Peter Welcome to our travel podcast. We’re specialist travel writers and we’ve spent half a lifetime exploring every corner of the world.
Felice So we want to share with you some of our extraordinary experiences and the amazing people we’ve met along the way.
Peter We’re in Jersey, the British Channel Islands, a part of Britain that is in fact not part of the United Kingdom. More of that later. We’ve been staying at LonguevilleManor, the island’s top five star hotel, and it’s a very special place indeed. It dates back to 1332 or thereabouts when Edward III was on the British throne – the king that led England into the Hundred Years’ War against France. It’s been in the same family since the late 1940s.
Felice We arrived in St Helier, the island capital, in the late evening after a 45-minute flight from London, and we drove straight to the hotel, which is on the outskirts of town. If you don’t have a hire car, the main shops and restaurants can be reached by local bus. It stops just outside the door or you can take a rather hearty 20-minute walk or a short taxi ride. There are lots of options.
Peter The beach – Jersey has truly fabulous beaches – is just 15 minutes to walk away. Felice what were your first impressions of Longueville Manor when we first arrived?
Felice It’s quite small, but there’s lots in it. I mean, it’s a lovely hotel. It really is a proper five star. There’s a spa, a restaurant, a very good restaurant with delicious breakfast.
Peter Sadly, time didn’t permit us to eat here in the evening, but I take the word of my islander friend, Roger, who tells me that it is one of his favourite restaurants on the entire island. It’s a beautiful building. When we arrived, it was just getting dark and it’s beautifully lit outside and there’s a circular driveway outside with grass in the middle, and this magnificent arch here with the front door.
Felice It’s really quite small, though, but our room was large and very well equipped. It had a sitting area with a television, very comfortable armchairs. And the lovely thing was a great big bowl of fruit and lots of other goodies: a bottle of wine, all those things ready and waiting for us as a gift from the hotel.
Peter Yes. I think the first thing I noticed was how incredibly friendly the staff were. They showed us round the hotel, insisted on showing us where things were even before our luggage was taken up to our room. The gardens are truly magnificent and there’s a separate cottage in the grounds. It has two main bedrooms and provides peace and privacy for a family that wants to be away from the main part of the hotel but still make use of all its facilities, including room service. There’s no kitchen in the cottage.
Felice It’s very comfortable. It feels like you’re in a private home.
Peter We caught up with Malcolm Lewis, the present owner, who runs it with his wife, Patricia. Malcolm, when your parents bought the hotel in 1948, it was a bit of a ruin, wasn’t it?
Malcolm That’s right. It was 1948. It was the dream of my grandparents who were publicans, and they had a lovely little pub in little village called Shettleston in the Midlands in England. It was their dream to have a little guesthouse somewhere and it was just a quirk of circumstances, Jersey happened to be the place they found this little guesthouse. And there’s a long story attached to that. They found this tumbledown old manor house that had been left in rack and ruin since the occupation. It was officers’ quarters during the occupation, so it spent four, nearly five years of its life being neglected effectively.
Peter So when during the war, when it was officers’ accommodation, wasn’t it the headquarters.
Malcolm No, just billeting. Yes, that’s right. And there were stables certainly on site, and across the road there were stables as well, because the horse was obviously a big mode of transport. So it was sort of conveniently positioned, I think sort of more senior officers were billeted here. They had hot and cold water, gas and electricity. So all the facilities were here.
They purchased it in 1948 and they opened for the first time in July 1949. So we’ll be celebrating 75 years next year. And they opened for the first time with 12 bedrooms and one bathroom. And the first staying customer were my mother’s parents.
My mother followed my father over to Jersey because my father was asked by his parents, my grandparents, to help set up the hotel. He had just started at university studying engineering and they asked him to take a year out, help set up this business. He did that. The rest is history; he never left. So he came to Jersey and he was followed in hot pursuit by my mother, they were engaged at the time, and the first guests were my mother’s parents.
Felice So have you had many changes over the years?
Peter But you’ve probably got rather more than one bathroom now?
Malcolm Well, we have more than one bathroom. We now have 29 bedrooms. In fact, 30 bedrooms if we include the two bedrooms in this cottage. Every room is en suite. So that was a project in itself. Longueville Manor was the first hotel in 1972 to have all en suite bathrooms, which was quite something in those days. In 1964 it was also the very first hotel to have its own swimming pool. So the old swimming pool is still there, still the same shape, size and so on. So there’s a little bit of history attached to that as well.
