic for those holidaying with young children, not to mention an unrestricted luggage allowance! Condor Ferries run both fast ferry and overnight services to Jersey – you can read a review of our journey with Condor Ferries here. For your full travel options, check out the Jersey Tourist Board website travel section.
In terms of where to stay on Jersey, the choice is yours! We stopped at the family and wallet friendly West View Hotel in Jersey ‘s rural north, which was clean, very welcoming and came complete with a pool for the kids. For more of a nocturnal buzz and bohemian feel, St. Aubin on the south coast is a great spot to spend a night or two. We opted for the quirky, boutique Harbour View Bed & Breakfast. A more upmarket option perhaps, but worth it almost entirely for the amazing breakfast and harbourside location. The restaurant next door was pretty good too!
As for when to visit Jersey? Well there is something going on most of the year around but it depends largely on what you want from your holiday. As with most European destinations, if you are after sunshine for a traditional beach holiday and access to all the open-air tourist attractions then you are best to go in the summer months, although obviously the beaches will be at their busiest then. We visited Jersey in September and still enjoyed sun-filled days lounging on near-empty beaches. For outdoor activities such as walking and cycling, spring and autumn can be a bit quieter and good times to visit . Jersey in October is best for foodies on a budget. The annual ‘Tennerfest’ starts then, offering six weeks of set meals starting from £10 across the island. Numerous food and cultural festivals also mean that even the winter months have something to offer.
Ready to plan your Jersey holiday? Find out more from Jersey Tourist Board.