The 4th: Romantic, Timeless, Endearing
Le Marais, Ile Saint-Louis, Place des Vosges, Hôtel de Ville
My earliest memories of Paris are scenes from Le Marais and the nearby Seine, and so many scenes have since transpired there. Once married nearby, I performed a violin duo with my bride for guests and interested onlookers at the tip of Ile Saint Louis. You've no doubt been to that little square where the leaves rustle in the breeze and you feel so peaceful in the heart of pulsating Paris. I've probably taken more photos in the 4th than anywhere else, and remember in particular those strange moments during the "lockdown" when I would wander there, alone in the world. That served as inspiration for this video called "la Seine suspendue."
In this summer season when most people head to the sea, those left behind in Paris may appreciate Paris Plage. The 4th offers one of Paris' longest walkable riverfronts when you include Ile Saint-Louis and half of Ile de la Cité. The Seine is not yet suitable for swimming, but plans are underway for the 2024 Olympic Games. I'll make that plunge as soon as they let me.
These days the Marais (combining both the 3rd and 4th arrondissements) is a victim of its success. Some of its pedestrian streets are so jam-packed with tourists that you end up just wanting to escape. So much has already been written about Le Marais that my only hope in writing is to mention a few nuggets that you may overlook without a careful eye. The singular charm of the Marais derives from its pre-Haussman architecture characterized by elegant hôtels particuliers, courtyards, and hidden gardens.
The price of a falafel at the famed l'As de Fallafel on rue des Rosiers has doubled over the past decade, but that hasn't dampened enthusiasm for the fried eggplant, shredded cabbage, and fritters, to be enjoyed in one of the numerous gardens within 3 minutes' walking distance:
- Square Georges Cain, with its proud femme nue sculpture surrounded by roses (technically in the 3rd)
- Square Léopold Achille, with its children at play (technically in the 3rd)
- Jardin des Rosiers Joseph Mignaret, with its ancient fig tree
- Square de l'Hôtel Lamoignon (across from the Musée Carnavalet)
- Hôtel de Sens, with its formal French garden
- Musée des Archives Nationales - Hôtel de Soubise, with its meandering, well-concealed garden alcoves (technically in th 3rd).
- Cour et Jardin de l'Hôtel de Sully, with a fantastic view of the beautifully restored 17th-century architecture.
If you get turned around and end up at the Place des Vosges, well that's not so bad either!
Falafel or not, there are some other "secret" gardens that you will stumble upon with delight:
- Jardin Anne Franck
- Jardin des Combattants Espagnols de la Nueve (part of the Hôtel de Ville)
- Fontaine de la Vierge (the not-so-secret park on the back side of Notre Dame)
- Square Barye (on the east point of Ile Saint Louis)
Would you choose to live in the 4th? That is the most important question, begging three others:
- are you willing to pay the price?
- are you willing to deal with the tourist crowds at your doorstep?
- are you keen on wooden beams?
As a general rule, except for those clients who are irremediably attached to the 4th, and except for Ile Saint-Louis which is the stuff of dreams, I don't recommend purchasing in the 4th unless you answered yes to the questions above. If you did answer yes, it can be a marvelous experience to search out something romantic, timeless, and endearing.
So much is known and said about the 4th. What's worth adding here are a couple of spots that have been transformed over the past five years.
A lower-priced district within the 4th, sandwiched between the busy Boulevard Henri IV, Quai Henri IV, and the Port de l'Arsenal. It oddly lacks a neighborhood feel and is not much of an enticing walk. No doubt, this is in part because of the large modernist building that used to serve as the police administration until 2011. That building has been re-invented and re-baptized in 2022 as La Félicité. The building is now the neighborhood hub, housing a shopping center, a food market, the very trendy 1960's-style hotel "So Paris" and the "Bonnie" restaurant/club on the 15th/16th floor, with sweeping views of Paris.
Le Village Saint-Paul
Located between the bustling rue Saint-Antoine and the Seine, the "village" has an irresistible tucked-away feel. Exclusively pedestrian, it is now home to some forty designers, galleries, antique stores, and outdoor cafés. It's a perfect place for flâneurs (flâner is the parisian art of just walking around in a state of curiosity and contemplation).
Some restaurant recommendations:
- Bofinger, rue de la Bastille : the classic Alsacian brasserie for an authentic choucroute.
- Benoît Paris, rue Saint-Martin : a quintessential Parisian brasserie, serving even during periods of German Occupation.
- Le Temps des Cérises, 31 Rue de la Cerisaie : vintage, organic, authentic.
- La Petite Maison dans la Cour, Village Saint Paul. Simple, quiet, charming.
- Chez Janou, rue des Tournelles near Place des Voges: the place to taste 80 different pastis, and provence-style cuisine. (technically in the 3rd).
- L'Ange 20, Rue des Tournelles : hearty southwest-style dishes.
Place Royale: classic French cuisine under the arcades of the Place des Vosges, on the side less traveled by.
- Chez Mademoiselle: respectable, tasty cuisine, with a pleasant outdoor space apart from the hustle and bustle. Rue Charlemagne.
- Fabula : located in the Musée Carnavalet, it's worth it if only for the beautiful surroundings.
- Bonnie, 10 Rue Agrippa d'Aubigné : for the view and the nouveau-retro experience.
See my collection of photos in the 4th arrondissement.