During our first trip to Paris over eleven years ago, Mitch and I found ourselves, just by chance, on Ile Saint-Louis. It was a cloudy spring day at the break of dawn as we made our way out into the city for the first time. As we crossed Ponte Saint-Louis from Ile de la Cité we were transported back in time to small cobble stone streets lined with stone buildings that dated back to the 17th century. We turned down a one-way street and walked to the edge of the river when the heavens opened up. It poured and poured as we stood by the river’s edge and watched from the safety of our umbrellas. All time seemed to stop as we simply watched mother nature at work. We almost couldn’t stand how beautiful it was and really didn’t want it to end. But, as is the way in Paris, just as quickly as the rain came, it disappeared. It was one of those magical moments that stays with you for the rest of your life reminding you of the simple beauty of life and nature. We love to return to Ile Saint-Louis whenever we can so today I wanted to share it with you.
The smaller of the two natural islands in the Seine, Ile Saint-Louis is named after King Louis IX and remains one of the most authentic examples of 17th and 18th century neighborhoods in Paris. There are four bridges that connect the island to the mainland and one that connects it to Ile de la Cité. My favorite way to approach it is from the Ile de la Cité crossing Pont Saint-Louis. During the summer there are often street performers on the bridge which is closed to cars and buses. Once a haven for art galleries and ateliers, many have been replaced by shops that cater more to the tourist traffic, but there are still many holdouts, so be sure to take your time as you walk down each street and see what treasures you may find. Not to be missed is the Eglise Saint-Louis-En-L’Ile which was built between 1664 and 1726. It has a very unassuming exterior which houses a spectacular interior. The plans for the church were by Le Vau who was the Royal architect for Versailles. It is as beautiful inside as it is simple on the outside and definitely worth a visit. Along with walking alone its streets be sure to take a walk down the steps to the river’s edge and make your way around the island down there. It is such a wonderful way to see the city, river and island on the quite banks of the Seine. Another must is Berthillon ice-cream. Located on Ile Saint-Louis, this luxury ice-cream maker will only sell their ice-cream locally to ensure it is always fresh. There are several window vendors that sell it by the scoop in a cone or cup. It is decadent and worth every calorie.
Rather than eating at one of the restaurants, which we have on many occasions, we prefer to cross back over Pont Saint-Louis to Ile de la Cité to the little corner cafe which has a crepe vendor just outside. For five euros, you can get a cheese and ham crepe that is made while you wait. Take it across the street to the small park behind Notre-Dame and enjoy. There is nothing like it. The park also has free wi-fi access provided by the city of Paris.
If you find you have the time, do make sure to visit Ile Saint-Louis. It is small in size but huge on history and charm.