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An English Queen With a French Accent

May 10, 1987|ELSA DITMARS | Ditmars is a Palos Verdes free-lance writer.

JERSEY, Channel Islands, U.K. — La Reine de la Manche, Queen of the Channel, that's what the French call this enchanting island with its abundance of pleasures.

Anglers plant themselves on the smooth flat stones of St. Catherine's Breakwater that stretches 2,500 feet toward the coast of France.

The bikini-clad lie basking on the Royal Bay of Grouville Beach where a brooding medieval castle, high on its east-facing promontory, looms as stage backdrop.

For animal and nature lovers, there's a pilgrimage to the world-famous Wildlife Preservation and Breeding Center to view, in natural habitat, 1,200 of the planet's rare and endangered species.

Flowers, Fish, Bargains

Bargain hunters stream off the daily ferries and hydrofoils from French St. Malo (two hours) and English Weymouth and Portsmouth (five or six hours) to stock up in the resplendent flower market, fresh fish market, food halls and fashionable shops of St. Helier.

Service from 20 air terminals on the Continent and in Britain is also available year round.

In October we flew in from Heathrow, 35 minutes away, to stay at Longueville Manor, take walks on the high rocky bluffs and seawalls, play golf, ride bikes and soak up the good life on this English island with the French accent.

Simon Dufty, manager of Longueville Manor, said of the island, "There's an atmosphere of continental sophistication, a predominance of French cooking, yet with the overall texture and stamp of English country living."

The Jersaise find it hard not to be complacent on these 44 square miles of lush farmland. Besides a mild climate, they are beneficiaries of a booming international finance and banking industry that supports the island's population so that only nominal taxes are levied.

Tight control on development permits only 15 families a year to immigrate to Jersey. In effect, these must be wealthy buyers because each is required to purchase property valued at a minimum of $375,000. Renters are restricted to three months' stay either in hotel or house.

Elitist policies stop there. The States Assembly of Jersey governs the island and regularly inspects and grades hotels and bed-and-breakfast inns, so the 25,000 summer visitors and 7,000 winter visitors get a fair deal.

Abundance of Luxury Cars

Of these visitors, 3,000 rent cars at about $12 a day. We asked the Falles car-hire manager about all the luxury cars on the island's few roads.

"There's so much money here that $120,000 Bugattis, Maseratis and Rolls-Royces are common, in spite of the strictly enforced 40 m.p.h. speed limit," he said.

But who needs more than a $3-a-day bicycle to see most of this tranquil 9-by-5-mile island?

May-June and September-October are the best months for the Channel Islands. The Gulf Stream keeps October warm for beaching and swimming.

From the sand dunes we watched surfers catch Atlantic waves pounding onto the five-mile sweep of St. Ouen's Bay. And from the Royal Jersey Golf Links we got a clear view of the magnificent 15th-Century fortified castle of Mont Orgueil.

The most dramatic landmark is Elizabeth Castle, the massive citadel high on a rock in the harbor of St. Helier. But the sightseer walking across the causeway to this fortification must be tide-wise. Jersey's 25-foot tide rushes in to maroon the unwary.

In the marshes, parkland and woods surrounding his 16th-Century manor, Les Augres, Gerald Durrell has created what many claim is the world's perfect zoo. He calls it Wildlife Preservation Trust or, in one of his dozen books, Menagerie Manor.

"This is a sanctuary for most of the desperately endangered species left on earth," says Grant Thompson, a frequent visitor from Florida.

"Non-carnivores roam up and down the garden paths and around the rose granite manor house, and children play and frolic about with the baby gorillas in the kitchen garden."

Durrell says that Trumpy, a gray-winged trumpeter, is apt to fly in his bedroom window at daybreak, waking everyone with a shrill report on the night's activity in the huge monkey house, in the domiciles of parrots, of the swans and ducks down in the water meadow and of the tapirs--Claudius and Claudette--in their paddocks.

In the walled garden we saw fat lions lying inside their walls in the sun. Nearby, cheetahs languidly draped amid the buttercups. The beautiful penguin pond is a favorite of tourists piling off buses from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

In many ways, the animal nurseries are indistinguishable from most maternity hospitals. You see incubators, formulas, diapers, plastic pants and cut-out Walt Disney characters on walls and ceilings to give the babies' eyes some things to focus on.

The guide said, "Because gorilla mothers only learn from their clans in the wild, most babies born in the zoo must be removed (after a trial period of 30 to 40 hours with their mothers) to the nursery inside the manor."

We'd neglected to obtain visas for France, so we took a day's excursion to the tiny island of Sark instead of to Brittany.

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