The “Île aux Vaches” Transformed

Berthillon’s cafe on Ile Saint-Louis

Without hesitation I can say that Île Saint-Louis is one of our favorite places in Paris; so it is difficult to imagine the island as an unadulterated cow pasture in the middle of the Seine.  But that’s exactly what it was – Île aux Vaches (Île of Cows) – where the occasional court-ordered duel might shatter the otherwise peaceful pasture.

It remained so until King Louis XIII launched an urban plan to transform the island into a prestigious neighborhood.  Elegant townhouses were built between 1620 and 1650, using stone and slate in place of the fire-prone wood and thatch roofs.  Thus, the island was transformed into a place of privilege for affluent Parisians to escape from the bustle of the city.

Today, Île Saint-Louis remains a quaint haven compared to her neighbor, Île de la Cité, where Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapel, the Palais de Justice and other island attractions draw thousands of visitors.  Ile Saint-Louis is more like a 17th-century village with narrow, one-way streets, bakeries, cafes, one of the city’s most famous flower shops and interesting little specialty boutiques, galleries and gourmet shops.  We never tire of wandering along the narrow streets and stepping down the stairways to the island’s tree-shaded quays.  We find our little bench to watch the boats and ducks glide through the river, the occasional fisherman and, always, pairs of lovers here and there.

Rather a nice spot for fishing!

During our last trip, we actually stayed in a vacation rental on the island – a charming apartment overlooking a school yard, where we could watch the children play and form an obedient line to receive their snacks.  For all of our exploring, it seems there are always things we miss, experiences we want to add in the future.

While we have enjoyed every type of meal on the island, we’ve yet to buy a single flower from Patrick Allain’s shop or a single scoop of Berthillon’s famous homemade ice cream.  Our most memorable omission was our failure to purchase an exceptional painting, while on our honeymoon.  There was a boutique gallery featuring the work of a Vietnamese artist, who used bold splashes of color in his works.  Alas, we did not make that purchase, but I have enjoyed trying to replicate his work several times.

Just one of my ‘knock-offs’

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