Come summertime, Parisians attempt to make their escape to the countryside or to the beach as often as possible at weekends until they quit the city entirely for their god-given month-long holiday in August. Sparing a thought for anyone stuck in the city during an unexpected heatwave, I have a few ideas for faking a summer holiday on the river Seine, which is conveniently dotted with natural islands that make an ideal impromptu escape for sunbathing, picnicking, and fresh air by the water’s edge.
1. Île Saint Germain:
A half hour bike ride up from the Eiffel Tower is the lovely Île Saint-Germain, with its idyllic riverside walks, lavender gardens, artists’ homes and even a horse pavilion to boot. If you forget to pack a picnic to enjoy under the willow trees, the island has a very chic restaurant housed in an old Napoleon III pavilion with a lush garden for enjoying spritz & sorbet at sunset.
This island has had several lives, spending many unfortunate years forgotten as an abandoned military camp, before it was transformed from wasteland to an urban island oasis in the early 1980s. More info.
Technically made up of two islands bridged together (l’île de Billancourt and l’île Longueignon), the island of Saint Germain is essentially divided into two parts, one part residential, the other part an 18-hectare park to withdraw from the sounds of Paris under willow trees.
(170 Quai de Stalingrad, Parc de L’Ile St Germain, 92130 Issy les Moulineaux; +331 41 09 99 99; restaurant-lile.com)
2. Make a Journey to the Island of the Temple of Love
If you feel like a particularly good sunset might be coming on, there’s a special place in Paris to make a bee-line for with your date. I’m serious about the whole “Temple of Love” thing– that’s what it’s actually called, sometimes also referred to as the Temple Romantique, and it sits on an island in the middle of a lake in the Bois de Vincennes, the largest public park in the city.
Hop on the line 8 metro and hop off at the stop Michel Bizot. Walk up the palm tree-lined avenue, passed the fascinating building that is the Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration (we’ll have to save that visit for another article) and over the road where the Lac Daumesnil awaits (that’s the lake).
Take a tour round the lake until you spot the Temple of Love from the shore. You can either access the island (Île de Reuilly) by bridge on the other side of the lake, or rent a little rowboat to get you across, which will get you extra points on your date. When you finally reach the Temple of Love, the views will certainly not disappoint. I dare say it’s a scene good enough view to make a marriage proposal in front of. And that’s not all, because there’s more to discover beneath the temple.
To the left of the kiosk, you’ll find a rocky stairway down to the shore of the lake where a dreamy grotto awaits.
If you’ve been really clever and brought a picnic, there’s a perfect little grassy beach to perch on with an absolutely awful view of the temple and the mountain rocks of Paris zoo in the distance.
Find the Temple of Love here.
3. Châlet des Îles
Taking the most adorable private ferry to the Chalet des Isles is already half the fun. Knowing that you’re headed for lunch at an authentic Swiss chalet that was shipped to France by Napoleon III as a gift to his wife Empress Eugenie in the 19th century– puts the cherry on the cake. When she fell in love with the cottage in Switzerland, her totally reasonably husband had it dismantled and rebuilt on this little island in the middle of a lake in the Bois de Boulogne park. It later became a favourite literary café, frequented by the likes of Proust and Zola.
Come for lunch and you’ll stay until sundown under the string lights with endless bubbly and a festive summer vibe. More info.
4. Île de la Jatte
The island immortalised a painting, you’ve probably visited Ile de la Jatte many times before through the eyes of one of the most notable impressionist painters in history. Once the private getaway of the Duke of Orléans and his family, in the early 1800s, the island belonged to the surrounding park of the nobleman’s extravagant estate, the Château de Neuilly, and was accessible only by boat. Later on, Napeleon III and Baron Haussmann modified the island for the public, attracting many artists who began painting there, particularly impressionist artists such as Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh and Albert Sisley. One of the best known post-impressionist paintings by Georges Seurat “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” commemorates this island in the history of art forever.
With its manicured lawns, remaining bourgeois villas still left to manicured lawns and a “Temple of Love” moved from Parc Monceau by the Duke in the 19th century, this island always appealed to the higher tiers of society. We recommend booking a table by the water at the Duke’s old hunting lodge which is now a lovely lunch spot called Les Pieds dans l’Eau (feet in the water). Bring a glamorous hat, maybe even an umbrella (or just your swimsuit) and go back in time…
5. Floating Gardens
While there are only three natural islands along the Seine officially within Paris, there are 6 more artificial ones positioned near the Eiffel Tower. They are each connected in a rectangular tetris and designed according to particular gardening themes.
Officially known as the very long-winded “Jardins de l’Archipel des Berges de Seine – Niki-de-Saint-Phalle”, these floating islands are a convenient and central summer fix. They have deck chairs, a greenhouse and you can even lay on a bed of ropes, because what else do you really want to do in Paris? More info.
And for more summer in the city tips, Don’t be a Tourist in Paris awaits.