The Île Saint-Louis: An Island Gem in the Heart of Paris

   6149    45
The Île Saint-Louis: An Island Gem in the Heart of Paris
You might think the Île Saint-Louis is all about Berthillon ice cream. And you would be partially—and deliciously—right. The famous brand has been one of the island’s claims to fame for more than 65 years.  But . . . there are many other treasures to discover. A Quick Quiz Let’s see how much you already know about the island (sans Google). The island is connected to the left bank, right bank, and Île de la Cité. How many bridges are there, and which is the oldest? What famous poet created a hashish club at the Hôtel de Lauzun on Quai d’Anjou? Name three iconic Paris landmarks that you can see from the Île Saint-Louis. Who is the island named after? (And, no, it’s not as easy as who is buried in Grant’s tomb. Be specific about the numeral.) What French sculptor had a studio on the island (Quai de Bourbon)? You’ll find the answers in this article, so read on (but try the questions first). Discovering the Île Saint-Louis While the Île Saint-Louis gets hype as an upscale island, providing a home to millionaires and celebrities seeking privacy, it is really a relatively quiet village with friendly merchants who know your name and cherish your friendship. The less-than-one-square kilometer area seems to defy Einstein and offer an expanded universe of history and storytelling. The island was once called Île aux Vaches (Cow Island), because it was an island dedicated to grazing cows for the more inhabited Île de la Cité next door.
  • SUBSCRIBE
  • ALREADY SUBSCRIBED?

Lead photo credit : Photo © Meredith Mullins

More in Île Saint-Louis, Seine

Previous Article Marceline Desbordes-Valmore: Poetry in a Time of Dislocation
Next Article 7 Ways to Celebrate Coco Chanel’s Birthday in Paris


Meredith Mullins is an internationally exhibited fine art photographer and instructor based in Paris. Her work is held in private and museum collections in Europe and the U.S. and can be seen at www.meredithmullins.artspan.com or in her award-winning book "In A Paris Moment." She is a writer for OIC Moments and other travel and education publications.

Comments

  • Robin
    2020-09-29 08:22:13
    Robin
    I was very fortunate as a painter, PhD Art History/History- of course 19thc. French History- in my 20s so for the ability to live there for some time. It was a living museum and my favorite jewelry box of an Island and my life is never the same. I would do it again in a heartbeat♥️

    REPLY

  • Pamela Spurdon
    2020-09-04 01:49:01
    Pamela Spurdon
    Bravo for a fascinating story and stunning photos!

    REPLY

  • Meredith Mullins
    2020-08-30 02:09:42
    Meredith Mullins
    Hi Bill, Good work on the quiz. I know some people in Paris have never even been to the Ile Saint-Louis and would not be able to answer any of the quiz questions. I find that amazing. You're right that the oldest bridge in Paris is the Pont Neuf. The Pont Marie is the oldest bridge on the Ile Saint-Louis. And, I'm afraid Camille Claudel lived a creative, but somewhat sad life. She was overshadowed by Rodin, for whom she was muse/model/lover. However, her work was highly original. Thank you for writing, Meredith

    REPLY

  • Meredith Mullins
    2020-08-30 02:03:43
    Meredith Mullins
    Hi Patti, Thank you for your comments. In fact, the public baths are alive and well on rue des Deux Ponts. All best, Meredith

    REPLY

  • Carel Strack van Schijndel
    2020-08-27 12:14:46
    Carel Strack van Schijndel
    Dear Meredith, Thanks for well writen articuleer about Ile Saint-Louis. Having lived in Paris for 3 1/2 years during the 60’s (!!) I still have the feeling that I live there... Keep up this wonderful wringing. Love from ‘s-Hertogenbosch (= Bois-le Duc). Carel Strack van Schijndel

    REPLY

  • Bill Marks
    2020-08-26 09:52:28
    Bill Marks
    I knew 2,3 & 4 but not 1 or 5. I thought the oldest bridge in Paris was Pont Neuf? And I’ve never heard of Camille Claudel.

