The sister island of the Île de la Cité, the Île Saint-Louis is the younger, more petite, and for those looking to buy a pied-à-terre in the French capital, far pricier of the two. Developed in the 17th century by King Louis XIII as a retreat for the wealthiest Parisians, its superb mansions, including the Hôtel de Lauzun and Hôtel Lambert, remained untouched throughout the French Revolution (though the same can’t be said for their residents) and Baron Haussmann‘s citywide reconstructions. Still largely residential and retaining much of its original village charm, the island is possibly Paris’ most idyllic setting for a day of shopping, dining, and browsing an art gallery or four. It is also home to two of the city’s most in-demand ice cream parlors — what more could you possibly want?
The Pont Saint-Louis, the link between the two river islands, is more often than not the location for an impromptu musical or artistic performance. There are also amazing views of Notre-Dame and the Mairie de Paris from the bridge. On warm, sunny days, you’ll find people gathered on the riverbanks down below and along towards the Place Louis Aragon, the island’s western tip. Further along the Quai de Bourbon, just by the Pont Marie — which tour guides will tell you is a lovers’ bridge under which you should kiss your companion — is the Théatre de l’Île Saint-Louis Paul Rey. This small theater is a great place to check out for an evening recital or performance. At the far end of the island is Square Barye, an essential visit for anyone with an eye for sculpture.
If it isn’t a restaurant or café facing onto the rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, it’s a shop. There’s a real diversity of shopping options, including a store selling precious gems, Carion Minéraux, on one end and one selling fishing equipment, Maison de la Mouche, on the other. Amongst the florists, gift shops, and confectionery stores are Diwali, popular for women’s jewelry and accessories, and the specialty boutique Trésor du Tibet. Also on the island is L’Etiquette, where you can sample organic and natural wines and select a few of your favorites to take home.
As well as the architecture, fine dining, and shopping, the Île Saint-Louis is now known as the site of a serious battle of the desserts. In one corner, you have Berthillon, Paris’ most famous ice cream parlor which has been making the days of tourists and locals alike for over 60 years. In the other, Amorino, an Italian invader which has taken the city, and the world, by storm. If your teeth can’t handle the chill, or you’d just rather sip on a nice, hot brew, try La Charlotte de l’Isle, a charming tearoom with amazing cakes and chocolates on the menu.
Like most of Paris’ upmarket neighborhoods, there are galleries to satisfy everyone’s tastes (if not always their budgets) on the island. Among the best of them are Galerie Jupiter, which exhibits African statuary and complementary reliefs and paintings, the Galerie DDG, showcasing contemporary French and international artists, the Galerie Dutko, which recently opened a new branch in London, and for purveyors of photography and lithographs, l’Île Aux Images.