Paris' lovely Ile St. Louis, the smaller of two islands in the middle of the Seine, lies near Notre Dame, but that cathedral is on Ile de la Cite, the larger of the islands.
But this wonderfully quaint residential area should not be overshadowed by the famous cathedral. Ile St. Louis, a mere six blocks long and two blocks wide, offers plenty to see . . . and plenty to buy.
Ile St. Louis is Paris' oldest preserved area. Charming narrow streets are lined with the lovely 17th-Century town houses and mansions that were built by King Henri IV to house his courtiers. The streets, dating from 1614 to 1630, were the first in Paris to be laid out in a grid pattern.
Through the years, this oasis of quiet in the middle of bustling Paris has attracted famous residents, including Apollinaire, Balzac, Voltaire, Zola, Baudelaire, Cezanne, Daumier and Georges Pompidou. Small plaques mark their houses.
Ile St. Louis' boutiques occupy first-floor storefronts along Rue St. Louis en l'Ile, the avenue that runs the length of the island. Attractive shops are filled with arty wearables; galleries are full of art.
Begin at one end with Librarie Libella (12 Rue St. Louis en l'Ile), a postage-stamp-size bookstore and art gallery that specializes in Polish works, especially some not available (for political reasons) in Poland.
On the literary side, the books range from political tracts by Solidarity sympathizers and free expressionists to volumes of traditional Polish folk tales.
Most of the books are in Polish, but the beautifully illustrated children's books ($8 U.S. and up) are a good buy for the pictures. The gallery features moderately priced work by Polish painters and graphic artists, and a wide selection of fascinating posters ($20 and up).
Galerie Bamyan (24 Rue St. Louis en l'Ile) sells antiques ($200 and up) and new rugs ($100 and up) from Afghanistan, Tibet and North India, as well as objets d'art and heavy silver jewelry ($80 and up) from the Orient. Large, sturdy carryalls are made of pieces of colorful rugs, and leather boots ($60) have patches of antique rugs and/or embroidery.
Jean Prud'homme-Bene is an interior decorator whose showroom and atelier (25 and 27 Rue St. Louis en l'Ile) display sample furnishings with unusual and pricey upholstery fabrics. Some room accessories, including lamp bases (about $250 and up), ceramic decorative pieces (about $150 and up) and screens (about $350 and up) are sold on the spot. This is a good place to get exciting ideas for furnishing a room in the French style.
Berthillon (31 Rue St. Louis en l'Ile) is Paris' favorite ice cream parlor, with flavors including marron glace, nougat au miel , chocolate au nougat, feuille de menthe , gianduja , praline aux pignons , grand marnier and 11 others. The 25 flavors of sorbets include fig, pink grapefruit, prune, melon, blackberry, peach, pear and more. Fruit flavors include kiwi, kumquat and mango.
And the list goes on. Each is more tempting, more delicious, more extraordinary than the last. These delicacies are sold by the scoop ($1 each). The shop's motto, "Quality is our passion," has made Berthillon the passion of Paris for 33 years. There are always lines outside for cones, and lines inside for table service. Even the coffee ($2) and hot chocolate ($3) are unusually good.
Librarie Ulysse (35 Rue St. Louis en l'Ile) is a great bookshop for armchair travelers, or those who take to the roads.
Travel books ($6 and up) of all sorts, all destinations and special travel interests, are stocked. Most are in French, but there's a substantial number of English-language titles about Paris, and the picture books ($15 and up) are superb.
L'Aromarine (45 Rue St. Louis en l'Ile) sells bath beads, oils and powders in a variety of fragrances. There are also soft natural sponges ($7), sturdy back brushes ($10), and sweet-scented soaps ($3 and up) in a variety of shapes and colors. Also stocked are fine solid perfumes ($12 and up) for scenting rooms.
Yamina (56 Rue St. Louis en l'Ile) is the boutique for designer Yamina Wright's signature garments. Each item is a special, beautifully colored silk work of art, with hand-painted flowers and other designs. There are dresses (about $280 and up), belts (about $50), scarfs ($40 and up) and unusual fabric panels ($85 and up) that can be draped around the hips or shoulders to change the look of a simple dress.
Le Musee du Rire (57 Rue St. Louis en l'Ile) is a fun-filled gallery of colorful, clown-like papier-mache and plaster sculptures (about $80 and up) guaranteed to put a smile on your face. There are amusing and expressive statuettes of men at work and at play.
Defense d'Afficher (70 Rue St. Louis en l'Ile) is a favorite Parisian outlet for casual women's clothes.
The name means "post no bills," but that hasn't stopped designers from painting delightful portraits of 1920s flappers and other characters across the front of the T-shirts ($45 and up) they make.