So we were trailblazers as a business, certainly in the sixties and the seventies. My father took over from my grandparents who retired in 1965. By then, my mother had joined the business as well. So my mother and father then had the challenge of deciding which direction they wanted this business to go. The choice then was either to go for quantity and therefore build more bedrooms and make it a really good, viable three or four star hotel, or to keep it at a reasonable size but go for luxury.
They had actually just been on a holiday in the south of France and they stayed at a place called the Cap Estel on the Cote d’Azur. And that to them was the guiding light in terms of where they wanted the direction of the hotel to go, which was really the luxury route. And that’s the route that we’ve maintained ever since.
Peter And I think I’m right in saying you’re one of only three five-star hotels in Britain that’s in private hands?
Malcolm That’s really quite a quirky thing. Yes, we are one of three. I think there are 62 five red star hotels throughout the United Kingdom. And as you rightly say, we’re one of three that are still in private hands. In this business, this level of luxury, private ownership is quite a rare thing.
And certainly now it’s my wife and I who now hold the reins of the business. We hold that as a very precious thing and we uphold that. And the thought of outside investors and others interfering is certainly not on our agenda. It means we’re in complete control. We can apply the one minute management principle. If we don’t like something, we can change it immediately.
Everything actually is personal choice as well. My wife in particular, she loves the interior design element of the business. So everything that you see and live and breathe, it’s really us, us as a family…and more recently, Patricia and myself.
Felice Are all the rooms similar or the different sizes and interior design?
Malcolm Everyone is different. Everyone is different in shape, size, interior design. No two rooms are alike. And I think that’s the joy of what we’ve done over the years. And every time we refurbish a room, Patricia and I, we sit down and Patricia in particular, who has the vision, she says every time that a refurbished bedroom should be a bedroom that she would like to stay in. And again, that’s one of our guiding lights and principles. And it’s fun. Every time we refurbish a room, it’s like refurbishing a room at home. We go into meticulous detail and it’s just the two of us, really, and a lot of fun attached to that.
Peter Are you always in the shop, so to speak?
Malcolm Pretty well, yes. I should be taking a little bit of a step back. Not so much. I’ve got a fabulous team, so I’m not so much on the shop floor, but I am very much immersed in the business, certainly in the strategic element and certainly the sales and marketing.
Peter And you’re feted by travel writers everywhere for having a quite remarkable standard of service. How do you manage to achieve this?
Malcolm That’s a very interesting question. Sometimes I ask that question myself every time, and often I draw a blank. But actually that’s not really what it is. It’s not a blank at all. What we’ve created here is almost a family spirit. We call ourselves – the team – we call ourselves the family. And interestingly enough, since Covid hit us, the staff were in trauma as we all were. Our challenge at that time was to wrap them in cotton wool and look after them as best we could and we did that, and they’ve stuck to us like glue.
We haven’t suffered the horrible recruitment issues that a lot of hospitality businesses throughout the UK, throughout Europe, throughout the world so it seems. We haven’t suffered those horrible recruitment issues and I think that’s down to our attitude towards our teams. We treat them like family, we wrapped them in cotton wool, we love them to share their ideas and vice versa. Team spirit means then, an easier delivery of service and they enjoy it. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s enjoying what we do.
Felice So is it mainly the staff that sets you apart from other hotels?
Malcolm I would say that’s probably it. We stay in hotels very frequently and we stay in beautiful hotels. But a hotel is more than just the bricks and mortar. It is very much the staff, and it’s when you walk across the threshold of a hotel, you can immediately feel the sense of welcome – or not, as the case may be. And that welcome often permeates all the way through during the stay and to the moment you leave. Sometimes it could be a magnificent city five-star hotel, and you don’t get that experience.
Without that experience, I think a hotel fails. We’re not all perfect, certainly in terms of our infrastructure as such, but we have a lovely team spirit which loves delivering hospitality and we always say as a team that our guiding principles is to look after our staff as well as if not better than our guests, which is certainly a principle that we uphold every day.
Felice Your facilities are good too. You have a restaurant and a spa.
Malcolm We have a very small spa. We’re a small hotel. We have small facilities. We have a small restaurant. Is it’s a 45-seater restaurant. We have a very small what we call a ‘boutique spa’. It’s two treatment rooms and a little quiet garden and rest area with hot tub and so, a gymnasium attached to it as well. So everything we do is very boutique and very small and very manageable as well. I think in a way that’s what sets us apart. We’re not a monster hotel. You don’t get lost. You always know where you are, wherever you are, you encounter again our lovely team members and the spa is no exception. We have fabulous therapists who are very well trained and very well experienced, and we get lovely feedback.
