Ile Saint-Louis, Paris
Revisiting some places after a few decennia can be very disappointing. So with the Île Saint Louis.
In the early 1960s I discovered what at that time was a village on an island well away from the bustle of Paris. I remember a walk through the deserted main street (fifty years ago; now crowded with tourists). With some student friends I entered a bistro to drink a "petit blanc sur le zinc" a glass of white wine at the counter made of zinc. It was new for me because in those old times in Belgium cafés (pubs) served only beer and not wine like usual in France.
I saw already the change in the 1990s as a "crêperie" had replaced the bistro. In France the pancake shops are a sure sign of the advance of mass tourism.
And this is the misfortune that the Île Saint Louis underwent.
The island has lost its soul and its people to become a touristic attraction.
Certainly one can see the "Hôtels Particuliers" sumptuous mansions like the Hôtel de Bretonvilliers, Hôtel de Lauzun and the Hôtel Lambert (whose roof burned recently) but it appears that presently the main monument of the island is a "glacier" (ice cream shop).
As what concerns the Pont Saint-Louis it turned to an open air circus.
Of course if you are at Notre Dame you have to make the short walk to the Île Saint-Louis. From the bridge the views on the Hôtel de Ville de Paris on the other side of the Seine are beautiful.
But if you visited the Île Saint Louis some decennia ago keep away, you might get struck by an attack of nostalgia!
This is another of those Paris "things" that has eluded me over the years. The Ile St Louis is a wonderful place to visit even to do nothing more than just stroll around. It's really quite peaceful compared to other places in Paris and I am so glad that I finally walked across that bridge behind Notre Dame and had a good wander.
The streets are lined with the most fascinating little shops that I found to be very interesting, colourful and pretty. The residential houses and little hotels are delightful as well. I had a wonderful lunch there in a dear little restaurant called Au Caveau before I reluctantly headed back to my hotel.
The first building our guide pointed out to us on Quai de Béthune, on the south bank of the Île Saint-Louis, was the Hôtel Lefebure de la Malmaison, which was built in 1645 by the architect Louis Le Vau (1612-1670).
It was named after a seventeenth century ‘Counselor of Parliament’ called Lefebure de la Malmaison and has nothing to do with Napoleon, as far as I know, even though one of Napoleon’s generals was named Lefebure and Malmaison was a palace near Paris where Napoleon lived for a while.
Location and photo of the Hôtel Lefebure de la Malmaison on monumentum.fr.
Second photo: This plaque on the façade of the Hôtel Lefebure de la Malmaison says that the poet Charles Baudelaire lived here in 1842 and 1843. At the time the Île Saint-Louis was not an expensive neighborhood, so even a poor poet could afford to live here.
Third photo: Two façades on Quai de Béthune.
Fourth photo: At 18 Quai de Béthune we went into the courtyard, where extensive renovation work was underway. This is a 17th century building known as the Hôtel de Comans d'Astry (or the Hôtel de Richelieu because a grandnephew of Cardinal Richelieu once lived here).
The courtyard was designed from the start to look bigger than it really is, with fake archways on the back wall and phony windows painted on one of the others.
Fifth photo: This newly renovated façade of the Hôtel de Comans d'Astry faces onto the courtyard, not the street.
Next review from September 2013: Rue de Bretonvillers
When we reached the Île Saint Louis on our guided walking tour, we first tried to find our way through the crowds in the Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Île, the main west-east street that runs the length of the island, a distance of about 550 meters.
There are two ways to think about a crowded street like this. Either there are too many people or there are too many cars. I personally think people are more important than cars. It’s unfair that a dozen or so car owners should be allowed to block space that could be put to much better use by thousands of people strolling through the street.
As I have said in one of my other tips, Paris still has a huge car problem, despite all the progress that has been made in recent years to reduce motor traffic and re-allocate public space.
With all these crowds, it might seem strange to hear that the Île Saint Louis is becoming something of a ghost town. But the people crowding the streets are tourists, not residents. The population of the Île Saint Louis declined by nearly 48 % in the second half of the twentieth century, down from 6100 in the middle of the century to 2900 at the end. As real estate prices rose, working class tenants were forced out and wealthy buyers moved in. Today nearly a quarter of the apartments on the island are ‘second homes’ owned by affluent people who live elsewhere for most of the year.
VT member breughel remembers the Île Saint Louis as being So romantic 50 years ago, now so touristic!.
(I was also in Paris fifty years ago, but all I remember about the Île Saint Louis is that there was a strange black metal pedestrian bridge, shaped like a cage, which joined this island to the neighboring Île de la Cité. This unnerving metal bridge has since been replaced by the much more pleasant Pont Saint Louis, which is wide but car-free.)
Second photo: Our guide on our walking tour of the Île Saint Louis in August 2013 was Gérard Soulier, who has been leading these tours (in French) for the past sixteen years. He offers tours through many different quarters of Paris several times weekly. The tours are listed in the back pages of Pariscope each week, and also on his website www.visites-guidees-paris.fr.