    REPLY

  • Michael James
    2020-08-24 03:40:47
    Michael James
    Meredith Mullins. Just a note that you should tell BP's online editor and IT manager that the Reply function doesn't work. Also, as my earlier posts demonstrate, I had forgotten that BP has a weird formatting rule that requires double-returns to create paragraphs (as in this post). Hence why my posts are indigestible long tracts, having lost my original paragraph structure. So if you contact that IT guy you could also ask him (almost always a him) why does BP use a totally non-standard format like this?

    REPLY

  • Patti
    2020-08-23 08:54:23
    Patti
    I am interested , too, in discovering what happened to the public baths on the island . Very informative article, thank you !

    REPLY

  • Suzanne Justen
    2020-08-23 06:27:35
    Suzanne Justen
    Bravo, Meredith! A charming article to accompany your wonderful photos. You never fail to impress me and I always just want to see more. I, too, was taking my daily one hour walk within one meter of my home but I have nothing to show for it but memories and your photos. I even walked around the island and didn't begin to see all the things you did. I did, however, enjoy the clean air, the birdsong and the complete quiet. Your article brings back that special time. Thank you.

    REPLY

  • Michael James
    2020-08-23 02:54:56
    Michael James
    That's interesting, and romantic, but all the old bridges across the Seine were transient structures until the era of more solid stone-arch construction of which the first was the Pont Neuf, which was one of its distinguishing features amongst others and the reason it is the oldest still-standing Paris bridge. Pont Marie was another of the earliest (the third IIRC) stone bridges after Pont Neuf set the trend. Rotting and falling down, or being damaged by river traffic--and road traffic--was the fate of the older bridges. It even happens to modern bridges such as the iron passerelle Pont des Arts (1804) whose central section was demolished by a boat in 1979--then replaced by a more modern steel double-span central segment to avoid two piers that were hazards to river traffic exiting the arches of Pont Neuf. More recently the bridge was under severe stress from the approx. 100 tonnes of lovelocks. The other bridge stressed by this dumb tourist vandalism is Pont de la Archeveché which is a tiny gem of a bridge that happens to join up to Pont St Louis behind Notré Dame. At least they can't burden Pont St Louis with tonnes of rusting metal! And actually that is at least part of the reason for the nature of the 1970 bridge. This short section of waterway is the narrowest part the navigable Seine. (The even narrower bras-de-Seine between Ile de la Cité/Leftbank--spanned by Pont de la Archeveché, the shortest and narrowest Parisian bridge--or between Ile St Louis and Rightbank, are not permitted to most boats, certainly not to big transport peniches or private boats.) To further complicate matters, on the south/east section just metres beyond the bridge (in front of the Memorial de la Déportation) is the cross-over point for boats: north and west of here the boats are travelling upstream alongside the Rightbank (ie. keeping to their left) but at this point they must crossover to the other side, travelling upstream alongside Leftbank (keeping to their right). You can see the traffic lights for the boats that regulate this manoeuvre (by memory, right on the quai at the Déportation memorial). The last thing they need is to worry about a bridge hazard so the modern bridge is a single-span prestressed-concrete affair which can be both low with no above-level structure to mess with the perspective of Notré Dame, but high enough above the river and almost flat across the whole span, to pose no hazard to river traffic.

    REPLY

  • Michael James
    2020-08-23 02:02:36
    Michael James
    As others have noted, you've gone and done it now. Still, most Paris tourists remain obsessed with the Marais, or that structure which the Pont St Louis leads to, and with the pandemic you may have got away with it without getting blamed for tourismicide! I lived there for many years, spanning the 80s to early 90s. In a tiny studio in a fifth floor walk-up. It really is a fantastic location being within easy walking distance to so much of either left bank or right bank, or of course that other island. As you say, many of the street-level retail and restos change over the years but some seem to go on forever. My apartment building's street entrance was between the restaurants Le Sergent Recruteur and Nos Ancetres Les Gaulois and they are still there, though the former has different owners who won a Michelin star. It does seem to retain a certain timelessness, part due to it having hardly changed since it was developed in the early 17th century and in part being an island of calm within the busy city. I just found an ancient clipping--exactly 38 years ago to the day which was also a Sunday--that quite possibly influenced my choice to live there: "It's summer in the city" by John Peter, The Sunday Times (London), 22 August, 1982. "In the heart of Paris, minutes from the big tourist attractions like the Louvre, the Ile St Louis offers easy access to its larger neighbour, the Il de la Cité and the cathedral of Notre Dame, yet retains an unexpected peacefulness. The two islands are linked by the short Passerelle St Louis. As you cross over, arriving at the top of the rue St Louis-en-l'Ile, you might be arriving on another planet. The island is always quieter than Paris itself, but at this time of year, with half of the shops closed for the annual holiday and a lot of the inhabitants away too, the place is sunk in almost complete tranquillity. In the morning you hear birdsong, and the clip-clop of solitary passersby on the pavement, Sometimes as much as half-an-hour passes without a single car driving by, something must be unique in the hear of any metropolis this side of Kathmandu." Amongst my cache of things about the island I found something that may especially interest you, if you haven't got a copy, the impressionistic photo-essay: Au large de Paris, l'île Saint Louis by Frédéric Vitoux and Jean-Claude Ponchel | Jan 1, 1987 ISBN 2-86511-002-8 It is published by ACD Productions at 7, rue Jean du Bellay 75004, which of course is on the island.

