Lots of tourists swarm the island in Paris, home of Notre Dame Cathedral. But far too many overlook its adorable little sister, the quaint Ile Saint Louis just a few steps away.
This small island is like an oasis from the rush of the city. It's almost as if someone dropped a small French village into the center of Paris, as it features markets, bakeries, fromageries and cafés. While much of Paris has modernized over the years, the ile remains romantically frozen in the 17th century. It is remarkably the same as it was centuries ago.
It is lined with adorable boutiques, is home to its own unique ice cream, features historic attractions, and boasts one of Paris' best hotels.
- Berthillon ice cream: The only true Berthillon can be found in the few small blocks that make up the Ile Saint Louis. This delicious ice cream has rich colors and equally intense flavors. It comes in myriad flavors, but the dark chocolate (chocolat noir and mango (mangue) flavors are incredible. There are several spots to sample Berthillon on the island. For true authenticity, try this divine dessert at 31, rue St Louis-en-l'Ile, where it was born.
- Boutique shopping: The island's main street, rue de Saint Louis en Ile, features wonderful specialty boutiques and shops. Although they are a bit trendy and overpriced, this is still an ideal spot for discovering unique souvenirs. There is an upscale toy store, a shop devoted to hand crafted puppets, a chocolate shop, a couple of gourmet shops, art galleries and more.
- Performers at Pont Saint-Louis: The small bridge that connects Ile Saint Louis with Ile de la Cité is a popular spot for street performers, be it jazz bands, jugglers or mimes. Relax and enjoy the show while nibbling on your Berthillon.
- St Louis en l'Ile Church: First built in 1622, this atmospheric church invites with a vast, stunning wooden door decorated with angels. Inside, it is surprisingly impressive and immense.
- A great meal: There is an amazingly high number of restaurants considering the tiny size of this island. There are several concentrated near Pont Saint-Louis, and all are good. While some of the restaurants are upscale and expensive, there are a couple lower-priced eateries here that are fabulous. I've never had a bad meal on the island.
- A drink at Franc Pinot cabaret: This has been a popular watering hole since the 17th century, and remains so to this day. Pleasantly not a tourist trap, this bar oozes with the French laissez-faire attitude. It's located at 1, quai de Bourbon, just near the intersection with Pont Marie.
You will like it if...
Ile Saint Louis will appeal to:
- those who like more of a small-town feel,
- those who appreciate historic neighborhoods and old towns,
- those who appreciate a fine meal at a sidewalk café,
- those who prefer to be in the center of it all,
- tourists who prefer to live like locals,
- anyone who loves to shop but abhors chain stores.
As enchanting as the Ile Saint Louis is, no Paris neighborhood is an island unto itself. Fortunately, as the island is almost dead center in the city, many great attractions are within walking distance, including:
- Notre Dame Cathedral, which is a short walk away. This lovely cathedral, the setting for the classic novel, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," is a must-see. Be sure to walk up the seemingly-endless spiral stairs for a stunning view of the city, a close-up and personal peek at the famous gargoyles and a glimpse of the hunchback's famous church bell.
- The Seine River: It literally surrounds this island, and is one of Paris' best attractions (and, as a bonus, it's free to visit). You can hardly say you've done Paris unless you kiss your sweetheart while on one of the bridges across the Seine.
- Centre Pompidou: This modern art museum is worth a visit even if you never go inside. The unique and colorful Stravinsky Fountain is a perfect backdrop for family travel photos. The buildings unique architecture, with its expanses of industrial tubing, are fascinating. Inside, there are many works of modern art, a great gift shop with wacky items, a huge book store with titles on nearly any aspect of art and a free ground-floor exhibit.
Where to sleep
Although there aren't many hotel choices on the island, it is hard to go wrong with the options available.
The four-star Hotel Jeu de Paume combines history, sport and fine lodging. A former royal tennis court, this lovely hotel features a glass elevator with a view on the indoor courtyard with its ceiling stories above it. The rooms are especially large for Paris.
The three-star >Hotel Lutèce is quite charming and welcoming.