Third photo: Halfway down the Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Île he pointed out the Hôtel de Chenizot, a residential house (not a ‘hotel’ in the modern sense of the word!) that was built in the first half of the eighteenth century and has recently been very nicely renovated, from October 2012 until August 2013.
Location and photo of the Hôtel de Chenizot on monumentum.fr.
Fourth photo: Further down the street on the left we came to the church Saint-Louis-en-l'Île with its distinctive clock. This church was built in several stages from 1624 to 1726. At present it does not seem to be in very good condition.
Fifth photo: In even worse condition is this nearby abandoned bookshop, which used to have as its slogan ‘Paris and its patrimony’.
Next review from September 2013: Quai de Béthune
On the last leg of our guided walking tour we went along the Quai d’Anjou and the Quai de Bourbon on the north side of the island of Saint Louis.
The Hôtel de Lauzun at 17 Quai d’Anjou (the building with the golden wrought-iron balcony in my first photo) was being renovated when we were there. This private residence was built in 1657 and had a series of more or less illustrious owners in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. After the French Revolution the upper floors were divided up into apartments, one of which was rented to the poets Théophile Gautier and Charles Baudelaire in 1843. This is where the two poets and their friends experimented with hashish, and Baudelaire wrote the first poems of Les Fleurs du mal.
Location and photo of Hôtel de Lauzun on monumentum.fr.
Second and third photos: A few doors down at the old Hôtel Le Charron we were able to enter the normally locked courtyard and see a recently renovated interior façade.
Related tip: Théâtre de l'Île Saint-Louis, 39 Quai d'Anjou, 75004 Paris
Fourth photo: The last stop on our guided walking tour of the Île Saint-Louis was the Hôtel de Jassaud, a private residential building located at 19, quai de Bourbon (the continuation of Quai d’Anjou). We entered the courtyard through the side entrance at 26, rue Le Regrattier, but not before our guide had cautioned us to stay together, not smoke and not telephone, because the building had been turned into condominiums and not all the owners were willing to have tourists come into the courtyard.
Location and photo of Hôtel de Jassaud on monumentum.fr.
Fifth photo: The Hôtel de Jassaud was built in 1642. It is best known today as the building where the sculptress Camille Claudel (1864–1943) had her atelier on the ground floor from 1899 to 1913. It was from here that her family had her committed to an insane asylum for the last thirty years of her life.
In earlier years Camille Claudel had been the student, muse, colleague and lover of the great French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Some of the major works of Camille Claudel are now on display at the Rodin Museum in Paris.
Nothing is left of her old atelier in the Hôtel de Jassaud, but at least I can say I have been there and seen where it used to be.
Next review from September 2013: Touring the Orsay Museum with an expert
On the morning of July 10, 2013, the historic Hôtel Lambert at the eastern end of Île Saint-Louis was badly damaged by fire.
When we came by eight weeks later there was nothing to see except a big fence around the damaged building, but we stopped there and our guide told us the whole story about how the house had been built as a private residence from 1639 to 1644 by the architect Louis Le Vau. The artists Eustache Le Sueur and Charles Le Brun worked on the internal decoration for nearly five years, creating famous frescos on the walls and ceilings of the Gallery of Hercules and the Cabinet des Bains.
In the 1740s the philosopher Voltaire lived in the Hôtel Lambert with his mistress the Marquise du Châtelet, when they weren’t staying at her country estate.
In the nineteenth century, the house was bought by a Polish prince whose guests included Chopin, Balzac, Berlioz, Liszt and Delacroix.
In 1975 the Hôtel Lambert was sold to Baron Guy de Rothschild, who allegedly did not keep it in very good repair.
In 2007 the building was bought by Prince Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani, the brother of the Emir of Qatar, for between 60 and 80 million Euros (depending on who you believe). The new owner had elaborate plans for modernizing the building, which were the subject of intense controversy for several years. Among other things, he wanted to install elevators and an underground car park. After petitions, law suits and a court injunction, a compromise solution was reached and renovation work was resumed in 2009. Supposedly the renovation was nearly complete when the fire broke out in July 2013.
Second photo: A large sign on the fence explaining the restoration work at the Hôtel Lambert.
Location of Hôtel Lambert on monumentum.fr.
Third and fourth photos: The right bank of the Seine, as seen from Hôtel Lambert, with some people sunbathing on a strip of grass between the road and the river. As I have explained on my tip Les Berges: The right bank of the Seine, there are now several new pedestrian crosswalks with traffic lights, where there were none before, so that people now have easy access to the river bank for the first time since the building of the highway Voie Express Georges Pompidou in 1967.
Next review from September 2013: Île Saint Louis: Quai d’Anjou & Quai de Bourbon
This short street with its elaborate gateway is the last vestige of a large private residence on the Île Saint-Louis that was built in the 17th century for a man named Claude Le Ragois de Bretonvilliers, the Secretary of the Royal Council of King Louis XIII.
Our guide explained that this was originally a palace with extensive gardens and terraces, built from 1637 to 1642. It was destroyed to a large extent in 1874 to make room for the bridge Pont du Sully and the Boulevard Henri IV.