    REPLY

  • Larraine
    2020-08-22 09:00:59
    Larraine
    Thank you for this article and lovely photos. I miss Paris.

    REPLY

  • Beth Murphy
    2020-08-22 03:57:55
    Beth Murphy
    I like the Louis IX bistro as well. I enjoyed their food and hanging out with French people. I believe it has a new owner now. I hope it hasn’t changed.

    REPLY

  • Beth Murphy
    2020-08-22 03:50:39
    Beth Murphy
    This is one of my favorite places! One question I have is about the public baths on the island. Do you know when they stop being used as baths and what are they used for now? Thanks.

    REPLY

  • Franny Williams
    2020-08-22 02:11:07
    Franny Williams
    Ahhh, yes. Very boring. Don’t bother. You won’t like it.

    REPLY

  • Patricia Daly-Lipe
    2020-08-21 12:49:15
    Patricia Daly-Lipe
    My mother lived on the Quai d"Anjou from 1927-1939. She died when I was 18 but I did much research to know what her life was like before I was born, hence my book 'A CRUEL CALM, Paris Between the Wars'. In the book a several references to the Ile St. Louis including the reason the bridge attaching the Ile St Louis to the Ile de Cite is ugly. Here is a portion of that issue in the book: I found out that the bridge leading from the IIe St. Louis to the Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame had been cursed. It happened centuries ago by a band of gypsies. The clergy, who had seen to it that the gypsies were to be incarcerated, probably for disagreeing with the tenets of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, had forced the group onto a barge to cross the river. In angry retaliation, the gypsies put a curse on both the river and the bridge they floated under. So far, there had been five bridges and each had collapsed for no explicable reason. With each collapse, there had been loss of life.

    REPLY

  • Karen Mullens
    2020-08-21 12:18:53
    Karen Mullens
    How strange... JUST finished reading a biography on Beaudelaire ... had never heard of him but enjoyed the book ( sad life IMO) and then this article. Great article in this isle ... a favourite place

    REPLY

  • Margot Holender,  nee Gorodiscas
    2020-08-21 11:37:36
    Margot Holender, nee Gorodiscas
    Loved this story; so interesting. used to live very nearby, Metro ST. Paul. Had no idea about the famous isle or that Pont Marie was so old. Now, I know. MERCI>

    REPLY

  • Charles Revlett
    2020-08-21 11:25:27
    Charles Revlett
    We love to stay on the island! Such a wonderful central location with access to all of France and great walkable neighborhoods everywhere! Great for visiting Paris’s incredible gardens. Both Hotel St. Louis en l’ile and Hotel Des Deux Illes were perfect residences for each two weeks visit.

    REPLY

  • Lee Hubert
    2020-08-21 08:58:25
    Lee Hubert
    Dear Meredith, Thanks for this lovely article on the Ile St Louis, one of my favorite places in Paris, even though I regret its gentrification -- it was quite different in the 1960s. As an oldtimer in Paris, I got almost all the questions right -- only Louis IX escaped me, but I learned about a couple of things I will look for the next time I'm there -- the sculpture of the poet and the old street marking of the rue de la femme sans teste. Paris is so fascinating. There's always something new to discover!

