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Choosing the right area to stay in a city is a key factor in shaping a memorable visit. In Paris we have over the years opted for hotels in many different parts of the French capital. We have tried chic hotels off the Champs-Élysees and budget options around the Bastille. We know bright and airy hotels facing the Tuileries (often with a high price tag) and a feast of fabulous pensions in the Latin Quarter.
Islands in the stream
But we have long had our eye on the Ile Saint-Louis as potentially a top choice for a Paris stay. And with four days in Paris last week, we decided to splash out and enjoy a little luxury on this island in the River Seine.
The Ile Saint-Louis is one of two islands in the Seine right in the very heart of Paris, the other being the celebrated and much larger Ile de la Cité — home to Notre Dame Cathedral, beautiful Sainte Chapelle and the Palais de Justice. The Ile Saint-Louis is just a shade upstream from the Ile de la Cité and the two are linked by a bridge which, although plenty wide enough for vehicles, is open only to pedestrians and cyclists.
Two islands — two moods
The spirit and style of the Ile Saint-Louis is a world apart from the Ile de la Cité. Where the latter is a place of posh facades and grand architectural gestures, the Ile Saint-Louis offers a more intimate and homely feel. Just three streets across, space is tight on the Ile Saint-Louis — just enough to pack in all the key Parisian necessities: a first-class wine shop, a decent baker and a clutch of good cafés, restaurants and hotels. The island has more the feel of a village than other areas of central Paris.
Yet despite being in some senses withdrawn from the hustle and bustle of Paris, the Ile Saint-Louis is very accessible. From the middle of the island, it is a four-minute walk over the Pont Marie to the nearest Métro station (which is itself called “Pont Marie” and is on line 7).
Or hop over the footbridge to the Ile de la Cité for Métro line 4 (at “Cité” Métro station) or for the Hôtel Dieu entrance to the St-Michel Notre-Dame RER station. These last two stations are both about a seven-minute walk from the heart of the Ile Saint-Louis. As a bonus on the latter walk, you’ll pass Notre Dame on the way.
Hôtel du Jeu de Paume
We stayed on the Ile Saint-Louis at the Hôtel du Jeu de Paume, where architect Guy Pache has transformed a 16th-century indoor tennis court into a stylish and upmarket hotel. No, it was not cheap, but it was worth every cent. The hotel offers lavish and well-appointed public spaces for guests, in our book always the hallmark of a fine place to stay. Protected from Parisian noise, the bedrooms are a delight. It was unquestionably the best place we have stayed in Paris.
Just in case you wonder about our enthusiasm for the Jeu de Paume, we paid our way and neither asked for nor received any special treatment as travel writers. As Mr Baedeker used to nicely put it in his 19th-century guides, the quiet commendation of an establishment by a travel writer should be worth far more than any advertisement.