On the Island of Jersey, Fortifications Turned Lodging

The New York Times
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“IT’S in the details,” said Dave Bull, the caretaker of a former military bunker on the island of Jersey in the English Channel. He heaved open a cast-iron door and ran a hand over its bolts and heavy wrench-like handle. “This was all built by slave labor, by prisoners the Nazis marched here from Europe.”

The bunker in question is located on the ground floor of a radio tower on Jersey, erected by occupying German forces during World War II. The stout concrete structure still keeps a quiet vigil over the channel.

Today, though, it serves a different, and far more festive, function: as a holiday home for travelers. The top floor, which once served as a Nazi watchtower, is now a 360-degree observation deck cum living room.

The Radio Tower is one of 10 historic fortifications, built between the mid-1800s and the mid-20th century, to be renovated by Jersey Heritage, a local organization dedicated to preserving the island’s history and culture. Profits from the rentals are then put toward further restoration.

“It’s an idea that’s been around for a long time because there are so many of these amazing buildings which the public can’t see,” Jonathan Carter, director of Jersey Heritage, said of the restorations. The latest was of an 18th-century battery tower called La Tour Cârrée, inaugurated at the end of last summer.

Then there are the Martello towers, 24 small defensive forts that dot the Jersey coast, a testament to the geopolitical allure of an island caught between long-warring English and French naval forces. The most striking is the red-and-white-striped Archirondel Tower, which stands guard over France’s once-menacing horizon, visible from Jersey’s east coast.

Inside, the tower is fairly pared down: the circular granite interior spans three floors and is bare except for a handful of wooden beds and mattresses. There is electricity, but guests must use the adjacent cafe for a bathroom and running water, and are expected to bring their own sleeping bags.

Michael McGlynn, a Dubliner, spent a week with his wife, children and dog at the better-provisioned Fort Leicester at Bouley Bay on the island’s north coast. “When I think of paradise I’ll always conjure up an image of Bouley Bay,” he said. “It’s remote and yet has everything you might require.” Split across three levels, the 19th-century fort contains two large furnished bedrooms, a living room and fully fitted kitchen area with a view over the bay.

Visitors looking to take the experience up a notch can make the mile-and-a-half-long trek at low tide to the 223-year-old Seymour Tower in the parish of Grouville; the hike is led by a guide, who stays overnight. This boxy little fortress becomes completely surrounded by water when the tide comes in and is an excellent spot for clamming when it goes back out again.

“It’s basic accommodation,” acknowledged Mr. Carter, the Heritage director, “but you are sharing an experience people have enjoyed for hundreds of years.”

Weekly rental prices for the furnished properties, like Fort Leicester, are £360 to £1,680 ($587 to $2,740 at $1.63 to the pound), depending on the season. The unfurnished stone huts, like Archirondel Tower, start at £140 for a minimum two-night stay. Bookings are made through Jersey Heritage (44-1534-633-304; jerseyheritage.org).

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