Channeling the islands
As close as 14 miles (22 km) off the French coast of Normandy is Jersey, one of the Channel Islands. Every year in October and November they hold a 6-week long food festival called the Tennerfest where restaurants across the 2 big islands offer fixed-price menus starting at 10 Pounds Sterling. The celebration takes its title from the nickname of a 10 pound note, called a “tenner”, although other dining options up to £20 are also available. This allows even Michelin starred establishments to offer lunch or dinner to everyone at reasonable prices. With the coast only a train ride away where a ferry awaited to take us on that short sea crossing, we eagerly hopped aboard to sample Jersey Royal potatoes, Guernsey butter, and local crab and lobster.
Our TGV left the Carcassonne train station right on time to get us to Lyon for our cross-country train to Rennes and then a local to the port of St. Malo. We’d been in this ancient walled city, founded by the Gauls over 2000 years ago, on visits to Brittany but we were now using it as the mainland jumping off point to reach our island goal. The ferry dropped us in the heart of downtown St. Helier, Jersey’s capital, where friends Gaynor and Pete were waiting. We took a short bus ride around the bay to the Somerville Hotel where we opted for a sea-view room. First stop, given that this is a dependency of the British crown, was a pub for a glass of wine right by the water’s edge. With 86 restaurants participating in the food festival, it was quite the challenge to select one for dinner that evening. We stuck close by the hotel for a delightful Indian curry at the appropriately named Spice House.
Although Jersey is only 9 miles (14.5 km) long and 5 miles (8 km) wide there are lots of walking paths that crisscross the island. That’s a good thing when you’re going there to eat out at every meal so that you can at least feel as if you’ve worked off some of those calories in between food stops. Thanks to the skillful directions from our guide Pete, we got to trek the rugged coastline on all 4 sides of the island including beautiful views of the bays of Bouley, Rozel, St. Owens, Portelet, and St. Brelade. More inland, he introduced us to the conservation work of Gerald Durrell at the Jersey Zoo where they specialize in breeding animals that are endangered around the world.
Bill was especially interested in visiting the Jersey War Tunnels. During WWII the Nazis occupied the island and used slave labor to build these underground barracks and ammunition stores that were later converted to a hospital for German soldiers. Displays inside provide chilling details of survival under oppression. My choice for something below ground was a little less sinister with time spent at La Hougue Bie with its 6,000 year-old Neolithic community and passage grave. To make sure that we got our “fix” of castles we stopped to view Elizabeth castle out in the bay off St. Helier plus Mont Orgueil Castle that overlooks the fishing port of Gorey with a distant view of France to the east. Even our hotel room had a view of St. Aubin’s Fort just off shore that we could walk to during low tide.
After a week of non-stop eating (I think we got to 19 restaurants), too many miles to count of walking, historic sites, gorgeous sea views, and beautiful landscapes, it was time to head home. We certainly didn’t get to see everything that the island has to offer, but the Tennerfest is an annual event so it looks like we’ll have many more opportunities in the future.