Looking for an offbeat European holiday? This island has its own rules, language and vodka

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It’s an island that is closer to France than to England — yet it is part of the British Isles. 

It’s home to miles of tunnels built during World War II — but by German rather than British soldiers.

And it has lower taxes than the U.K. and its own financial rules.

The island of Jersey, in the English Channel, is only five miles long and nine miles wide but has plenty for visitors to see, according to Amanda Burns, CEO of tourism agency Visit Jersey.

“We pack quite a big punch,” Burns told CNBC by phone. “What’s really interesting is … the geological uniqueness of the island, through to the history and the heritage,” she said.

Located about 120 miles from England — and 14 from France — Jersey attracts visitors who travel to the island via ferry or a short flight.

Quirky Jersey

Though English is mainly spoken, Jersey has its own language, which isn’t used anywhere else in the world. Jerriais, sometimes known as “Jersey French,” developed over several centuries and is still used on the island.

A recent tourism campaign that highlights Jersey’s quirks has made the island’s mainland European influence a point of attraction.

“Curiously Brit…(ish),” is how the campaign describes the island — “the air of British familiarity gives way to a curiously continental feel,” it continues.

Visitors are also encouraged to explore Jersey’s food, such as the island’s potatoes, called Jersey Royals.

The potatoes can be bought only in Jersey or on mainland Britain. Although there’s no official connection with Britain’s royal family, Jersey Royals had Protected Designation of Origin, or PDO, a label given by the EU to food products that have the strongest links to the place in which they are made. Since Brexit, the potatoes have been placed in a similar U.K. program.

Jersey Royal potatoes are available only in Jersey and the mainland of the United Kingdom.
Source: Visit Jersey

Jersey business owner Marcus Calvani founded a company on the odd-shaped Jersey Royals that don’t pass selling standards — he makes vodka with them, bottled under the name Fluke.

“It takes 11 kilos of Jersey Royals to make one bottle,” Calvani said. “It’s got a beautiful mouthfeel that’s … kind of silky and viscous. And the weird thing you get from it is a slight honeydew melon vanilla on the nose.”

Calvani borrowed the name from the potatoes’ original moniker: Jersey Royal Fluke, named when farmers were experimenting with growing the vegetable in the early 19th century, after the decline of cider orchards. Bottles will be available in the upscale department store Harrods later this year, priced at around £50 ($61) each.

Is Jersey part of the U.K.?

The short answer is no — but it is a “British Crown Dependency.”  

  • The relationship is explained on the British Royal Family’s website as follows: “There are three island territories within the British Isles that are known as Crown Dependencies; these are the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey which make up [the] Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man. The Crown Dependencies are not part of the United Kingdom, but are self-governing possessions of the British Crown.”
  • The Channel Islands formed part of the Duchy of Normandy in the 11th century — Normandy being a region in northern France — ruled by Henry I from 1106. Today, Queen Elizabeth II is referred to as the Duke of Normandy on the islands.
  • Jersey is self-governing, with its own rules and administrative systems. While it is not part of the United Kingdom, the British government does have responsibility for defending it as well as maintaining international relations.

History and Hogwarts

Jersey became a Crown Dependency in the year 1290, not long after Mont Orgueil Castle, on the island’s east coast, was constructed.

Burns described it as a “Hogwarts kind of castle,” referring to the fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter franchise. It sits above Gorey Harbour, which Burns called a “spectacular and iconic location.”

The 800-year-old Mont Orgueil Castle in Jersey, with The Moorings (blue building) in the foreground.
Source: The Moorings, Jersey

There are also ancient sites on the island, and in July, the Prince of Wales was named patron of La Cotte de St. Brelade, a settlement in southwest Jersey that was inhabited by Neanderthals up to 250,000 years ago.

More recently, Jersey was occupied by the Germans during World War II — the only part of the British Empire to be taken over by the Nazis — who built underground tunnels that travelers can visit.

The tunnels were created to protect the Germans from Allied air raids, and parts are open to the public between March and October.

