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What to do in St Helier

Jersey is set up for long weekends and nowhere does a better job of welcoming you more than the charming capital, St Helier.

Published 9 Dec 2019, 09:03 GMT
Elizabeth Castle on tidal island.
Built on a rocky islet in St Aubin’s Bay, Elizabeth Castle has defended St Helier for more than 300 years.
Photograph by Getty

Why go
This tiny, sun-soaked island has mastered the art of the long weekend. The self-governing British Crown dependency with a gallic spirit is only nine miles long and five miles wide, but there are stretches that remain gloriously untamed. There are golden beaches, wild coves with emerald waters, blooming wildflowers and a weathered coastline that’s a breath of fresh air for hikers and bikers. St Helier — its capital and major town — is a buzzy sort of place that’s upping the cool stakes of the island. You’ll eat exceptionally well, thanks to a food scene that’s been garnering attention for many years and a spectacular natural larder: sweet, hand-dived scallops, earthy Jersey Royals and rich, just-caught crabs. Speakeasies have landed on the island and there are a handful of unmarked doors to find, leading to bars cracking open craft beers and whipping up personalised cocktails. The compact town is easy to walk around: stroll seawards to the marina that’s filled with bobbing yachts and you’ll spot salty-haired surfers hanging out and ice cream-licking locals dangling their feet off the promenade. All this and all so tantalisingly close to home.

What to do
To get a handle on Jersey’s backstory — including an insight into island life during Nazi occupation, from 1940-1945 — head to the Jersey War Tunnels. Once used by the German invaders as a military hospital, they’re now the setting for a poignant permanent exhibition. Visitors are invited to reflect on the British government’s decision not to defend the Channel Islands, the slave workers used to build the tunnels, the experience of those deported to Germany, the island’s resistance movement and, finally, the liberation of Jersey. You’ll want to stop by the site’s Escape Rooms too for a brain-teasing, breakout mission. 

Where to eat
What St Helier lacks in size, it more than makes up for with outstanding culinary destinations. There are fine dining spots, retro British bistros serving up moules marinère, and finger-licking shellfish shacks. One that’s enduringly popular and consistently picks up rave reviews is upmarket Bohemia Bar & Restaurant — all high ceilings and subdued — of The Club Hotel & Spa. There are several menus to try, but for the blow-out experience, go for the tasting menu and you’ll grasp why the place has retained a Michelin star since 2013.

Don’t miss
It’s worth spending at least one day at sea exploring Jersey’s wilder corners. There are a handful of boat operators that’ll whisk you around the island but try Jersey Seafari, whose thrilling rigid inflatable boat trips whizzes over its pristine waters to neighbouring destinations. You can explore the sandbanks and rock pools of Ecrehouse and look out for dolphins leaping above the waves as you push towards the north coast — jump out at secluded coves here and there. You can even pop over to France for lunch for the day. 

After hours
The dark, intimate corners of The Blind Pig are a magnet for night owls after the sun has set. Being a speakeasy-style cocktail bar, it’s wilfully tricky to find — push through a wardrobe at the back of Chambers bar and you’ll pop through into a dimly lit, opulent space lined with baroque mirrors.

Where to stay
The Grand Jersey Hotel & Spa is situated on St Helier’s esplanade and looks across the water over the stunningly picturesque St Aubins Bay and out to Elizabeth Castle, and so sea views are a must when choosing your room. Our Ocean View Deluxe Double was boutique in style, spacious and elegant, with a smart yet traditional bathroom. The impressive front terrace is the perfect place for a sundowner before dinner at Tassili Restaurant, a fine dining establishment with a tasting menu that draws heavily on local produce and is inspired by the chef’s favourite French regions. The spa is compact but stylish, with a pool, whirlpool bath steam room, sauna and relaxation room, plus an extensive treatment menu. The hot stone massage comes highly recommended, while the back, neck and shoulder massage is equally relaxing. A sign of a good hotel is when being hosted seems effortless, which this Jersey institution does with aplomb.

Elizabeth Castle, off the coast of Saint Helier.
Photograph by Getty

Top three beaches

Havre de Pas
A sweep of sand that’s real bucket-and-spade territory, Havre de Pas is just 10 minutes from St Helier and includes a popular Victorian pool that fills up at high tide with free dips for all. You can sunbathe on the steps of the pool, or search for seashells and pad about the sands as the tide recedes.

St Aubin’s Bay
Blow off the cobwebs and go for an early morning swim at this beach that attracts the watersport set, stretching from St Helier to Aubin’s Village in the west. Dry off as kitesurfers ride the crest of waves, then pick up a coffee at one of the beach cafes.

Le Hocq
Kids will love scooping up shells and rock-pooling for scuttling crabs on this beach — a 10-minute drive from St Helier — that transforms with the heaving tidal movement and ushers the sea far beyond the coastline at low tide, leaving rock pools, stones and seaside hidey holes to explore.

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