EXPLORING THE ILE SAINT-LOUIS
Everyone visiting Paris heads to the Ile de la Cité, the large island in the middle of the river Seine, to visit Notre Dame Cathedral. However, the smaller of the two islands, Ile Saint-Louis, can easily be overlooked.
It has retained its 17th century charm, most of its magnificent historic buildings, and its medieval streets.
Ile St Louis is connected to the rest of the city by four bridges crossing to both banks of the Seine and the Ile de la Cité. It’s the perfect place to stroll, taking in the numerous little boutiques, patisseries, fromageries and the small boutique hotels, which we think might be owned by the same group.
One of the most popular shops in the whole of Paris is to be found here, the much-loved Berthillon Ice Cream parlour. Even in the depths of winter you will see long queues forming along the street, waiting patiently to step up to the serving window open to the street, to buy a cone of their favourite flavour. There are many great ice cream makers in Paris, but Berthillon somehow has the edge on all of them. In my book they make the best, most authentic pistachio ice cream I’ve ever tasted!
The main street, rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile, runs end to end along the length of the island, and is lined with interesting little shops and galleries, perfect for a gentle, relaxing stroll away from the bustle of busier streets and boulevards of the rest of the city.
As the sun goes down a cohort of young people will appear on roller-blades, set up little “cones” at the bridge at the nearest end to Notre Dame, and perform feats of daring and bravado, trying to outdo each other in showing off their extraordinary skills.
You will also sometimes come across small jazz combos, mime artists or other street performers—it’s all rather low-key though, with a friendly neighbourhood atmosphere of regulars and a few visitors enjoying the scene.
Lots of interesting little shops are dotted along the main street and some of the little side streets. You’ll see a very upmarket toy shop specialising in hand-crafted toys, a divine chocolate shop, and quality souvenir shops.
Check out Durance, the Provençal fragrances house at no. 37 for exquisitely scented gifts and treats.
Pop into Ile aux Images at 51 rue St Louis-en-L’Ile to find high quality vintage photographs and lithos of old Paris.
And you can’t go past Pylones at no. 57 for amusing kitchen gadgets and fun home décor items in crazy, colourful shapes.
Sobral, at no. 79 is one of my must-visit shops for creative, unusual costume jewellery you won’t find anywhere else in Paris.
I also like Oliviers & Co at no. 81 which sells, as the name suggests, every possible product derived from olives—I love their soaps, which are less expensive than L’Occitane.
Another great find is a small shop, Cachemire-Soie, at 29 rue des Deux-Ponts—this is at the far end of the street just before the bridge that crosses over the to Right Bank and the Marais.
As well as interesting shopping possibilities you can also visit the Salon Chopin, a very small museum dedicated to the Polish composer, which is located within the Bibliotheque Polonaise, at 6, Quai d’Orleans on the island, overlooking the Latin Quarter.
Back in the other direction on the same riverfront road, it becomes Quai Bethune, you’ll see a number of historically interesting plaques on buildings denoting famous past occupants. You’ll see Marie Curie’s former home; the same building was later home to Nobel Peace Prize winner Rene Cassin; further along a plaque denotes the apartment rented by former President Georges Pompidou when he was just a recently-graduated young lawyer–his landlady was the pioneer cosmetics queen, Helena Rubinstein, who lived on the top floor whenever she was in Paris; another building once briefly had Baudelaire in residence; another former mansion was once owned by Marechal de Richelieu. The island has many fascinating historic references, so do look up as you stroll to catch sight of the markers and plaques on buildings.
Do make time also to have a look inside the beautiful church of Saint-Louis-en-l’Isle, built in 1623. Although the exterior is not especially notable, the interior, on the other hand, is beautiful and worth a look. Concerts are regularly held in the church, so look out for leaflets or notices at the church or around the neighbourhood for dates and times. Its official address is 3, rue Poulletier, but the main elevation faces onto rue St Louis-en-l’Ile.
If you’re in need of refreshment after all that shopping and sightseeing, the island has a great selection of cafes and restaurants to choose from, and of course, there’s always an ice cream from Berthillon!