    REPLY

  • Nicholas Cox
    2020-08-21 08:52:48
    Nicholas Cox
    What a wonderful description of my favorite island - thank you! The present Pont Saint-Louis is the seventh bridge to link the two islands since 1630 and was opened in 1970 – this bridge shares its name with one on the Italian border which 9 French soldiers defended from June 18 to 28, 1940, against 5,000 invading Italians, an epic worthy of comparison with the more famous battle of Thermopylae, but largely forgotten.

    REPLY

  • Jerry Swartz Cox
    2020-08-21 07:41:48
    Jerry Swartz Cox
    Hi Meredith. I still dream of touring your lovely Ile. Saint-Louis someday when our world heals. This piece and photos are enchanting! Thank you.

    REPLY

  • Sandy Flitterman-Lewis
    2020-08-21 04:56:10
    Sandy Flitterman-Lewis
    Thus is my second comment. I just ordered In A Paris Moment, on the basis of this wonderful article. I love your sensibility, and I love Paris. I sense a kinship with my own photographic wanderings. This year’s cancelled trip has been somewhat assuaged by your beautiful writing and photography.

    REPLY

  • sharon kingston
    2020-08-21 04:39:03
    sharon kingston
    This is a wonderful story! there were many things I did not know. I have book marked it and will explore on my next visit. Thanks for sharing .

    REPLY

  • Sandy Flitterman-Lewis
    2020-08-21 04:20:53
    Sandy Flitterman-Lewis
    Wow! Thank you for this extraordinary visit to a place I have loved for years. What a respite from these dark times. Beautiful photos, wonderful text, thank you for this bit of informed reverie.

    REPLY

  • Jean Klein
    2020-08-21 03:56:40
    Jean Klein
    I was living on the Ile Saint Louis in 1957 when the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth made her first official trip to Paris. There was a magical procession of boats along the Seine at night,stopping at the Ile, which I will always remember

    REPLY

  • Meredith Mullins
    2020-08-21 03:52:34
    Meredith Mullins
    Hi Lee, Thank you for writing. I can't believe I actually stumped the ultimate Paris historian. Truthfully, the only way I know the island was named after Louis IX is because our local hangout bistro is called Louis IX. There are lots of lovely details on the island that I only discovered when I walked the island for my one hour a day during confinement. I really treasured that time. All best, Meredith

    REPLY

  • Meredith Mullins
    2020-08-21 03:45:38
    Meredith Mullins
    Dear José, Obrigado! I am especially honored to receive a comment in Portuguese. Thank you for writing. All best, Meredith

    REPLY

  • Meredith Mullins
    2020-08-21 03:42:28
    Meredith Mullins
    Oh dear, Ed. You're right. What was I thinking? I was so anxious to share my love of the island that I fell into the trap of revealing a secret to the world. Uh oh. As you say, actually the island is very boring. Best to stay somewhere else. 🙂 All best, Meredith

    REPLY

  • Meredith Mullins
    2020-08-21 03:02:49
    Meredith Mullins
    Hi Suzanne, Thank you for writing. Virtual travel is a blessing during this challenging time. But we all long for the multi-sensory experience. We have hope that the future will bring us back to the joy of travel. With best wishes, Meredith

    REPLY

  • Meredith Mullins
    2020-08-21 02:53:48
    Meredith Mullins
    Hi Bill, Thank you for commenting. It's sad that visits to France for Americans (and others) are restricted during these challenging times. We have all learned the art of virtual travel during our times of confinement and sheltering in place. But we know it's just not the same. Hopefully, we'll see you soon. All best, Meredith

    REPLY

  • Susan Schaffer
    2020-08-21 02:47:46
    Susan Schaffer
    Our family visits Paris often and We never leave without visiting I'le St-Louis. Our dear friends from Montmorency introduced us to the island many years ago. Of course when the grandchildren are with us, we visit Berthillon for ice cream. Most of all we enjoy wandering throughout the beautiful island admiring the beautiful buildings and interesting views. We stop at one of the charming bistros or cafes for a cozy, authentic meal. We can’t wait to return as soon as it is possible.

