Historic Île Saint-Louis has just three main avenues and covers only 12 city blocks. But the former “isle of cows” is in itself a mini metropolis of restaurants, hotels, shops and sights, and its six bridges are within walking distance of Paris’s best museums and Left Bank attractions.
Lodging: Although everything on the island is close by, the elegant 17th-century Hôtel du Jeu de Paume is at the center of things with its 30 rooms and a lovely lobby. Hôtel des Deux-Iles also has a central location and is known for its antiques, bar and public rooms. Hôtel Saint-Louis en L’Isle offers several rooms with small-balcony views of the Seine and has its breakfast room in a vaulted cellar. On chilly days, there’s a real fire burning in the lobby at Hôtel de Lutèce. Be warned that rooms everywhere are small and the prices high–it’s the location. For those seeking longer stays, check with your travel agent about apartment rentals by the week or month.
Around Town: Start with a walk circling the island with camera or smartphone in hand. As you Tweet along, you’ll notice that the west end near Notre Dame has the most shops and people, while the east end is quieter and village-like. There are four must-sees: the quais with their views of the Left (south) and Right (north) Banks; the island’s main church—Saint Louis-en-L’Île with its lacy spire and Baroque interiors; the world’s largest bookstore devoted solely to travel tomes, Librairie Ulysse, and the ice creamery where even Parisians flock—Glacier Berthillon. After that, shopaholics can cruise the many gift and clothing stores that dot Rue Saint-Louis en L’Île, which splits the island.
Wine & Food: The island offers dozens of eating choices, but in good weather, you might simply buy wine at the local Nicolas, cheese at Christian Le Lann and pâtés and breads at La Petite Scierie and picnic on the quai benches or the spot of lawn at the Notre Dame end. For a wine bar and bistro atmosphere, great people watching and a view of Île de la Cité (Notre Dame’s island), stop by La Brasserie de l’Isle Saint-Louis. The very popular and bustling Mon Vieil Ami features modern Alsatian cuisine. For something quiet and romantic, try Le Tastevin. L’Orangerie, an island standard, has new owners and menus—first reports are good. Crêperies are everywhere—eat in or nosh along the avenue—and a good one is Café Med.
Fans of Renaissance fairs can check their swords at the door and experience Parisian food as it might have been served in medieval times at the side-by-side La Taverne du Sergent Recruteur and Nos Ancêtres les Gaulois. For wines and cocktails, stop at Café St. Regis, but, like most things in Paris, l’happy hour is later here: 7–9 pm. Le Cave du Franc Pinot offers jazz, food and drink. If you want to escape the island, there are also good wine bars on the Right Bank near the Pont Marie Metro stop. Or walk just across Pont de la Tournelle to one of Paris’ most famous restaurants, La Tour d’Argent, but start working now on reservations.