All information in this blog post is correct as of the publishing date, 19.08.19.
Your Jersey holidays are likely to take you to all the major hotspots of the island, such as the Jersey Zoo, Mont Orgueil Castle or one of the fantastic beaches which offer all sorts of water sports and family activities. The largest of the Channel Islands has plenty to offer holidaymakers, yet for those who want to discover a different side of the island, there are some lesser-known “hidden gems” of Jersey we recommend seeking out. These places show a side of the island you wouldn’t usually see on a typical family holiday; you may have to head off the beaten track – literally and figuratively – to find these attractions!
Though it is the biggest of the Channel Islands, Jersey is still small, but you’ll be surprised by what you can find when wandering along the coast or around the gorgeous countryside. While it is always fun discovering places on your own by accident, a little guidance can help too. Read on to see our top picks of hidden gems and alternative experiences to have on Jersey!
Reg’s Fairy Garden
Jersey’s mild climate makes it a wonderful location for some beautiful gardens. There is the famous Jersey Lavender Farm, the manicured gardens at manor houses and the less known, but just as magical, Reg’s Garden. This little garden in St Brelade, not far from the Lavender Farm, is owned and maintained by Reg, who first created the garden in 1985, and it is the perfect place to take children as their imagination can run wild in the Fairy Garden. The Fairy Garden is the highlight of the attraction; miniature houses and toadstools are surrounded by hundreds of fairies! There are all sorts of dolls dressed up with angel wings or colourful butterfly wings among the grass and perched on tree stumps, playing out various fairy tales.
Elsewhere in the garden, there is a pond, flowers in bloom, water features and quiet places to sit and relax in the sunshine. Reg has planted hundreds of bedding plants, climbers and bushes to compliment the area, giving the garden a wild feeling that could actually be a fairy dwelling!
The garden is self-funded, and entry is free; any donations made go to Children in Need charity. It is not hard to see the amazing effort Reg has put into the garden to make it special for everyone – there is a swing for wheelchair users, terrapin enclosure and plenty of space for families to enjoy being out in nature. Visitors to the garden are likely to meet the man himself and hear stories about how the garden came to be!
Jersey is a heavily fortified island, with fortifications around the coast dating back to the English Civil War, Napoleonic Wars and the Nazi Occupation. There are castles, forts, towers, Martellos, batteries and seawalls. Icho Tower is a Martello tower, a type of small defensive fort built during the French Revolution in the 19th century. Martello towers are different from other island fortifications as they don’t have openings for muskets or machicolations around the walls. Other Martello towers on Jersey include Victoria Tower, Lewis Tower and La Tour de Vinde, and many of the fortifications can be visited by the public, but Icho Tower stands out as it is a little harder to access.
Icho Tower is clearly visible on its rocky tidal islet and can be seen from the coastal road at several points, but you can only visit at low tide. The tower would have been manned by a sergeant and 12 men, defending the area from an invading forces’ ships, using artillery from its 24-pounder long guns on the roof. Visiting Icho Tower, you will be able to see the difficulties of building it – there are stone huts on the islet where quarrymen and masons had to stay during the construction, as they may not have been able to return to the mainland every day due to the tides. You can also see the initials of these men carved into the stone where they quarried rocks.
The tower has three windows, used to communicate to the other towers with visual signals and the door was accessed by a long ladder. To visit, we recommend going on a guided tour across the seabed. Jersey has some of the fastest moving tides in the world so it is important to be with a guide that expertly knows the ebb and flow. Not only will you see the marine world that is revealed when the tide is at its lowest, but you can also explore the secluded islet and find out more about Jersey’s military history.
Bioluminescence Beach Walk
Not all of Jersey’s wonders can be seen during the day, as the Bioluminescence Beach Walks require nightfall for you to see the luminous green creatures on the beach shine. An experience like no other, Bioluminescence Beach Walks are probably not what you would expect to do in Jersey, and even some of the locals are not aware of the ecological wonder that happens almost every night on some of the island’s beaches!
Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism and it occurs in marine vertebrates and invertebrates, some fungi, glow worms and fireflies. At low tide on La Rocque Harbour, you can see small brown worms light up in an eerie yellow-green colour. The transformation of the brown seabed is like looking at a starry night sky, as the worms glow when they have been disturbed for about 20 seconds. Scientists don’t know why the worms emit light from their bodies but suspect it’s for defence or communication.
The Bioluminescence Beach Walks are best when the moon isn’t full, as you need total darkness to appreciate the glowing creatures. The walks last around from 90 minutes to an hour and cost £17.50 for adults and £8 for children. Be prepared for a late evening, as the tours start as or after the sun has set and take some wellies for walking on the beach at low tide – although these can be hired if you don’t have any with you.
In Jersey, you’re never more than ten minutes from the sea! There are large beaches, perfect for a family beach day with all the amenities you need close by, and then there are also some quieter, secluded spots that are a little more romantic. Belcroute Bay is one such beach, a hidden bay in the south of the island. Despite the secluded feeling you get when visiting Belcroute Bay, a cliff fall in 1930 showed evidence the area had been inhabited since the Iron Age!
The beach may lose sun early in the day due to the cliffs and trees which surround the bay keeping it sheltered from strong winds. We’d recommend getting there early in the day while the sun is shining to get a good spot and giving you plenty of time to do activities the bay is perfect for. The clear waters make it great for snorkelling and swimming when the tide is high – but be careful not to venture out further than the rocky cliffs as the current is much stronger. The water is calm enough for stand up paddleboarding and sea kayaking too, as the sheltered bay and sloping beach doesn’t see many big waves. Paddling out of the bay and a short way along the coastline is a wonderful way to see Jersey’s stunning coast, and these water sports are relaxing as well as a good workout!
There is limited parking but arriving early will earn you a good spot. Keep in mind there are no toilets at the beach and dogs are to be kept on a lead between May and September.
On the outskirts of St Helier is Fern Valley, a picturesque location approximately 25 vergées in size – just over six acres. There are two main valleys, with a stream running through the centre of each and a large meadow in the centre surrounded by a deciduous woodland that is still growing in size. The valley is a wonderful place for an easy walk any time of the year and when the weather is warm, why not take a picnic to make a day of it?
What has drawn people to Fern Valley is the abundance of flora and fauna. In spring, the valley is a rainbow of colour due to the wildflowers, and in the summer, the flowers attract butterflies, bees, dragonflies and the day-flying Jersey tiger moth. But the wildlife highlight of the valley is the red squirrel; the elusive rodent can be spotted in the trees and running across the ground in search of food. The valley is also home to voles and shrews which attracts birds of prey such as buzzards and kestrels. If you have binoculars, take them with you when visiting Fern Valley!
There is limited parking at the entrance to Fern Valley by the Waterworks pumping station, and no facilities, though public toilets and cafés can be found at Victoria Avenue, a short drive from the area. Those of limited mobility may find it difficult to walk along the narrow paths and steps.
Longueville Manor Hotel’s Woodland Walk
Longueville Manor Hotel is one of the most celebrated getaway destinations in Jersey. While the luxury rooms, exceptional food and drink or relaxing spa might be what draws most people to the hotel, nature lovers should also explore the woodland trails surrounding the manor house, which are also open to the public. Though the popular manor is found in a wonderful setting, as you head into the woods it does feel like a seldom explored part of Jersey.
Along the trails, look for red squirrels, woodpeckers, barn owls and the many bees from the manor’s hives. The woodland walk is known locally as “The Nun’s Walk” and will take visitors into the heart of Jersey’s countryside, where beyond the woods there are quiet country lanes surrounded by rolling hills. You are likely to spot the famous Jersey cow and admire the wonderful seasonal colours of the trees, whatever time of year your holiday to Jersey falls.
The woodland also has several wild foods growing within it, and the chefs at the manor forage for the best mushrooms, fruit and nuts throughout the year before cooking them up and serving the fresh produce at the hotel. The bountiful harvest has helped to create some delicious dishes and after a long walk through the woods, a casual dinner rounds off the day perfectly!
St Ouen’s Bay is teeming with surfers and thrill-seekers, so it may be a surprise that the headland overlooking the long stretch of sandy beach feels worlds away with its peaceful atmosphere. Grantez Headland can be accessed by a number of public footpaths and consists of six National Trust sites. The open space is perfect for walking and a relaxing picnic and it is largely covered with maritime grass heathland, making it a wildlife haven; when walking the headland, keep an eye out for green lizards as well as kestrels and sparrowhawks.
On the headland is a megalithic passage-grave known as Lé Cuex ès Faît’tchieaux, or ‘place of the fairies’, based on the old belief it was built by fairies or dwarfs. The grave dates back to 4000-3250 BC and is made from local granite. It was excavated in 1912, and there were human and animal bones found along with piles of brightly coloured pebbles. There are several Neolithic monuments on Jersey including standing stones, stone circles and burial chambers, which are all worth exploring!
The headland is welcome to dog walkers, but the National Trust area is farmland and has sheep grazing on it, so visitors with dogs are advised to keep their dogs on leads and pick up after them. The ground is uneven so access to the area is restricted and young children and the elderly may find walking the headland difficult. However, if you do make it to the top of Grantez Headland, heading away from the popular walking routes, the views that await you are rewarding and breathtaking!