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Jersey - a Home Away From Home

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Familiar to Sunday night television viewers in the 1980s through the exploits of detective Jim Bergerac, Jersey is a the southernmost of the British Isles, and offers a unique combination of British and French ways of life to the three quarters of a million people who visit this tiny island each year.

Just 14 miles off the coast of Normandy's Cotentin peninsula, and more than a hundred miles from the mainland of Britain, Jersey is an ideal holiday destination for those who want something more exotic than a holiday at home, but without the culture shock.

Jersey is not part of the United Kingdom. It is a separate possession of the Crown, like the Isle of Man and the other Channel Islands (of which it is the largest).

The British monarch's claim to Jersey stems from her descent from the medieval Dukes of Normandy – one of whom, William the Conqueror, famously became king of England in 1066.

So, while the rest of Normandy became French after 1204, Jersey remains a bastion of authentic Norman culture, which has resisted the influence of both its neighbours for centuries.

Jersey's Norman heritage is particularly reflected in its political and legal system, its architecture, and the overwhelming predominance of French place names across the islands.

It is a small island, just 46 square miles in area. Quite how John Nettles spent so much time driving around Jersey is unclear, although there are 450 miles of road network – including 46 miles of "green lanes", where speeds are limited to 15 mph and priority is given to walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

And Jersey is an island of contrasts. From the capital, St Helier, where 30 per cent of the island's population of 87,000 live, to the prehistoric remains at St Ouen and La Cotte de St Brelade, to its astonishingly varied coastline – comprising high cliffs, sandy beaches, stark bays and rocky coves – Jersey packs a lot into a small space.

A space, moreover, that changes daily. Jersey's location in the bay of St Malo sees the tide rise and fall by 12 metres each day, one of the highest tidal ranges in the world.

Jersey has a large Portuguese population, and this is nowhere more prominent than in St Helier, where the influence of Portuguese, French and British culture are in evidence.

A cosmopolitan town, St Helier has museums, theatres, cinemas, shops, markets and gardens. It is also a major financial centre, reflecting Jersey's status as an offshore banking centre. There is always around £150 billion deposited in the island's 55 banks at any given time.

Particularly of interest to history fans is Jersey's status as one of the only British territories occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War. The island was captured in 1940, and remained in German hands until the end of the war in 1945. There are numerous museums and public evidence of the occupation, which every visitor would do well to take in.

Jersey is easily accessed from the UK – and indeed, from France. There are flights daily to St Helier from numerous British airports, as well as car and passenger ferries from the main south coast ports.

 

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