Felice Where do your most of your guests come from? Ate they pretty international?
Malcolm Before Covid, we were quite international, but the majority of our guests have always been from the UK. Before Covid struck, we were probably about 65% UK and the rest was a mixture of French and German, Swiss and just generally European. We were making good inroads into the American market as well. Covid struck and things went topsy-turvy and very much it was 99% UK business that sustained us, although last year we did see the beginning of Europeans travelling.
French… it has been a little bit tricky because of Brexit and the necessity for passports and so on, and a lot of French travellers don’t have passports, they only have identity cards. So that was a strategic issue which needed to be addressed by our local authorities here in Jersey, and that’s something that’s been addressed and we’ll hopefully start encouraging more French visitors to come back. We’re getting a lot of enquiries from French visitors, more so than we have done in the last few years.
Peter Of course, Jersey was never a part of the EU, which means people don’t seem to realise.
Malcolm Because of our relationship with the United Kingdom, we locked ourselves into a lot of EU protocols and laws and so on. That enabled us to have free flow of people, as was the case throughout the UK. Obviously now with Brexit things have changed quite drastically, but as I say, we’re overcoming those strategic issues.
Felice You took over the running of the hotel with your wife, but do you have any brothers and sisters?
Malcolm I have two sisters. One sister has never been involved in the business at all. I have another sister who joined the business before I did actually. I joined the business in 1982 and my sister joined in 1978. She actually married our general manager at that time, so she was very much immersed in the business. And then after a while she separated from her husband and she found a new life and she decided to quit her involvement in the business. So Patricia and I went through a process about 15 years ago of buying her out. So it’s just Patricia and myself now.
Peter And have you got children to take on the next generation?
Malcolm Well, who knows? We’ve got my big boy from my first marriage. We’ve got David – he looks after all our gardens and the estate, the woodland and pastures beyond. So he’s involved very much in that side of things. Although he did study hospitality at Bournemouth University, I think he did it because he felt there was almost an obligation because it was family and all the rest of it. He actually didn’t enjoy it. He got his degree, but he decided that hospitality wasn’t for him. So his big love in life was horticulture. Eventually, for various reasons, he ended up on our doorstep and that was 12 years ago and he’s never left, and he’s now fully in charge of all our gardens and our woodland beyond.
Peter You’ve got quite a lot of land.
Malcolm We’ve got about 18 acres, which for Jersey is relatively large. Even so, 18 acres takes a lot of management and there is a team of three full timers and a few part timers that come in every so often. And with Patricia, we have two children. I have young James, he’s 18, he’s doing A-levels at the moment; I don’t think he’s got any interest in hospitality. He’s passionate about English and English literature, so he’s hopefully going to start at Bristol University in December.
But my daughter Sophie, she’s soon to be 21. She’s now started her second year at the Swiss Hotel School in Lausanne. Having spent a whole life turning her back on hospitality… I think something happened during Covid. She was supposed to go to Exeter University and study geography, and anyway, she was island-bound because of Covid, and she worked in the hotel throughout what then turned out to be a gap year. She loved it. She said to me one day, ‘Oh, I’d love to study hospitality rather than geography.’ And I said, ‘Well, if you’re going to do that, there’s only one place you can go, and that’s the best. And that has to be Lausanne in Switzerland.’ She’s now just started her second year and it’s a bit like boot camp. It’s tough. It’s a four-year degree course. But she survived year one and she’s now in year two and doing very well and loving it.
Felice Is it in French?
Malcolm No, it’s not. It used to be. I’m not sure when they gave the option to study in English, but there are now two parallel courses… one in French and one in English. She’s lucky because I actually did the Ecole Hoteliere in Lausanne many, many years ago myself, and that was in French. Pretty tough. But I did it and I got through it. I had to just do crash courses in French.
Felice Are Jersey people bilingual?
Malcolm No, that’s really an odd thing. The history of Jersey is so peculiar. Our allegiance has always been to The Crown. That goes back to William the Conqueror at 1066 and so on. Jersey is actually technically still the last remaining part of the old Duchy of Normandy. When we toast the King now, we don’t toast the King – we toast the Duke, because the King, the reigning monarch, is technically the Duke of Jersey, the last remaining bastion of the old Duchy of Normandy. When the Queen was alive, we used to toast her as the Duke as well. Because history says that a Duchess was never recognised in history, so we couldn’t call her the Duchess of Normandy. She was always referred to as the Duke of Normandy.
