Picnic in Paris on the Ile St Louis

Paris this summer was even emptier than usual, as everyone heaved a deep sigh of relief at being able to travel again and headed for the beach. For those of us who were still here, though, there was a plus side. The quais along the Seine around Notre Dame and the Ile St Louis, which were so packed at weekends during the curfew that the police had to turn people away, were once again the havens of calm they used to be before the pandemic.

Quai d'Orléans, Ile St Louis
Quai d’Orléans, Ile St Louis, July 2021

I live in a fifth-floor studio on the Ile St Louis close to Notre Dame, with no access to outside space. Instead I go to my favourite corner of the south-facing Quai d’Orléans. There is only one bench there before the quai ends just before the Pont de la Tournelle, so most people coming down the steps instinctively turn and walk in the other direction.  I have even gone so far as to buy a folding chair, so that I can still bask in this secluded corner if ‘my’ bench is occupied.

Quai d'Orléans, Ile St Louis
Quai d’Orléans during lockdown, February 2021

During lockdown I had got into the habit of inviting friends for seafood suppers in my studio, so as not to wilt from the lack of human contact. With all restaurants closed, the local oyster bar did a roaring trade in takeaway seafood during that time and I became one of the regulars.

Oyster bar takeaway, Ile St Louis
Oyster bar takeaway

So when two ex-neighbours from my building, Binger from mainland China on the fifth floor and Cristobal from Venezuela on the fourth floor, suggested meeting up again this year, I immediately thought of a seafood picnic on the Quai d’Orléans.

Last summer we all had dinner together for the first time on Binger’s tiny balcony, having got to know each other during lockdown. Both of my neighbours were happier speaking English rather than French, luckily for me. Cristobal was moving out the next day and not long afterwards Binger got a proper job and moved out to be closer to work. We kept meaning to meet up again, but of course never did.

Quai d'Orléans, Ile St Louis
Cristobal and Binger on the Quai d’Orléans, July 2021

So for our reunion exactly a year later, I offered to bring oysters and prawns and the others brought melon, charcuterie, wine and of course a baguette. I also brought ice, aïoli and a lemon, courtesy of the oyster bar, and an umbrella which turned out to be unnecessary. All of us brought corkscrews, plastic glasses and paper napkins, mistakenly assuming that the others wouldn’t have thought of it.

Cristobal had also brought homemade gazpacho soup and china bowls to eat it from. Although it doesn’t really go with seafood, that didn’t stop us from enjoying it.

Picnic in Paris, Quai d'Orléans, Ile St Louis
Annabel and Cristobal on the Quai d’Orléans

It turned out to be lucky that we met when we did, at the end of July, as it was the oyster bar’s last evening before closing for les vacances. Now that everyone is trickling back to Paris, I’m looking forward to its re-opening. And to making the most of the autumn sunshine on the quai.

Quai d'Orléans, Ile St Louis
Quai d’Orléans from the top of the steps


10 thoughts on “Picnic in Paris on the Ile St Louis

  1. Delectable, envious of such a great lockdown experience. That seafood basket would really motivate me to get out of the house, lockdown or not. Hope there are many more to come.

  2. Beautiful and evocative! It’s almost like being there and so thoroughly Parisian. Wonderful photos of Annabel!

  3. I love your writing. This newsletter was so evocative of the Paris life. I so much want to get on a plane NOW and join you for a picnic on the banks of the Seine. And living on the Isle Saint Louis – such a perfect place in Paris.

  4. Wonderful that you can get together with friends, and enjoy an amazing feast in such a lovely setting. Lockdown has made us all more appreciative of life’s simple pleasures.

  5. