Island beauty just an hour away from London
Rent a bike and explore the often-overlooked Channel Islands
ST. BRELADE, JERSEY
The ladies in the bakery shop were smirking again. Though I'd already visited several times, they couldn't seem to get used to the way I talked.Skip to next paragraph
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Lots of people from England, France, and the rest of Europe visit the Channel Islands. But not many Americans do. And that's too bad.
For an American on, say, a London theater visit, the islands are just an hour away by plane. They are also a short ferry trip from St. Malo in Normandy, or a much longer one from Poole in England.
The Channel Islands are technically not part of Britain, but you'll find Queen Elizabeth's face on the currency, people driving on the left, and the accent - both linguistically and culturally -very English. The islands are self-governing and owe their loyalty directly to the queen, not to the British Parliament.
Still, there's considerable French flavor here - more than just in place names. Much of the population is of French heritage, for example. And Victor Hugo, the French author, spent many years on the islands.
Summer is the time when most people visit, ignoring the lovely spring and autumn months. Of course, summer is the best time to swim at the scores of beautiful beaches. It's also when Jersey's Battle of Flowers parade happens (Aug. 12 this year) - a bit like the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, Calif.
At 45 square miles in area and shaped vaguely like a really shaggy version of one of its own cows, Jersey is the largest of the islands. The triangular-shaped Guernsey, the No. 2 island, is about an hour north by ferry and 70 miles from England.
The two islands have their own independent jurisdictions, called Bailiwicks. Within the Guernsey Bailiwick are the islands of Sark, Herm, and Alderney.
Each island is distinctive, and it's worth it to visit them individually using the convenient ferry service.
Exploring Jersey's shores
This is Jersey -the original Jersey after which America's Garden State is named. From the looks of the crowded streets of St. Helier, a lot of visitors spend time shopping in Jersey's answer to the big city. But don't be deceived: There is much more to do than shop.
Apart from St. Helier, Jersey is largely an island of country roads and hamlets, of rocky coves and beaches. It also has the internationally recognized Jersey Zoo, home to endangered species from throughout the world.
One of my favorite spots is the tiny village of Rozel on Rozel Bay, with its snug little harbor. After you've wandered on the rocks, you can walk to the coastal footpath that takes you along much of the north coast of Jersey. I've done parts of this walk and found it enchanting. Along the east coast is the ancient and sizable Mont Orgueil Castle, with its commanding harbor view. After a visit one clear summer day, I walked south along the beach - an area of sand and rocks that at low tide can stretch practically as far as the eye can see.
People have been on the Channel Islands since long before recorded history, and visitors who like ancient ruins can check out La Hougue Bie, a burial mound dating from 3,500 BC, and two accompanying medieval chapels.
St. Helier, despite its overdeveloped waterfront, does have some nice museums. The Maritime Museum skillfully blends history with science in its hands-on exhibits. Adjoining it is the Occupation Tapestry, produced on the 50th anniversary of the freeing of the island from German control (1940-1945).
You can get practically everywhere using the frustrating bus service. If you're on a short visit, you might want to rent a car.