On the southwest tip of the rugged isle of Jersey – one of the Channel Islands dotted between England and France – lies Radio Tower.
Built by order of the Nazi forces who occupied Jersey during the Second World War, this imposing concrete tower has been sensitively reimagined as a vacation rental.
“It’s a way of recognizing that part of history and also now making use of it in a more positive light,” Joanna Hepworth, heritage venues manager at Jersey Heritage, tells CNN Travel.
Those who visit can take in sweeping 360-degree views of the island’s coastline and the striking white Corbère lighthouse on the horizon.
“One of the number one reasons for staying there, I suppose, is having one of the best views, in the British Isles almost, up there – it’s incredible,” adds Hepworth.
The Channel Islands aren’t technically part of the United Kingdom, they’re crown dependencies. This means they’re not separate states, the UK is technically responsible for them.
Thanks to their beautiful – and isolated – location in the English Channel, they’ve got their own distinctive vibe and separate history.
Jersey and neighboring Guernsey, Alderney and Sark were occupied by German forces in World War II, and remnants from this difficult period of Jersey’s history are still visible today – including Radio Tower.
The Second World War military fortifications on the Channel Islands were built by enslaved laborers from other captured territories. Some 16,000 forced workers were brought to the Channel Islands and forced to work in these often deadly labor camps.
This horrifying aspect of the tower’s history could make some visitors uncomfortable.
“Jersey has a lot of military fortifications from the Second World War, hundreds across the island,” says Hepworth. “So there’s no getting away from it, really.”
Radio Tower was built in 1941, following the entry of the United States into the war – it was known as MP2. It’s around 60 foot tall with six foot thick concrete walls – but designed to resemble an 18th century Jersey granite round tower, to disguise its true purpose.
Each floor controlled its own artillery battery, with the aim of helping render the Channel Islands unassailable.
Post-war, Radio Tower was used by the States of Jersey Harbours and Airport Committee to monitor passing ships. As technology got more advanced, the tower’s purpose became redundant.
Jersey Heritage saw the property’s potential as a unique letting possibility.
After a careful restoration it has become one of 14 distinctive historic properties rented out by Jersey Heritage across the island.
“The idea was to find a way to use these buildings so they could be utilized by people – not obviously just sitting there unused and empty,” says Hepworth.
The money generated from letting these historic properties as vacation rentals goes towards renovating and looking after other historic buildings across the island.
“Some of them are more basic: so we’ve got three or four that we call coastal towers so they’re kind of stone tents almost,” says Hepworth.
“But we’ve got nine self-catering properties around the island, all historic buildings ranging from 14th century farmhouse in a traditional Jersey farm in the country to 16th, 17th century forts from different eras around the island.”
Renovating old and distinctive properties like Radio Tower isn’t easy.
“It’s quite a unique space inside […] lots and lots of steps to handle to get inside,” says Hepworth.
Architects and contractors with experience working in unusual buildings got involved to ensure the project was successful.
“They’ve been restored quite sensitively which does sort of mean sometimes it’s not to everybody’s taste because inside it is still very concrete,” says Hepworth. Numerous flights of stairs mean that it’s not accessible to all.
The rounded walls of the building accommodate three double bedrooms with en suites and a kitchen. There’s also central heating to keep you warm if it’s stormy outside.
Hepworth also says part of the charm is the contrast between the imposing building and the natural beauty outside.
“You’ve got this obviously stark, heavy, concrete intimidating building, but when you’re inside and you can look out at the sea and hear the birds in the wind its just incredible.”
Jersey doesn’t get as much attention as some of the other islands surrounding the UK, but there’s plenty to recommend for tourists.
“Jersey’s got absolutely stunning beaches – lots of incredible coastline which is all part of the National Conservation Area,” says Hepworth.
She also pinpoints the island’s growing reputation as a culinary destination.
“A lot of great seafood – and local produce that’s made, Jersey Royals [potatoes] and Jersey milk from the Jersey dairy cows – and there’s fantastic restaurants here.”
For visitors from London, it’s just a 40 minute flight. That – plus the fact that Radio Tower sleeps six for just £32 ($41) per person, per night in the low season – means it could soon be on a few people’s wavelength.