Two nights in… St Helier

As I’ll soon be living a few miles from Heathrow and have access to discounted flights, it’s my intention to take plenty of short breaks around Europe. These are unlikley to warrant my usual multi-part trip reports, so instead I thought I’d experiment with quick summaries of the key aspects and one or two highlights. This post is the first attempt at such a mini-TR!

The Destination
St Helier is the capital of Jersey, one of the channel islands – which makes it part of the British Isles and hence Europe, but neither the United Kingdom nor the EU. I arranged a Fri/Sat/Sun stay towards the end of July, to attend ‘the JER DO, 2014’– in what is shaping up to be a tradition, an assorted bunch from the British Airways board on Flyertalk descend upon the island for good company, (hopefully) good weather and the all-important tier points. User matthandy has already documented the event itself, which is, erm, handy, as it saves me the job (a perk of travelling with FT’ers – someone will almost certainly be taking better photos than you could hope to).

The Flights
A perk of the already great-value `reward flight savers’ that BA offers to Europe is that a domestic leg can be tacked on at no extra cost; or, from my perspective up in Edinburgh, that any visit to London can have a European side-trip woven in. In practice, due to fixed dates and my week starting near Heathrow with Jersey only being served from Gatwick, I couldn’t find availability for the whole thing. Instead I ended up with a trio of bookings: EDI-LHR domestic and LGW-JER euro traveller as revenue tickets, and JER-LGW-EDI as a Club Europe/Domestic award ticket (9000 avios and £25). Booking back when I still had silver secured me exit row seats on the non-club sectors; the LGW-JER hop was further improved by a kindly Flyertalker guesting me into the First class lounge. On the downside, the connection at LGW was three hours, and my booking was deemed ineligible for lounge use (still waiting on a response from customer services regarding that).

The Tourist Attraction
I spent a fair bit of time exploring St Helier (not all of it intentional, thanks to my oft-failing sense of direction), but the only specific attraction I was able to fit in was Elizabeth Castle. At low tide you can walk out across the bay along a causeway, but for a few pounds more you can add the `ferry’ to your ticket. Depending on the water level, this is either a boat or a truck – but it’s always the same vehicles, as they can operate as either! The whole islet is fortified these days, but it had much humbler beginings, which means that there’s an interesting `time travel’ effect as you work your way simultaneously away from St Helier and back in history. I had imagined looking around for an hour or so, but was there for nearly three despite skipping a couple of the museum buildings. I would also have been much better prepared for the Do quiz if I’d been here in advance! However, I would suggest bringing a picnic instead of relying on the only cafe – an overpriced and semi-stale scone was not the mid-morning snack I hoped for (especially compared to the Flounge version from Friday).

The Accommodation
The Radisson seemed to have established itself as the official Do barracks, but I could get two nights elsewhere for the price of one there (and hadn’t yet hit Club Carlson gold, which offers two-for-one pricing on weekend stays). That elsewhere was the Norfolk Lodge, which I have mixed feelings about. There was much confusion at check-in, with their records showing a ten night, half-board stay (instead of my two nights B&B). By sheer coincidence, there was another couple with my surname due to arrive that day, and it was their records that had been pulled – and their room which I briefly had! Unfortunately, they arrived after I’d set out for dinner; and the lobby staff were unable to catch my eye on my return. This gave me just enough time to reach ‘my’ room, strip and hit the shower before they caught up with me – I had completely failed to notice that all my possessions were missing! Once I was rather less naked, it was back to reception for a new key, and the room I should have had. This, on later checking my booking, is exactly what I had paid for – a single – but was rather underwhelming in comparison to the spacious double I’d briefly been upgraded to. Worse, it had seemingly been hermetically sealed prior to my arrival, and thus resembled nothing so much as an oven. No aircon, of course, and opening the windows only achieved so much yielding more noise than breeze). Further, wifi was only available in the lobby / bar areas.

However, it’s hard to argue with the price, at a rate of a little over £50 including breakfast; said breakfast was excellent; and whilst the location was not right in the heart of St Helier, it was only a few minutes to the harbour on foot. Staff were also highly apologetic about the confusion, and a complimentary bottle of wine soon turned up in my new room- on ice, which was perhaps even more useful!

The meal
Simple though it may sound, the pulled pork sandwich at our do venue – simply the bar – was the kind of meal you took one look at and ordered yourself. So much meat it required excavations before the sandwich could be closed; a decent kick from the barbecue sauce; excellent chips; and change from a tenner. A better reviewer would have taken a photo before getting stuck in, but I am not that person.