Wandering around Île Saint-Louis feels like you are taking a holiday from the rush of the city. It feels like a charming village that has been dropped right in the center of Paris. One that has been frozen since the 17th century. There are no significant landmarks or attractions, only postcard worthy views and historic architecture. It is one of two natural islands in Paris, the other well-known one, Île de la Cité, draws the tourists. But not the quiet and lavish Île Saint-Louis, which was our home base for our 3rd visit to Paris.
The first thing I did was go out and explore. The best way to get acquainted with this tiny island is to walk around the exterior as it sits in the middle of the Seine with the left and right banks on either side. It is connected to the rest of Paris by four quays and five bridges. And, as you can image, they each offer a lovely view of the Seine and the Parisian buildings. Down the center of the island is the main street, Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, and off this main street are tiny side streets that extend to either side of the left or right bank. It is that simple.
So how did Île Saint-Louis come to be? History tells us that it was used mostly as pastureland for grazing cattle since 867. It wasn’t until the 17th century when King Henry IV, finished building the Pont-Neuf that he decided to join both islands together. The King then commissioned city planner and builder, Christophe Marie, and designer Louis Vau, the architect of Versailles, to develop this island. During a 30-year period between 1614 to 1644, the island was complete and is now chock full of elegant town homes and small mansions. Contrary to the buildings you find elsewhere in Paris that have an inner courtyard, these town homes were opened towards the outside with windows and balconies to maximize the view looking out to the Seine.
Now, come and grab your Berthillon ice cream at the original location at 29-31, Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île and stay awhile. My favourite thing to do here was just stroll and admire the grandeur of the untouched 17th century architecture.
And, how could you forget the fine boutique shopping where you will find many wonderful specialty shops all along Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, such as:
- Oliviers & Co specializes in olives and olive oils (No. 81)
- Boulangerie Saint Louis (No. 80)
- La Ferme Saint-Aubin is a classic cheese shop (No. 76)
- Les Delices de Saint-Louis is a wonderful corner store (No. 67)
- Cacao et Chocolat is a chocolate shop (No. 63)
- Pylones carries unique and fun products/toys (No. 57)
- L’Epicerie is your local drug store, and a great place to buy French beauty products (No. 51)
- L’ile Aux Images has vintage photographs and lithographs of old Paris (No. 51)
- Jean-Paul Gardil’s is the local butcher shop (No. 44)
- Lafitte specializes in foie gras (No. 8 Rue Jean du Bellay)
- Mon Vieil Ami is run by acclaimed Alstian chef Antoine Westermann, also makes a great vegetarian choice (No. 69)
- Brasserie de I’lle St-Louis serving classic French dishes (55 Quai de Bourbon)
- La Crepe En l’Isle specializing in the classic french crepe (13 rue des 2 Ponts L’Isle St Louis)
Or, grab a drink at Au Franc Pinot, a bar since the 17th century (1 Quai de Bourbon).
I instantly fell in love with Île Saint-Louis. To me it represents the quintessential Parisian life. It is where you will find lovers entwined on a bench or walking arm-in-arm along the Seine, where you hear the faint sound of some musician playing their cello or violin, where small children are playing soccer in the tiny side streets, where locals warmly greet one another in the street with their double air kisses – left than right looking ever so chic and effortlessly put together while holding a baguette in one hand and a dog in the other. It truly looks as though you have stepped onto a movie set, but then you realize, this is just the quiet, romantic Parisian life on Île Saint-Louis.
So, if you….
- appreciate historic architecture and neigbourhoods
- prefer to live like locals when traveling
- love to shop in specialty stores
- enjoy a fine meal with locals; and
- want to experience the quiet Parisian life
then you will likely fall in love with Île Saint-Louis as I did.