Choosing the top five things to do in Paris on the Ile Saint-Louis is not any easy task, but here it goes.
1. Lick some ice cream. Berthillon is of course the purveyor of seriously good and very famous ice cream. Because it is traditionally French, the shop closes in August, which my husband and I think is hilarious, but any other time of year, queue up and try some of this substance of the gods. Could anything that creamy and yummy possibly be bad for you? If you don’t want to go straight to the actual namesake, a lot of other cafés on the île sell Berthillon ice cream, and it tastes just as good at any of them.
2. Taste a surprise. Le Sergent Recruteur is a fairly new gastronomic restaurant on the rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile, which in general houses a lot of decent-to-bad restaurants serving unsuspecting tripists, so this place is a real standout. It’s housed in a building from the 1600s, which purportedly has been a pub or café for hundreds of years, and designer Jaime Hayon treated the interior with respect when renovating it for this upscale restaurant. Chef Antonin Bonnet, who worked with famed chef Michel Bras, offers a prix fixe dinner for 145 euros. It’s a set menu, but you don’t know what you’ll be served. Your only choice is whether or not to try the special beef—say yes! When we dined here last summer, we had eight or ten courses. The waiter chose our wine, and the meal was one of the best and most innovative I’ve had in years. The highlight: radish-top cold soup, made with radishes from the restaurant’s organic garden in Normandy.
3. Soak in some history. Take a walk on the île at night and imagine what it was like before it was developed back in the mid-1600s. Before then, cows grazed here, but by the 17th century, Christophe Marie, a real-estate developer decided to transform the island into a high-end retreat for the monied of the day. Take a close look at many of the mansions along the quai on both sides and you’ll notice dates on their facades, many from the 1600s. Of particular note is the Hôtel de Lauzun, built in 1657, at 17, quai d’Anjou, which in the 1800s became a hash-smoking hangout for the bohemian writers and artists of the day, such as Delacroix, Dumas and Baudelaire. The hôtel particulier, which is owned by the government, can be visited with advance notice with Caisse Nationale des Monuments Historiques (telephone number: 01 48 87 24 14).
4. Warm yourself up. For the best coffee, tea and hot cocoa in the area, try la Charlotte de l’Isle, at 24, rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile. Family friendly with a charming, homey atmosphere, this is just the place to warm yourself up after a chilly day of triping the city in fall or winter. And there are plenty of sweet and savory treats to choose from to accompany your beverage.
5. Ogle the cheese. Charles de Gaulle famously said, “How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?” It seems nearly half of them are carried at la Ferme Saint-Aubin, at 76, rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile. The window filled with fromage at this tiny storefront beckons you to enter, purchase a hunk or two and head out for a picnic by the Seine, only steps away, or perhaps in the little park behind Notre Dame, a few steps in the other direction.
More: Here’s a little secret: did you know that Camille Claudel, a sculptor and the lover of Rodin, lived and worked here, on the quai d’Anjou?