Next review from September 2013: After the fire
The smaller of the two river islands, but still easily reached by connecting bridges from both the Seine's left and right banks, most people access Ile Saint Louis via the small bridge immediately behind Notre Dame.
Formerly a swampy island, Ile Saint Louis became an exclusive residential enclave in the 17th century and today retains a genteel air. In itself it has no major 'attractions' or 'must sees' but instead has a village feel and the pleasure of the island is to simply amble, checking the galleries, shops, cafes and restaurants. It's full of character and it's a great spot for buying quality gifts.
During a walk on the Left Bank further upstream from the center, it became lunch time and we decided to have a light repast so that we could have an ice cream cone. We crossed onto the Ile via the Pont Tournelle which brought us into the r. des Dex Ponts. At its intersection with E-W street (r. St.-Louis en l'Ile) on the left was our goal-Berthillon's , home of the best ice cream (primarily cones) in Paris. There was no line(it was off-season) but we went inside and had tuna salad or pizza. My son's salad came with Tiramisu so he had that as well as a plate of 2 scoops (try passion fruit). We always try to go by for ice cream when our Paris walks take us near the Ile. It is worth the detour as evidenced by our grandson on another trip.
Ile de Saint-Louis is a lovely little island in the Seine with luxurious 17th century townhouses and charming shops and restaurants which cater to the tourist. Unfortunately it is exactly those people who probably make this tiny island a bit less attractive, at least for those who desire privacy and quiet, and possibly not the most desirable place to live today. But at one time it was the home to the artists Camille Claudel, Honoré Daumier and Cézanne, the writer philosopher, Voltaire, and poet, Beaudelaire. Marie Curie also lived here, as did Georges Pompidou and the Baron de Rothschild. I have heard, but, am not sure if it's true, that my favorite French actor, Daniel Auteuil, lives here now.
Anyway, since we are tourists, I encourage you to take an hour or two to walk it and have a cafe creme or lunch at a cafe. You can do it as you walk from Notre Dame to le Marais.
If you pass Berthillon, you must have an ice cream. The Parisians say it is the best, but personally I like another that can be found in le Marais, Gelati d'Alberti, but then perhaps I have been spoiled by living in Italy which I believe is world famous for their ice cream.
Behind the Ile de la Cité, the famous "island of the Notre Dame", is another small island called Ile Saint Louis. It is about half the size of the Ile de la Cité, and way less touristic and crowded. It is a great place to see the old and authentical side of the city, to see the banks of the Seine and to see the Notre Dame from a different side.
The island got its current looks in the 17th century, when the architect Louis le Vau designed most of the large houses on the island. He liked it so much that he soon decided to move in to one of his creations too.
The Rue St-Louis-en-Ile is the central street of the island, where you can see lots of very classic looking shops. At the western side, close to the Notre Dame there are several very nice place to have a lunch or to have a drink, while having a great view of the city.
Linked to the Ile de la Cite by a footbridge, the smaller Ile Saint-Louis may not have any sights to speak of, but it possesses a charm all of its own, with its handsome ensemble of seventeenth century houses, villagey streets and tree-lines quais. It is often considered the most romantic part of Paris.
For centuries the Ile St Louis was nothing but swampy pastureland, a haunt of lovers, duellists and miscreants on the run, until in the 17th century a developer had the bright idea of filling it with elegant mansions, so that by 1660 the island was quite transformed.
It is prime strolling territory, with various restaurants and cafes, and a number of interesting (if pricey!) shops.
This smaller island in the middle of the Seine River is a quiet neigborhood with small streets, cobble stone, caf?s and little shops - my little oasis right next to the powerful Notre Dame cathedral.
My favourite view is towards the Notre Dame, which from this side looks both powerful and kind of quiet and peaceful - I guess it is because you don't see all those tourists in and around the church!
You must cross either the Pont Marie or the Pont St. Louis to reach the Ile St. Louis's main street, the Rue St. Louis En L'Ile. It's just a few blocks long, but it's a quaint, very village-like street. It's a quaint Parsian street and quite popular judging from the masses who visit daily.
There are all that you need on this street: boulangerie, cafes, grocer, hotels, restaurants, shops, and ice cream store. Because it's home to some well-regarded restaurants such as La Reine Blanche, L'Ilot Vache, and Le Tastevin, the most popular attraction is Berthillon ice cream shop. This ice cream shop draws many visitors to it even in the height of wintertime!
The Île Saint-Louis is actually made up of two islets: the Île aux Vaches and the Île Notre-Dame. The urbanization of the islets by 1614 led to the contruction fot the Pont-Marie, the quays and the angular streets. The majestic quayside façades are incredibly beatiful the the rue Saint-Louis-en-l'île still seems to belong to another era. You will find cozy restaurants and amaszing ice cream parlors here.
But besides all these, the island is a spot within the city away from the noise of it. This makes it the perfect spot for romantic lovers, wondering around the island's balconies, steps and riverbanks...