If I told you that there was an island an hour’s flight from the UK with a Caribbean coastline that summered quicker than England and didn’t need a passport, you’d think I was kidding you.
But there is such a unicorn in the English Channel: Jersey.
When my family and I visited earlier this year, every beach was outstanding, the weather was lovely and the food was a fantastic mix of French and English flavors.
And, perfect if you’re traveling with a four-year-old, you can reach almost anywhere in 20 minutes by car.
Jersey describes itself as “strangely British”. . . (ish)” and it perfectly sums up this island, 14 miles off the coast of France.
Reachable in an hour by plane or four hours by car ferry from Poole, it is part of the Channel Islands – British islands not controlled by Westminster – so you don’t need a passport to visit.
Jersey has many great beaches, often alongside free parking, and regularly fantastic cafes serving both generous portions of food and cold beer.
Our first beach was Plemont in the north with the clearest turquoise water.
The cafe, which won an award for the island’s best soft serve ice cream and serves local beer and cider, could also lay claim to best beer with a view – as customers regularly spot dolphins.
But a contender for this – my new favorite travel awards category – is Bistro Le Braye on St. Ouen’s Bay, a white-sand beach popular with surfers that stretches almost the entire west coast of Jersey.
We ate fish and chips, chicken schnitzel and Thai curry and watched the sunset with the sand between our toes and a glass of Gascony wine in our hands.
We liked St Ouen’s so much we came back twice.
Once for sandcastle building and a refreshing swim – 11°C in late April – and again for a hike along the rugged coastline to the bottom of the island, over the 6,500-year-old La Sergente tomb and up to Britain’s southernmost lighthouse, Corbiere.
Also breathtaking was St Brelade’s Bay, which regularly features on lists of the best beaches in the British Isles thanks to its white sand, shallow surf and clear water.
My son loves sea life.
But although everyone we met told us stories about dolphin spotting, we weren’t so lucky.
So we went looking for them on a RIB trip with Jersey Seafaris.
Within minutes we had spotted them searching for their lunch among the sandbanks.
The cruise also stopped at the Écréhous – a group of islands six miles from Jersey and eight miles from France, the largest of which is inhabited by a handful of fishing huts that now serve as holiday homes.
It’s an eerily peaceful spit of land so remote that the tiny cluster of houses has Wi-Fi – with the code scrawled on a rock face for any stranded passersby.
The empty beaches are Instagram gold – as are the stunning sandbanks and reefs of Les Minquiers, which Seafaris also offers excursions to and is often compared to the Maldives.
We toasted our dolphin watching with another beach beer and huge crab sandwiches at the stunning Driftwood Café right on Archirondel Beach, run by a local fishing couple.
We stayed at the Club Hotel And Spa in St Helier, which was perfectly located, both within walking distance of the ferry terminal and halfway along the south coast.
The Club Hotel is a 5H property, which made me nervous with a small child in tow, but it couldn’t have been less stuffy.
My son looked forward to walking through the lobby every day as the staff greeted him with big smiles and examined with impressive interest every pebble or shell he discovered.
The same applies to the on-site Michelin-starred restaurant Bohemia.
They served our preschoolers fish and chips with a twist usually reserved for lesser royals, while my friend and I dined on locally sourced treats including potato mille-feuille (with Jersey Royals, natch), prawn panna cotta and French whites Asparagus with seaweed butter.
The rooms were nice and spacious and the icing on the cake was the spa with a spacious pool which was absolute luxury considering we were also at the beach every day.
Of course, Jersey isn’t just about the beaches.
The island’s proximity to France means it is full of history.
Jersey and Guernsey were the only parts of the British Empire occupied by the Nazis during World War II, and the Germans built secret tunnels to defend themselves against Allied forces.
The island also has fortifications from the Napoleonic Wars and the English Civil War, but our favorite was the 13th-century Mont Orgueil Castle, where exhibitions tell stories about life within the walls over the years.
What made our visit even more special was the dressing room, where both adults and children can dress up as knights, jesters and princesses to explore the castle.
It was great fun pretending to fire a cannon over the city walls dressed as a knight.
In fact, the entire trip was.
When it comes to a family vacation, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything better.
GET THERE: Condor Ferries costs from £85 one way from Poole to Jersey for a car and two passengers.
To book, see condoferries.co.uk
STAY THERE: Rooms at The Club Hotel & Spa in St Hellier, Jersey start from £146 per night for a deluxe double room with breakfast.
To book, visit theclubjersey.com
MORE INFO: See Jersey.com