Spring has finally sprung in Paris, so with arms tangled and hair highly mussed, let’s stroll like real Parisians to my favorite centuries-old romantic hot spot, le Square du Vert-Galant at the tip of the Île de la Cité. Created by passionate King Henri IV, its spectacular view of la Seine and currents crashing into its banks still move the rendezvous-ers, so hold on tight while I straighten your trench coat collar.
The Saint-Michel Metro stop will allow for a little bouquiniste browsing as you make your way. Along with a book, pick up a sandwich at a nearby boulangerie or even a compact but oh so filling crêpe fromage! I’m not the first to propose the tip of the Île de la Cité as the perfect spot for a little pic-a-necking, and I certainly won’t be the last.
The bridge: Pont Neuf
Still curvaceous and fabulous at 403-years-old, the “New Bridge” is actually the oldest standing bridge in Paris. Created by Henri IV, it was the first to be built without houses or shops (i.e., “firetraps”) lining it.
As the king of the original urban re-do, Henri also banned timber construction throughout the city, promoted symmetry in its public architecture, connected the Tuileries with the Louvre, and created Paris’s first city square! Thank Henri’s Place des Vosges for getting the party started in the Marais. Even today, this very stylish square is still a prime place to see and be seen.
As you promenade across the bridge, stop and cool your heels in one of its nook-like bastions. Originally these niches were created for the safety of pedestrians seeking to avoid being run over by passing carriages clattering madly by.
Jolly Green Giant: Statue of Henri IV
The bridge cuts across the island connecting the Right and Left Banks of the river. In its very center, you’ll find a huge bronze statue of Henri IV on horseback. Some folks consider the square around it the very center of Western Civilization. I don’t know about that, but I can vouch for it as a great place to make momentous decisions. See, Cheapos, this is where my paramour proposed to me! (I accepted.)
You’ll find the King’s square directly below. Just follow the steps.
What’s in a name? Le Square du Vert-Galant
For the love of vitality, admiration, and gossip, Parisians gave the little tear-drop-shaped park the flamboyant King’s nickname, “Vert-Galant,” or “Gay Blade,” since he was larger than life, compassionate, and wildly loved. Mad about music, wine and women, Henri would horse around here with his friends, entertainers, and favorite mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrée. As he liked to say, “Great cooking and great wines make a paradise on earth!”
And speaking of big appetites, this is also where Hemingway relaxed with books, wine, and sausages while watching the fishermen. “They always caught some fish,” he wrote, “and often they made excellent catches of the dace-like fish that were called goujon. They were plump and sweet-fleshed with a finer flavor than fresh sardines even, and were not at all oily, and we ate them bones and all.”
Tip of the Île de la Cité
Just beyond the le Square du Vert-Galant, you’ll find the downstream tip of the Île de la Cité. Pick a spot on the stone ledge and then settle yourself down for some smooth bateaux-cruise watching from underneath the weeping willow. I’ve been told that this tree is always the first in Paris to leaf out each spring! Notre-Dame, the Louvre, and the (currently closed) grand magasin Samaritaine pop up like a panoramic all-star photo shoot surrounding you.
Clipping from Hemingway, Cheapos, “There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other.”