Île Saint-Louis “Second Homes”
Last time we were in Paris, we stayed for a week in a charming vacation rental on Île Saint-Louis. Other than the sometimes grueling climb up four flights of stairs, we were absolutely enchanted to enjoy our residence on one of our favorite places on earth!
BUT that is also when we first heard from our best friend in Paris that, “The island has changed. So many foreigners have bought property here, and it no longer feels authentic.” Well, I’m sure I’ve paraphrased somewhat, but the key thought remains the same – the long famous and revered Île Saint-Louis doesn’t feel so French anymore. I hasten to add that we do not share that sentiment, perhaps because we are blinded by the island’s charms!
Mind you, if we had the ‘spare change’ to buy property on l’île, we would jump at the chance; but we also would spend lots of time there. Recent studies show that many foreigners, including Americans, have gradually driven out less well-off Parisian residents; and the second-home nature of their ownership and brevity of visits has had a negative impact on neighborhood shops and local schools. Authors of the study indicate that this district is the only one in Paris that is losing inhabitants. Given the French love of heritage, home and history; you can imagine how this ownership transfer has been received.
Those tensions resulted in quite a clash between historic and new residents, between architectural designers and cultural protectors. A Qatari prince purchased one of the island’s most beautiful, historic and revered buildings – Hotel Lambert. Once home to Chopin and Voltaire not to mention the Rothschild family, the 17th century mansion contains many artistic treasures, including priceless frescoes by artist Eustache Le Sueur created around 1652.
As if the drastic structural changes anticipated by the prince were not enough, a significant fire broke out in 2013 and caused the rooftop to collapse and destroy the Le Sueur designs. Part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, the building was empty and undergoing the controversial renovations. Nonetheless legal actions still are underway to assure that changes to the famous building are in line with historical dictates. One heritage architect specialist went so far as to describe the proposed changes as “a monstrosity with the aesthetics of a James Bond villa”. Parfait!
The hotel was originally designed and built for the personal secretary – Lambert de Thorigny – of King Louis XIII. Voltaire was said to have courted his mistress, the marquise du Châtelet, at the Hôtel Lambert; and prior to being sold in 1975 to the Rothschild banking family, noteworthy visitors included Chopin and Balzac.
Perhaps on a more positive note, it seems that many of those owners of second homes in Paris want to blend in, opting for traditions like visiting the local boulanger for bread and La Presse for the daily newspaper. It is, in fact, that village feeling that so many of us seek, when we arrange our vacation rentals in the City of Light.
If you have always opted for hotel stays in Paris, we highly recommend the more authentic and cost-effective vacation rental. You still may eat out as often as you wish, but that morning cup of coffee in your own apartment is quite nice!
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