I got into a taxi in Jersey and asked the driver to take me to The Horizon hotel. “You what?” he said. The Horizon hotel? “Don’t you mean l’oreezon, love?” he replied, breaking into a French patois, mid-sentence. It was then I realised I wasn’t in Blighty anymore.
Things are different here; you can’t just go around Anglicising nouns.
Luckily, the Word Police let me off and L’Horizon materialised ten minutes later, all in white with baskets of flowers spilling from its balconies. Atop a cliff overlooking a popular cove, it’s one of the oldest hotels in St Brelade’s Bay. It was built in 1850 as Aliwal, a private seaside villa occupied by George Hicks, a colonel in the Bengal Army and grandfather of actor-writer Sir Samuel Hicks, who went on to re-build the Globe Theatre on the South Bank.
One of France’s most famous authors, Victor Hugo, lived less than a hundred yards from the hotel before he ran off to Guernsey to write Les Miserables. Then there’s a darker moment in the hotel’s history: during the Channel Islands’ occupation by the Nazis, the German High Command were so taken with the building they made it their military headquarters. “The Nazis liked it” isn’t the most persuasive recommendation I’ve ever given, but the building does possess an inherent grandeur. A decade later, it was bought by its first hotel group and started a new life as L’Horizon, the four star institution it is today.
A pianist tinkled away while I checked in, then someone showed me to my room. Tea and biscuits arrived before I did. It was like the hotel was trying to be as English as possible despite its sexy French name.
I stayed in a deluxe room (the middle tier) with a view of the ocean. An enormous wedding party below were trying to organise themselves into a heart shape on the sand. Weddings are big business for L’Horizon, as it’s the only hotel among the many crowded around the bay that has an uninterrupted view over the water – the Instagram ideal.
Drizzle put paid to my beach plans, however, so I went to the spa. The heavy furnishings are what you’d expect to find in a cosy hotel in the Lake District, rather than a beachside resort. The spa was renovated last year and has with a dedicated nap room and massage chairs with cushioned arm pads, so they don’t flop off the side of the bed.
If you ask anyone in Jersey what to do when it’s raining, they’ll direct you to the War Tunnels, a museum about island life under occupation, or they’ll tell you to go and eat something.
For such a small place – it’s only 120sqkm, which is 20 fewer than Britain’s largest lake – it has a disproportionate amount of Michelin-starred restaurants; four at the last count. It could be something to do with the warmer climes producing better produce, or maybe they’ve just caught a whiff of what they’re cooking over in France. Either way, I headed to The Grand Hotel – a more corporate, town hotel – over in St Helier to try out Tassili. If features ten tables in a space comparable to a living room and you can choose from three seven-course tasting menus: From the Land, From the Sea, and From the Land and Sea. Then you’re left to salivate while watching a live -feed of the kitchen on a TV screen. It’s certainly a novel distraction from the view, which is a. The dishes are immaculately presented, all sprinkled with sea foam or aromatic sprays.
And if you’re impressed with the gastronomy, then you should check out the winery on La Mare estate. Established in 1972, it’s now one of the island’s biggest tourist attractions, running regular tastings. It’s expanding rapidly, too; into cider, brandies, gin and vodka made from Jersey royal potatoes. A particular speciality is its black butter, a sort of spread that tastes like mince pies (“Buerre” is closer to “spread” in Jersey patois, but “black spread” sounds like a medieval infection so they wisely stuck with the more appetising “butter” for the branding).
It’s a good analogy for what makes Jersey an enduring weekend getaway staple; it takes British comforts – same language, comfy chairs and decent tea – and adds just the right amount of French flair.