With a wealth of outdoor activities, Michelin-starred food, miles of sandy beaches and a relaxed island vibe, what’s not to like in Jersey? Nicola Smith gives you the lowdown on how to plan a cool weekend break away from it all.
To enjoy the best of the early morning sunshine you need to start your day in the east. Begin at the Royal Bay of Grouville for a bracing swim as the sun rises behind the imposing medieval castle of Mont Orgueil. The pastel-coloured buildings that line the pretty harbour at its foot are at their most charming in the glow of sunrise. Then take a walk down Gorey pier, from where you can watch the fishermen catching bass and boats nodding in the water.
You'll have worked up an appetite with all that exercise and will be thankful of the aptly named Hungry Man café a few miles up the coast at Rozel Harbour (Rozel, 01534 863 227). At this friendly beach café, you can warm up with a bacon sandwich and mug of tea, or opt for a healthy crab sandwich and juice. On a bright day, this is a real morning-sun trap and you might want to bask for half an hour while you watch kids 'pier jumping' into the deep water of the bay.
From Rozel it is just a five-minute drive to Durrell Wildlife Park (La Profonde Rue, Trinity, 01534 860 000), a conservation zoo founded more than 50 years ago by author, naturalist and broadcaster Gerald Durrell. Even those ambivalent about wildlife will enjoy a couple of hours here, wandering around the sprawling 13 hectares of parkland and garden and being enchanted by the gorillas, entertained by the gibbons and charmed by the cute ploughshare tortoise – one of several endangered species residing at the park. Stop for a coffee at the Dodo Bistro, before marvelling at the loveable meerkats next door.
For a trip back in time, head 15 minutes southwest to the Jersey War Tunnels (Les Charrières Malorey, St Lawrence, 01534 860 808), which are fascinating and moving in equal measure. The underground labyrinth was constructed by the Germans during WWII using slave labour and was latterly used as an underground hospital. It is eerie and slightly chilling but compelling all the same. Return to the present day with lunch at The Pantry, on the first floor of the Visitor Centre. This funky space serves delicious sandwiches and mouth-watering homemade cakes – think grilled halloumi and roast pepper ciabatta and Victoria sponge. It also has a sizeable terrace which traps the sun.
A 10-minute drive west is the vast and inviting beach of St Ouen’s Bay, offering miles of sand and a fair dose of the elements; a surfer’s paradise. You can book a lesson and hire equipment (including wetsuits) at Laneez Surf Centre (01534 744 157). Or perhaps try your hand blokarting at low tide – which involves being propelled along the sand at speeds of up to 145 kilometres per hour on a wind-powered go-kart – with Pure Adventure (01534 769 165). Just across the road from the beach, at St Ouen's pond, is the new National Trust for Jersey Wetland Centre (01534 483 193), which opened in early 2014. Entry is free and the centre's 16 viewing windows give you panoramic views of the reed bed and pond, enabling you to gain a unique insight into the wildfowl residents without disturbing them. A reed bed camera zooms in on secretive occupants such as the Marsh Harrier's nest and the elusive Bittern, while interactive touch screens showcase the wildlife of the area.
Water babies can team up with Absolute Adventures (078 2988 1111) for a Sunset Kayak Tour. Set off from St Brelade's Bay at 6pm and paddle round to Beauport, one of the island’s best beaches, accessible only by water or via a steep path. Here you can disembark your craft and perch on the rocks to watch the sun start to go down as you sip a cold drink. Paddle back to St Brelade in time for dinner. 1900-2100. The seafront boardwalk of St Brelade's Bay has lured a number of top-notch restaurants (and a Pizza Express), so there is something for most occasions. For a seafood feast, try the Oyster Box (01534 850 888), and opt for a table outside on a warm summer evening to enjoy a platter of local crab and oysters with a chilled glass of Sancerre and the sound of the sea in your ears. If you fancy something a bit more meaty or spicy, try Sugareef (01534 866 844), an Asian fusion restaurant that mixes a mean mojito. Try a Reef and Beef skewer – grilled steak wedges mixed with salmon, cod and gambas served with a coconut and turmeric rice.
With the sun well and truly down, head into town to mix with the locals. If it's high-flyers you want to rub shoulders with then try the chic Champagne Lounge at the Grand Jersey Hotel (Esplanade, St Helier, 01534 722 301), overlooking St Aubin’s Bay, or for a more bohemian crowd visit funky Chambers (5 Mulcaster Street, St Helier, 01534 735 405), which as well as boasting the longest bar in Jersey – not to mention a dedicated cocktail bar – is renowned for its entertainment, from live bands to DJs and comedy. For something completely different, why not try a one-hour-and-a-half guided ‘moonwalk’ on the east of the island with Jersey Walk Adventures (077 9785 3033), looking at the sparkling bioluminescence and marine life on the seabed – a very otherworldly experience.