So Jersey has a lot of quirks, historical quirks, and of course, our allegiance to the UK – although we’re only 13 miles from France – it’s really odd that very few people are bilingual, which is strange. In many respects that strangeness continues and has continued throughout. I mean, our air links, for example, we have air links to most provincial and city airports throughout the UK, but very, very few air links to mainland Europe. In fact, at the moment I think the only one is to Rennes, and Amsterdam which is just coming on stream this spring.
Felice Do French people come by boat?
Malcolm Yes, we have a very frequent ferry service and a very good, fast ferry service. It’s an hour only from Saint-Malo.
Peter I think I’m right in saying that you also have your own hotel yacht?
Malcolm Yes. It’s a bit of a story behind that. Patricia and I, we love boating. We decided one day to upscale the boat that we had. We thought, well, why not share it with the hotel and hotel can help pay for it. So I shouldn’t be telling you the secret, but our boating is free of charge. Don’t tell anybody.
Felice Does that mean guests can go for the day?
Malcolm Absolutely, yes we do day trips. The package is an eight-hour trip with a qualified skipper to drive the boat. Plus a trained member of crew. Lovely food and wine. There’s always a good chance of dolphin spotting. So it’s a great day out…and everybody wants to see a dolphin.
Felice Do guests have to book the whole thing or do they share with others?
Malcolm No, we do it on an exclusive basis.
Felice How many guests can go on it?
Malcolm Oh, we can take up to six.
Peter What length is she?
Malcolm She’s 43 ft. She’s a Princess 43.
Felice If they want to go to other islands, which is the nearest?
Malcolm The nearest is Guernsey which has got great facilities, marina facilities. So if you just turn up and go and see on spec, you’ll always find somewhere to park.
Felice How long does it take to sail?
Malcolm That takes on a good day, about an hour and 20 minutes, an hour and a half. It’s quite quick. Then from Guernsey, you’ve obviously got the other smaller islands, which are really fun to explore as well. That often happens. You’ll do a trip to Guernsey, you’ll have lunch in Guernsey, and then the skipper would take you around some of the other islands, namely Sark in particular, and Herm.
Of course other destinations. We can go south to an outcrop of islands called the Minkquiers, and they’re midway between here and Saint-Malo. They’re still Jersey territory, and it’s the most southerly part of the British territory. Its biggest claim to fame: it’s the most southerly public toilet in Britain. And then we can go east to another outcrop of rocks called the Acrohose. The Acrohose has a very big seal population in particular and all sorts of very rare birds and so on, and dolphins.
Peter Sounds like a great life, Malcolm, thank you very much indeed.
Malcolm Thank you very much. It’s a real pleasure.
Felice If you want to know more about prices and information on Longueville Manor, go to LonguevilleManor.com
We asked a couple of friends who now live here What’s so special about Jersey? Ceri Tinley runs a chalet company called Consensio, which offers high-end chalet holidays in the French and Swiss Alps.
Ceri Oh, it’s amazing. You’ve got beaches, whichever way you look. I think we have 30 bays here, and it’s safe. The thing that we really love about is it’s safe for both myself, the boys, to be going out and enjoying the island.
Peter Bestselling crime writer Peter James and his wife Lara moved here from their native Sussex a few years ago. They looked at both Guernsey and neighbouring Jersey before settling for life on the latter.
Peter James We like both, but the big difference is that Guernsey is quite like Cornwall, whereas Jersey is much more like Sussex. I love the friendliness, the relative security here. Crime is pretty low and Lara and I are massive seafood lovers – lobster, crab, oysters. The fish is just sensational.
Peter Felice, will you be coming back to Jersey?
Felice Definitely. I’d love to come in summer and enjoy the beaches and some more walking. And I’d love to come back and go on the Longueville Manor yacht.
Peter Yes, I think it’s a really interesting island. It’s got a lot going for it. I really also like the beaches very much; they’re an absolutely amazing size. The tide comes in here very fast indeed, and therefore water goes out a long way. The island’s got a fascinating history, and I’d like to explore it more, and yes, spend some time here. Maybe we’ll come back for a holiday in the summer. Like Peter, I’m also a really big fan of seafood, so I look forward to a Jersey-style plateau de fruit de mer.
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