Stumbling along…Paris’ Ile St. Louis

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Wandering aimlessly is one of my favorite vacation activities. You never know what you could stumble upon or whom you may meet. In Paris, it should be mandatory to take evening strolls through the city streets. One very special evening can be spent visiting Ile St. Louis.

If you have been to Ile St. Louis’ sister island, Ile de la Cité, you will notice it feels touristy, while Ile St. Louis is more residential and old world. Only about six thousand permanent residents live on this small isle and there are few touristic destinations, compared to Cité. But that in and of itself is reason enough to make a special visit here. The beautiful buildings lining the banks transport you back hundreds of years. The unique architecture shows off the time period; many of the buildings were built in the early to mid 1600’s. Maybe because of its residential, old world feel you can almost forget you are in one of the most modern cities in Europe.

Take the subway to the Cité metro station. It’s a round about way to reach Ile St. Louis, but an evening’s stroll is part of tonight’s entertainment. Turn right through the square, and right again when you get to Rue de la Cité. Take the road all the way to the river Seine. Notre Dame Cathedral at night will of course be beautiful. Turn left on Quai du Marché Neuf and stroll between the Seine and Notre Dame.

When you get to the end of the Ile, cross the Pont St. Louis (St Louis Bridge). Turn left onto Quai de Bourbon. The river, wonderful old buildings, and a quiet street awash in the glow of street lamps. Of particular note on Quai de Bourbon is #19. For a while (1899-1913), sculptor Camille Claudel worked here. Claudel and Rodin were lovers, although Rodin became jealous of her talent and played a role in her being locked up in a psychiatric ward later on. History repaired partly this terrible injustice, and Camille Claudel’s most famous works are now being displayed at Musée Rodin.

Quai de Bourbon turns into Quai D’Anjou. On D’Anjou is the Hotel de Lauzun, #17. Built in 1656-57 by architect Louis Le Vau, this elegant mansion is owned today by the City of Paris, and can be toured during limited visiting hours. Its magnificent barocco façade is definitely worth a pause. And #29 once sheltered the Three Mountain Press, edited by Ezra Pound and which published works by Ernest Hemingway, among others.

At the end of this short street, turn right and then right again onto Rue St. Louis en L’isle. If it’s dinnertime, stop at L’Auberge de la Reine Blanche. Call ahead for reservations (Tel: 0146330787). The restaurant is across from the Bibliothèque Jeunesse.

During the day, tourists and residents alike visit the chic boutiques, specialty food shops and upscale art galleries rather than tourist shops that line the Rue St. Louis en L’Isle. Also on Rue St. Louis en L’Isle is Eglise St. Louis en L’Isle. While not much to look at from the outside, a drab exterior masks a beautifully ornate interior done in the roccoco style. The church has limited visiting hours, but does hold concerts on occasion.

When it’s time to walk off your meal, continue your journey on Rue St. Louis en L’Isle until you reach Rue des deux Ponts, turning right. If dinner wasn’t in your plans, or if you can squeeze something else in after your meal, you must stop for a delicious sorbet at the walk-up window of Dom Cannelle Restaurant and Pastry Shop. Sorbets sold on Ile St Louis are made by Berthillon, now a household name. Berthillon used to sell their renown sorbets directly, but they changed their retail policy a few years ago. Today you can find their sorbets at many shops on Ile St Louis, but should you want to have one directly at Berthillon, you would have to take a cup of tea or chocolate at their tea salon.

Head back to Rue St. Louis en L’Isle. If sorbet wasn’t what you were in the mood for, Calixte will satisfy your sweet tooth with a wonderful array of pastries.

If you are truly in a Parisian mood, across from Calixte is a supermarket, Le Prestige de l’alimentation. Pop in for a bottle of wine, and re-cross the street to Boulanger Patissier (the baker) for a baguette and some sweets. At the end of the block cross the bridge back to Ile de la Cité and, if the park in the back and side of Notre Dame Cathedral is still open, enjoy your picnic.

Returning home, cross back to Ile St. Louis, turning right this time and walk along the Quai d’Orléans. Turn left on Rue des deux Ponts and cut back through the isle to the Pont Mariemetro station on the other side of the Seine. Maybe now you are hungry enough to cap off the night with some sorbet from Dom Cannelle’s.

If you keep walking straight on Quai d’Orléans, the name changes to Quai de Béthune. Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie lived at #36 for a time until her death from radiation-induced cancer in 1934.

Alternatively, if it’s on the way back to your hotel, walk along the Seine for as long as possible. You will see friends laughing in the moonlight, families strolling under street lamps, and sweethearts whispering softly in the shadows; all enjoying the evening along with you.

While I always felt safe in Paris, it is a good idea to watch your surroundings and keep personal belongings close to you, especially at night. Paris is a remarkable place, and exploring it at night will give you a new perspective and wonderful memories.