Tantalising taste of Jersey
If golden cows, lush green fields and creamy milk spring to mind when you think of Jersey, you're not far wrong. But this fascinating island has a lot more to offer. Daisy Wallage discovers a foodies' paradise with a modern image and a rich history.
Jersey is just nine miles long and five miles wide, so it's amazing how much variety is packed in. Just five minutes from the airport and you can already start to appreciate the beautiful landscape, which ranges from woodland, patches of wilderness, fertile farmland, dunes and rugged cliffs.
The island doubles in size when the tide goes out and there are 27 beaches to choose from, ranging from the four-mile stretch of pristine sand in St Ouen's Bay to craggy rocks and secluded bays.
Nothing in Jersey is too far away or too much effort to get to and, with a maximum speed limit of 40mph, you can see everything while still enjoying a slower pace of life.
The island is 14 miles from France – a short hop compared to the 100 miles which separate it from mainland UK – and is a unique blend of French and British influences as a result.
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French writer Victor Hugo once described it as 'pieces of France fallen into the sea and picked up by England' and this still is seems a very apt description.
In many ways the cream teas, familiar high street shops and driving on the left make it feel very much like home, but there is still a prevailing sense of being somewhere foreign.
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The French street names, milder climate and passion for good food give it a continental feel and Jersey also throws its own quirks and traditions into the mix.
With around 230 restaurants, bistros and gastro pubs, Jersey is a wonderful place to eat quality fresh food. It has world-renowned potatoes and dairy and its clear waters produce an abundance of magnificent seafood including oysters, mussels and crab – and the emphasis is firmly on local produce.
The Genuine Jersey Association was launched in 2001 to promote the diversity and traditions of local food and is rapidly becoming a byword for the best the island has to offer. Buy goods bearing the distinctive red Genuine Jersey mark and you can rest assured it has been reared, grown and caught in Jersey, all within a 45-mile radius.
During my stay, I feasted on the best seafood I had ever tasted, including a delicious scallop risotto at Castle Green gastro pub in St Martin. I ate my meal while enjoying the glorious panoramic views of the Royal Bay of Grouville on my first night and was already planning my return to Jersey.
Should by any chance you tire of eating out, there are a huge number of markets and farm shops to buy your own ingredients. As an aspiring chef, I was itching to get my hands on all the fresh vegetables, fish and meat.
Michelin-starred head chef Mark Jordan moved to Jersey when he joined the Ocean Restaurant at the Atlantic Hotel in 2004 and has fallen in love with the fresh ingredients on his doorstep.
One of his most valued suppliers, Faulkner Fisheries, is based in a former German wartime bunker just minutes away on the west coast at L'Etacq. The business buys, stores and sells all kinds of seafood, and the thick-walled ammunitions stores and gun rooms have been transformed into viviers – fish tanks – containing live crabs, lobster and more.
I discovered that fresh certainly means fresh in Jersey.
'We get lobster virtually to order,' Mark said. 'The record is eight minutes from me ringing down for a live lobster to it arriving at the kitchen door. We served it 20 minutes later.'
Mark recently cooked for the finalists in BBC TV show The Apprentice and in August Ocean is due host a special lunch for the super-rich clientele of The World cruise liner.
An increasing number of cafes, pubs and restaurants use Genuine Jersey produce, but boutique hotel Longueville Manor takes it a step further by growing much of its own produce on site.
The 14th century Norman manor house boasts a large kitchen garden and sits within 15 acres of stunning garden and woodland.
I was treated to a tour by award-winning head chef Andrew Baird and got a behind-the-scenes look at the hotel's vegetable plots, herb beds, fruit trees, beehives and underground smokehouse.
Andrew and the chefs see the produce grow and often pick it themselves, giving them a real appreciation for the ingredients they use.
Breakfast at the hotel is a sumptuous affair and includes the hotel's own smoked salmon, delicious honey and homemade jam. There is a huge choice of local food, including free-range eggs, butter and yoghurts, but also fresh French bread, brioche and cheese.
Longueville Manor, in St Saviour, is the only five-star hotel in the Channel Islands and it fully deserves its reputation for fine dining, elegance and service. Guests are made to feel welcome and comfortable, but also very special.
Each of the 30 bedrooms is named after a rose and they all have their own identity, with different finishes and furniture. My room overlooked the gardens and I felt like the lady of the manor looking out at the flower beds, manicured lawns and swimming pool.
It would be easy to spend all your time eating, drinking and taking advantage of the island's many spas, but Jersey has so much more to offer.
It's a haven for walkers and cyclists, with nearly 50 miles of 'green lanes' with a 15mph speed limit. Cyclists can also delight in 100 miles of cycle routes.
If you're looking to burn off some calories, Jersey Adventures offers a huge range of outdoor activities including kayaking, blo-karting, abseiling and rock-climbing.
I couldn't get away from food for long and tried wildfood-foraging and fire-making on a guided walk with Jersey Adventure guide Kazz Padidar – an expert in survival who likes nothing more than to munch on a raw nettle plucked from the hedgerow.
Towards the end of the German wartime occupation of the Channel island, many islanders were near starvation and foraging was a necessity.
One of the most popular attractions is the Jersey War Tunnels complex, which provides a fascinating account of the occupation during the second world war and acts as a permanent memorial to the many slave workers who died during its construction.
The eerie tunnels were originally intended to shelter more than 12,000 men with their arms and ammunition in the event of Allied invasion, but they were eventually redesigned as an underground hospital, complete with a fully-equipped operating theatre.
Since 2001, more than �2.5m has been spent transforming Jersey War Tunnels into a world-class museum which brings the occupation alive with interactive exhibits and personal accounts of islanders who lived through those dark days.
St Helier, the island's lively urban capital, is known for its boutiques and buzzing nightlife and couldn't be further from the stereotypical image of Jersey as 'Bergerac country', as seen in the TV series. The offshore financial industry has attracted swathes of young, well-paid professionals keen to work hard and play hard.
While it lacks the charm of villages in the more rural north, St Helier still boasts fantastic views and, like the rest of the island, it's safe, clean and tidy. The roads may be comparatively busy, but the drivers are extremely courteous and the beach is only ever minutes away.
With its strange mix of familiar and new, the more time I spent on the island, the more I began to realise it isn't French or English – it's Jersey and it's probably the best of both.
Scheduled flights depart from 30 airports in the UK, including Norwich. Flights from London Gatwick take about 50 minutes. Condor Ferries operates fast-ferry services to Guernsey from Poole and Weymouth, plus a traditional ferry service from Portsmouth. Flights between Guernsey and Jersey take around 25 minutes. Daisy Wallage stayed at Longueville Manor in St Saviour (www.longuevillemanor.com). Between March and June, prices start at �290 per person, per night. British citizens do not need passports or entry visas to travel to Jersey. The currency is sterling and although Jersey has its own coins and notes, British money is accepted. Jersey is English-speaking.