I have never had a more complicated conversation than when I tell people that I spent a week on the Isle of Jersey. Most people think I am making fun of New Jersey, then they seem perplexed when I say that Jersey is an actual island in the Channel Islands between France and Spain.
It finally sinks in when I say, "Have you ever thought of why New Jersey is new?"
Jersey is indeed a lovely and unexpected place to spend a holiday. What makes the island so special is the warm climate care of the Gulf Stream that keeps Jersey warmer than the rest of Britain. Even though you're only an hour away from cloudy London, the sun is often shining, and tropical plants thrive on this idyllic isle.
To settle the Jersey/New Jersey question once and for all, it can all be traced back to the English Civil War, when King Charles II took refuge in Jersey. In return for the hospitality shown by the islanders, King Charles rewarded Sir George Carteret a smattering of islands off Virginia, which he named New Jersey. When the islands proved unfruitful, Sir George was given the territory that is now known as New Jersey. (Feel free to dazzle friends with this wealth of information over cocktails.)
Jersey is ideal for all ages, especially for people who enjoy spending a bit of time with Mother Nature. There are four sides to the island, and each side is different. On the south coast on St. Aubin's, you'll find wide sandy beaches, yet on the north coast of Bonne Nuit is a quaint fishing village. You could go to a different beach each day and encounter completely unique experiences.
Two castles exist for history buffs: Elizabeth and Mont Orgueil.
At noon, daily cannons boom from the parade ground at Elizabeth Castle, which was named by Sir Walter Raleigh in honor of Queen Elizabeth I. This castle is a great place to explore the rocky terrain and the military collections; be sure to give ample time to explore Mont Orgueil.
Not only is the castle newly restored, but the exhibitions inside by modern artists are great fun to look at, tinker with and ponder.
The Jersey war tunnels are a must-see as well. The Germans occupied the island from 1940 to 1945. Because the Channel Islands were so hard to defend, Winston Churchill declared them demilitarized, and the islanders had to flee to England or face the uncertain future on Jersey.
At first, the occupation was almost friendly, but as the war went on, the rules became harsher, and many lost their lives from malnourishment, deportation (for as little as owning a radio) or death for attempting to escape. Besides these harsh circumstances, Adolf Hitler also commissioned the tunnels under the island to be built to safeguard possessions, as well as be used for a hospital.
All of these tunnels were built with slave labor brought in from German Occupied Europe — mostly Russia, Poland, Spain and France. The laborers' treatment was deplorable; many died from disease, accidents and exhaustion.
Today, the tunnels are filled with original rooms, boilers and medical clinics, but videos, pictures and stories give in-depth information on the Occupation of Jersey.
Most of the the Jewish population of Jersey, established at the end of the 18th century — the first synagogue opened in the 1830s — left the island before the German Occupation. Those who remained were persecuted. In the 1960s, the community was re-established, and a new synagogue was purchased in the 1970s.
Currently, about 100 Jewish families reside on the island; services are held every Saturday at the Orthodox synagogue.
The island's Sen. Freddie Cohen, who serves as minister for planning and environment, wrote a book on Jews during the Occupation that's well worth a read, either before or during your stay in Jersey.
To learn more, go to: www. occupationmemorial.com.
But how to get there? Most people go through London and take a direct flight to the island. Flights are frequent and cheap to and from London Gatwick. Cabs are readily available at the airport, or you may want to rent a car, which is very easy.
The road signs are in French and English. Roads are very narrow and winding so no speeding; just enjoy the countryside and ocean views.
There are many great places to stay in Jersey but two of the best are the Club Jersey and Longueville Manor.
The Club is a modern boutique hotel with the best spa in town. Located in the heart of St. Helier, the capital of Jersey, Club Jersey has well-appointed rooms, an amazing roof-top terrace, and the trendiest restaurant (Bohemia) and bar (Honesty) in town.
For a more traditional stay, try Longueville Manor, a 14th-century Norman manor house. Family owned with a Relais & Chateau seal of approval, this is the most elegant hotel on Jersey, with 30 antique-filled bedrooms and an award-winning chef in the kitchen.
For information on these hotels, visit: www.theclubjersey.com and www.longuevillemanor. com.
Besides the superb dining in the hotels, it's worth your time to check out some of the local favorites.
Suma is a delightful place to eat not only for the relaxed atmosphere and colorful local art adorning the wall, but also for the magnificent views of Mont Orgueil castle. The restaurant offers delectable local seafood, as well as traditional English cuisine. Be sure to order sea bass and anything with truffle oil!
Green Island Restaurant, located on the beach, is another local favorite. Be sure to reserve an outside table. The reason the locals love this spot so much? You can walk out to your car, change into your swimwear and dash onto the beach for a post-lunch plunge.
In the end, the most important aspect of your trip should be relaxation. Enjoy the balmy breezes, inhale the mounds of lavender, and please do offer clarification to all those who confuse your European destination with its namesake stateside.
To learn more on Jersey, log on to: www.gov.je.