Friendly competition

Another quirk of the small island is the good-humored competition between its east and west sides, according to hotelier Iselin Jones, who with her husband Matthew runs The Moorings Hotel and Restaurant, close to Mont Orgueil Castle.

The harbor at St. Aubin, Jersey on the southwest of the island.
Source: Visit Jersey

“The island is very much divided into ‘easties’ and ‘westies,’ so people either love the east or people love the west,” she said. “It’s really the natural environment that’s different. The west is very much [about] the wide-open barren sand dunes … whereas the east is a lot more cliff paths and woodland areas.”

St. Ouen’s Bay, which spans much of the west coast, is popular with surfers, while Plemont Bay, in the north, reveals a sandy beach at low tide.

Jersey, which gets much more sunshine than the mainland, traditionally has attracted families wanting a bucket-and-spade beach vacation and seniors looking for a relaxing stay. But Visit Jersey is also keen to entice “moment makers,” or younger visitors who tend to document their trips on social media, said Burns.

Jersey is known for its seafood, such as lobster and oysters seen here at St. Ouen’s Bay.
Pierre Longnus | The Image Bank | Getty Images

They reach “an aspirational audience,” Burns said. “The size of that audience is much greater, but actually, the competition is more intense as well.”

Fluke’s Calvani, who operates several food and drink outlets in Jersey, said the types of travelers coming to Jersey is changing.

“We’ve seen some younger, short stay, urbanite kind of visitors,” he said. “And I think they’re loving it: they eat well, they go to a spa, play a bit of golf … do two or three nights and then go back to their [city] flat.”

Food and drink

JB’s Brewhouse, a Craft brewery and barbecue smokehouse, is one of Calvani’s restaurants that attracts visitors from further afield, he said.

“The Americans that come into JB’s find it highly entertaining that we’re smoking like Texan cowboys, but eating tiny little cows from Jersey,” he said.

Business owner Marcus Calvani runs JB’s Brewhouse, in St. Helier, Jersey, a bar and restaurant that sells Texas-style barbecue.
Source: Be Served Group

Burns said younger visitors also like to visit Faulkner Fisheries, started by Jersey resident Sean Faulkner in 1980, for summer barbecues with local scallops, lobster and oysters.

On the island’s west coast is The Atlantic Hotel, part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection, whose Chef Will Holland is something of a celebrity, having made appearances on British TV cooking shows.

The Portelet Bay Cafe serves pizza and seasonal dishes to those who make the trek down its cliffside steps. And St. Helier, the largest town on the island, is home to Bohemia Restaurant, which has held a Michelin star for 17 years.

Costs

Jersey is often thought of as a tax haven — residents pay only 20% income tax, compared with up to 45% in the U.K.

The island also has a “high value residency scheme” for those who “comfortably” earn more than £725,000 (about $875,000) a year, according to the Jersey’s government website. For those in the program, income above this level is taxed at 1%.

There is also no business tax payable in many sectors, though exceptions include financial services firms, taxed at 10%, and utility companies, taxed at 20%. That contrasts with the U.K., where corporation tax is currently 19% for all businesses.

Jersey cows are famous for the rich, creamy milk they produce.
Matt Porteous | Digitalvision | Getty Images

The finance industry employs about a quarter of the island’s working population, according to the business agency Locate Jersey.

Still, the cost of living “can be high when compared to other countries,” according to the island’s governmental website. The average price of a home on the island was £660,000 in the first quarter of 2022, compared with a U.K. average of £277,000, according to Statistics Jersey.

Costs are problematic for Calvani, who provides housing for some of his staff members.

The marina at St. Helier, Jersey’s financial center. The island is known for its tax incentives for residents and businesses.
Ian Gethings | Moment Open | Getty Images

“We’ve just brought in three new staff from Kenya,” he said. “These guys have got great education, great years of experience [but] housing them is the major problem.”

After working with the likes of Disney during stints in the United States, he said he views Jersey as being one huge “theme park.”

“You’ve got two entry gates, in the airport and the harbor … bed and breakfasts and hotels, you’ve got a main retail center of St. Helier [and] masses of attractions,” he said.

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