Île de la Cité, solemn and museum-like, is Paris's religious and judicial center. Its old palaces, grandly wrought hospital, venerable law courts, and medieval churches, contain Paris's architectural wonders. Île Saint-Louis is the sibling island next door. With tree lined quays, aristocratic town-houses, fine-food shops, and top dining experiences, this primarily residential island retains a unique atmosphere very opposite to that of its neighbour.
Starting in the east, at the tip of ile Saint Louis, this Self Guide to the Islands of Paris works its way west following the flow of the River Siene.
1. Quai d’Anjou - the 17th-century townhouses along this elegant strip once hosted Balzac, Baudelaire, Voltaire, Mme Currie and the Rothschilds.
2. Berthillon - On warm weekends, hordes line up at this half-century old ice-cream parlor (29-31 rue Saint-Louis en l’Ile) Offerings, which change daily, include tiramisu, Grand Marnier, and praline with lemon and coriander. Scoops even come sandwiched between macaroons. The secret lies in the ingredients: farm-fresh milk, Ivory Coast chocolate, Madagascar vanilla.
3. Rue Saint-Louis en l’Ile – lined with boutique shops and restaurants this is a unique street to walk down.
4. La Ferme Saint-Aubin- reputed to be the best cheese shop in Paris (76 rue Saint-Louis en l’Ile) the store buys cheeses from producers around France and then ages them in its cellar. The store also sells fine jams, ropes of chorizo, Bordeaux wines and fresh-made terrines.
5. Memorial of the Deportation – this modernist monument commemorates the French who perished in Nazi concentration camps during WWII. It is a low passageway with 200,000 beads of glass that reflect the light as a reminder of those who were killed.
6. Notre Dame Cathedral- with its chiseled masonry, statues of saints, soaring bell towers, flying buttresses and eerie ranks of gargoyles and chimeras, the facade of this medieval masterpiece is one of Europe’s most beautiful.
7. One of the best views of Notre Dame is from the Quai de la Tournelle. It offers a riverside view up to Ile de la Cite and a view of the rear façade of the flying buttresses of Notre Dame de Paris.
8. Under the square in front of the cathedral, an archaeological crypt displays in situ the remains of structures from the Gallo-Roman and later periods
9. Marche aux Fleurs – the stalls are ablaze with colour, each a showcase of flowers. The fragrant wares of this year-round market have brightened Paris’ dinning rooms, terraces, lobbies and restaurant tables of over 200 years
10. Conciergerie – Many visitors have lost their heads after entering this turreted building. Literally. The 700 year old former royal palace housed a notorious prison during the French Revolution and became the final stop before the guillotine for Marie-Antoinette and some 2,700 others. Grisly past notwithstanding, the ornate rooms now occasionally for the backdrop for fashion shows and exhibitions.
11. Sainte-Chapelle – this 13th century chapel is the slim counterpoint to big sister Notre Dame. Sixteen large stain-glass windows, the marquee attraction of the church, are like a multihued text containing more then a thousand minutely rendered biblical scenes.
12. Ile de la Cite- this was the first part of Paris to be settled by the Gauls in the 3rd century BC
13. Pont Neuf- despite its name, Pont Neuf (“new bridge”) is the oldest bridge in Paris. 400 years old in 2007.