Paris’ Ile-Saint Louis is the Place to Be

From Paris, Contributing Writer Jim Calio dishes on his favorite Ile Saint-Louis shops and stops

By: By Jim Calio

Paris, Ile-Saint Louis // © 2010 Muratama

Paris, Ile-Saint Louis // © 2010 Muratama

April in Paris? Not for me. I’ll take it in January, February or even March. Sure, it’s a lot colder, but there are some good reasons: Fewer tourists, the airfare and hotels are relatively inexpensive and, let’s face it, it’s much more romantic to roam the streets of the City of Light bundled up in a long coat and a French scarf. At least for me, it is.

We arrived just after New Year’s, and the huge, brightly lit Ferris wheel in the Place de la Concorde at the foot of the Champs Elysees was still running. A beacon from the very top of the Eiffel Tower swept the city at night and, at odd times, the whole structure would glitter like a giant Christmas tree.

Our room at The Westin Paris was a steal. We had a glimpse of the Tuileries Gardens and, if we craned our necks, we could see all the way up to the Arc de Triomphe to the right. The chestnut trees in the Tuileries were bare, and the ground was hard-packed, but the merry-go-round still worked, much to the delight of squealing children.

We decided to just roam around with no set itinerary. One consideration, of course, was staying warm, but it wasn’t that brutally cold. And besides, winter or summer, the cafes of Paris are always warm and inviting, even if you can’t sit on the sidewalk.

We then went on the Ile Saint-Louis right behind the Cite, where we decided we’d like to live if we ever won the lottery. Its narrow main street — the island is only six blocks long and two blocks wide — has a collection of small hotels, boutiques and tea shops.

We went back to the Ile Saint-Louis several times, each time for a different reason. First, it was to buy about a dozen jars of jam and bottles of vinegar, with flowers and vegetables suspended in the liquid, at a small shop called L’Epicerie. We stocked up for all our friends and next year’s Christmas. We also discovered a lovely little restaurant called Auberge de la Reine Blanche, where we ordered boef Bourgignon two nights in a row.

This is not to say that we didn’t explore other parts of Paris, as our whim directed. We took the Metro (another way to stay warm) out to the vast flea market at Porte de Clignancourt, marvelled at the collection of outright junk and some fabulous bargains and, on the way back, stopped at Montmartre. We wanted to see if the painters were still out in the small square, and they were. There was also an accordion player who greeted us at the subway entrance and two mimes, one who portrayed a statue by painting himself grey and seemed to blend in with the wall.

There are indoor shopping courts in Paris, places with names like Galerie Vivienne or Passage Panoramas (a stamp collectors’ paradise), and they are good cold weather antidotes to the sometimes drizzly weather that clouds the Paris skies. One in particular, Passage Jouffroy looks like something out of the 1800s.

But, at the end of almost every day, we went back to the Ile Saint-Louis where, whenever we were finished shopping, we would stop off in a tea shop and warm up. La Charlotte de L’Isle was spectacular. Do yourself a favor and order its chocolate and pear tart and a cup of thick hot chocolate. Others may talk of Angelina’s as the best hot chocolate in the world but, in my opinion, La Charlotte’s creamy drink can’t be beat.

About the only thing that disappointed me was that it didn’t snow when we were there. Now, that would have been even more romantic, and I might have stayed a bit longer.

 

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