Officially the sunniest place in the British Isles, Jess Baldwin takes a gourmet tour round the bright and beautiful island where men are banned from knitting in fishing season…
Having grown up on the edge of the dramatic Norfolk coastline, I have always felt an innate affinity with the sea. With nothing between our house and the ocean, it was always the first place I went when I wanted to think, relax or escape. Growing up on a cliff top you take for granted the feeling of being on the edge of the earth, staring out towards the horizon and seeing nothing. It has the ability to put the world in to perspective and make you feel so small… but staring out at the rest of the world also instils you with that precious childhood belief that anything is possible.
At night I would drift off and dream of faraway lands where every day was summer and every road led to a new adventure – castles to discover, beaches to roam, mud huts to build and sweet shops to raid. There was no homework here, no rules, just adventures. It was one big treasure hunt, no wonder I woke up exhausted every day!
Okay, so since fleeing the nest and getting out in to that big wide world I have admittedly become somewhat more cynical (well, come on, 60p for a Mars Bar – hold off that sweet shop raid!). Yes, reality has hit – it turns out career ladders are much harder graft than climbing frames, wrinkle filler isn’t as much fun as face paint and Monopoly totally lied, Park Lane definitely isn’t £350 (but I think the wrinkle fillers are). Contacts, contracts, chores and bills have all faded my rose-tinted lenses, but luckily I had never given up searching for that treasured island…who knew it was closer than Birmingham!
Yes, just 100 miles south of Britain, in the bay of Mont St Michel stands Jersey, the sunniest of all of the British Isles. Referred to as ‘a peculiar of the crown’ this mysterious self-governing land has a fairy tale-like quality. Its unusual arrangement sees it answer to the British Crown, but not to the British Parliament (given the choice wouldn’t you rather do business with Wills and Kate over a cucumber sarni and a cup of earl grey?). Just 9 miles wide and 5 miles long, Jersey is 45 square miles of hidden coves, sandy beaches, coastal walks and pretty villages. Oh, and did I mention it is also a VAT-free tax haven? Ooooh, the sweet shop raid could be back on, my friend.
As if it couldn’t get any more magical, at low tide, the island grows an extra 18 square miles and as the channel recedes it’s possible to walk up to two miles out across the sea, following the trail once blazed by migrating woolly mammoths past exposed gullies and reefs.
At under an hour’s flight from London this weekend break was an easy sell and I was checked in before you could say abracadabra. Despite its tiny size, Jersey has almost 12,000 beds for tourists to decide between. But there was no deliberation for me, it was Longueville Manor from day one.
With the iconic Relais & Chateaux seal of approval proudly mounted by the door, this 14th century manor house in St.Saviour is the stuff my childhood dreams should have been made of! Stuff soggy tents and mud huts, this stunning 5* property has hundreds of tales woven in to every nook and cranny – from the Victorian walled garden and tranquil lake to its atmospheric oak-panelled dining room and (supposedly) haunted tower – and all surrounded by 15 acres of woodland to explore. The hotel has been in the Lewis family for three generations and current owners, Malcolm and Patricia Lewis, have created a luxury home from home experience where guests feel like part of the family the second they step through the door – we loved the little touches like the row of Hunter wellies by the door awaiting guests to jump in and explore the grounds and the kitchen garden that was growing Jersey royals under a bed of fresh seaweed on our arrival.
Arriving at dusk the grand manor house exuded a warm sepia glow, with elegantly aged wisteria framing its door, held open by a gleaming bellboy. With tales of rich clotted cream, succulent spuds and some of the best seafood in the world awaiting us on the island it was straight to dinner. The award-winning restaurant is split into two distinct areas: the Garden Room and the Oak Room. The Oak Room was perfect for a romantic foodie initiation to the island – clad in dark carved oak panels rescued from a sinking Spanish galleon.
On our visit Relais & Chateaux were celebrating their birthday so we opted for the special 60th anniversary celebratory menu. It was an instant hit with chef Andrew Baird and his team parading creative dishes like delice of sole, Angus beef with morels and our star dish; deep water Jersey crab with watermelon, cucumber, warm crab claw and yuzu. With four Michelin starred restaurants on this tiny island and just three days to indulge in as much Jersey produce as we could cram in it was time for bed – but, oh, what a start to our gastro adventure.
The next day, having torn myself out of our enormous bath tub overflowing with aromatic REN bubbles I was ready for our first full day on Jersey. A steaming coffee soon got me back on track and as I tucked in to the hotel’s incredible continental breakfast in the garden room (probably the best hotel buffet I have experienced – think fresh pressed juices, homemade yoghurts with home-grown honey, salmon smoked on the grounds and even a leg of jamon iberico) as the sunlight streamed in.
A short drive away along the island’s east coast is the popular fishing village of Gorey. Overlooked by Gorey Castle, the pastel painted seaside village is host to a bevy of cafes and restaurants – but it was Sumas Restaurant’s lobster thermidor that was calling us at lunch. The relaxed eatery offers unpretentious fine dining with a small terrace overlooking the bay. Our twice-baked cheese soufflé starter was melt-in-the-mouth and the freshly caught lobster was a winner.
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