    REPLY

  • Meredith Mullins
    2020-08-21 02:23:31
    Meredith Mullins
    Hi Mary-Lou and Wally, The green door awaits your next visit. In the meantime, I hope this virtual tour brought back good memories. All best, Meredith

    REPLY

  • Meredith Mullins
    2020-08-21 02:20:20
    Meredith Mullins
    Hi Jane, Thank you for the compliments, and I hope you get to come to Paris when all is settled down a bit. Yes, Carol (of Paris Breakfasts) is a friend. We both share a love of the island and its village feel. All best, Meredith

    REPLY

  • Cynthia
    2020-08-21 01:48:20
    Cynthia
    Wonderful article, thank you! Such good research. Loved the quiz - which I got only part right. Can't wait until I can visit again.

    REPLY

  • José Luiz Lopes de Faria
    2020-08-21 01:45:28
    José Luiz Lopes de Faria
    Parabéns pela pesquisa, pelo conhecimento do tema abordado, e, sobretudo, pelo interesse em informar e instruir. É sempre muito bom conhecermos cada vez mais no que se refere à cidade que mora no nosso coração. Muito obrigado.

    REPLY

  • Linda T Lower
    2020-08-20 11:35:16
    Linda T Lower
    I rented an apartment on this delicious little island last year. I was there when beautiful Notre Dame burned. I remember how we all stood together like a grieving family when we could only watch. I loved your article. Thank you. Like you, I feel like it must have been my home once. Wish it was again.

    REPLY

  • Ed Cobleigh
    2020-08-20 11:10:25
    Ed Cobleigh
    Ms. Mullins, Way to go! You have blown the magical island's cover. My wife and I enjoy renting an apartment on the isle, it seems like a small French village transposed to the center of Paris. The green grocer knows my name and lets me pick out my own fruit. A server chased us down half a block to return a left-behind umbrella. For anyone reading this, do not, repeat do not visit l'Ile Saint-Louis. It is trés boring. If you have to, buy your ice cream and eat it on the other bank of the river. Leave the island to us.

    REPLY

  • Dianne Cant
    2020-08-20 10:49:25
    Dianne Cant
    Thoroughly enjoy this newsletter and especially this one on ‘Ile d cite’ Paris. We were booked in to have five nights in Paris first week of a July to attend Paris couture fashion week and just enjoy our beloved Paris. Owing to Covid 19 this was cancelled and who knows when we will ever return. Keep up the lovely on line Bonjour Paris. Merci. ❤️

    REPLY

  • MICHAEL CORRELL
    2020-08-20 10:42:05
    MICHAEL CORRELL
    Wonderful descriptions of your island home. Makes me eager to return to Paris to experience the things I missed last time, such as seeing more art galleries and museums.

    REPLY

  • Per Axel
    2020-08-20 09:47:03
    Per Axel
    I rent a small apartment on Quai de Orleans for my yearly visit. And you are very correct in that it is a fantastic place to stay. It has a very small town feel to it. At night it is actually very quiet to me. Right across the Seine is the Marais on one side, and the Latin Quarter on the other. So if night life is what you are after it is within easy walking distance. Rue Monge with its market is a easy walk. I now know how fortunate I am to have an apartment there. I walk to Saint Paul Metro Station which is the best stop get everywhere.

    REPLY

  • Suzanne
    2020-08-20 09:34:25
    Suzanne
    Thanks for this lovely “visit” back to Paris. We feel so isolated from travel now, it is reassuring to be remembered of these lovely spots, and to have them to look forward to again. Merci!

    REPLY

  • Mary-Lou & Wally Mielcarz
    2020-08-20 09:26:43
    Mary-Lou & Wally Mielcarz
    Hi Meredith, Thank you for the wonderful stories and photos. Our favorite door will always be the green one.

    REPLY

  • Bill O'Such
    2020-08-20 08:48:20
    Bill O'Such
    Hi Meredith, this is great, especially when you can't get to Paris from the US! I'm going to share this with a friend who lives there. I recall many years ago I took a tour and the guide got us into a private area with some fascinating images. I'll need to dig up the photos. Thanks, Bill.

    REPLY

  • Jane S. Gabin
    2020-08-20 08:43:45
    Jane S. Gabin
    Lovely photos! I hope I get another chance to see Paris. I have a friend who lives on the Quai de Bethune. Perhaps you know her? Carol Gillott, who does extraordinary watercolors of Paris

    REPLY