This little island is 27 acres of tranquility in the middle of the Seine River. You can walk completely around it in less than 15 minutes, but it's packed with lovely apartments, shops, wonderful restaurants and a lot of history.
Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'île cuts the island in half from east to west. It's popular all the time and festive during the holidays.
Originally l'île Saint-Louis was used largely for fishing and grazing cattle. In 1360 a canal split it in two as shown below. The smaller island was called Ile des Vaches (Island of the Cows) and the larger island was Île Notre Dame.
So it's fitting that one of the best restaurants on the island is called L'Ilot Vache!
Île Saint-Louis is connected to the right bank by the Pont Marie and the Pont Louis-Philippe. The Pont de Sully connects it to both banks at its eastern end.
The Pont Marie at night.
Île Saint-Louis as seen from the Pont Louis-Philippe
Pont Marie becomes Pont de la Tournelle as it connects the island to the Left Bank.
The Pont Saint-Louis connects l'Île Saint-Louis with l'Île de la Cité. What could be more French than this on a beautiful Paris afternoon?
The Square Barye at the very eastern end of the island is peaceful and lovely, especially after a long day of sightseeing.
Architectural History of I'Île Saint-Louis
King Henry IV had the canal filled in to unite the two small islands in the early 1600's in order to develop it into a residential area. After Henry's assassination in 1610 his son Louis XIII continued the project and hired the architect Christophe Marie to begin the development of the island. Marie created the quays on the northern and southern sides of the island and several streets bisecting it from north to south. Later royal architect Louis Le Vau was commissioned to build "hôtels particuliers" (elegant townhouses) on the island. The building took place during an uninterrupted period from 1620 - 1650 which resulted in a largely uniform design. About 4,000 people call the island home today.
The beautiful Hôtel Lambert at the eastern tip of the island (as seen from the Seine, below) is perhaps Le Vau's most outstanding accomplishment.
This is the Hôtel de Lauzun, 17 Quai d'Anjou, another hôtel particulier built by Le Vau in the mid-17th century. Its residents included Cardinal de Richelieu and the poet Baudelaire.
This is the door of the Hôtel de Lauzun.
This gorgeous door can be found at 18 Quai d'Orleans on the southern side of the island.
I've been fortunate to be able to stay on l'Île Saint-Louis several times. I like it for its central location, easily walkable to both banks of the Seine, and for its beauty and charm. The most recent time I stayed on the Île, I was able to stay in an apartment on Quai de Bourbon.
The building that housed our apartment is the ancient Hôtel de Charron, built in the early part of the 17th century for Jean Charron, the Minister of Finance. We were honored to be able to spend a week in this historic building at 15 Quai de Bourbon.
It took us a minute to figure out how to open the door from the inside; it looked more like a method of torture than a door! Fortunately it's been modernized to open and close electronically so we didn't have to lift weights to operate it!
Many of these buildings such as the one we called home have large inner courtyards. The doors to the courtyards were built wide enough to accommodate horses and carriages and the courtyards were large enough so that the carriages could easily turn around.
These are the steps leading up to our apartment. You can feel the history!
Elsewhere on the island...
This door can be found at 9, rue Saint-Louis en L'ile.
6 Quai d'Orléans
This blue beauty is located at 3, Quai d'Anjou.
This is the Hôtel de Chenizot at 51 rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Île, built in the early 1600's. Imagine going through that door every day when you come home!
Notice also the scroll work on either side of the mascaron.
These are some of the magnificent door knobs and door knockers on the island.
Sometimes you're lucky enough to come across the original carved street names. This is one of the streets that runs north/south on the island. Which one do you prefer?
Aux Anysetiers du Roy is one of the oldest restaurants in Paris. It's located on the rue Saint- Louis en l'île. In addition to being one of the best meals we had in Paris, we loved the medieval frescoes and the overall ambiance.
Notice how the steps have been moulded over the centuries.
St. Geneviève was born in Nanterre, just outside Paris in 423. She dedicated herself to Christian life and became a nun at the age of 15. Several years later she moved to Paris. She is attributed with saving Paris in 451 when Attila and the Huns were about to attack. She pleaded with the citizens to pray rather than flee and their prayers are said to have caused Attila's troops to attack Orléans instead. The girl with her represents the city of Paris.
The sculpture, created by the architect Paul Landowski who also sculpted the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, stands at the southern end of the Pont de la Tournelle.
Saint Geneviève is facing east with her back to Notre Dame. It's said that Landowski very much wanted her to face Notre Dame, but the French authorities wanted the symbolism of her facing east from where the Huns intended to attack.
Her relics reside at the church Saint-Etienne-du-Mont near the Panthéon.
Our week in the historic apartment overlooking the Seine was a dream come true. Here are some more photos of and from this charming island.
Sunrise over Île Saint-Louis. Au revoir, until the next time...
➜ Top Tips
There are no métro stations on the island; the closest is Pont Marie (line 7) just across the river on the right bank. Sully Morland, also line 7, is close to the eastern tip of the island.
There are a few hotels and a number of apartments if you want to stay on the island.
Be sure to sit outside at a cafe at the western end of rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile on a nice day to watch the world go by.
If you want to experience the island at its quietest, go early or stay for dinner after the tourists have left. In the morning have a "grand crème" at the Café St.-Régis as you watch the parents walk or bike their children to school.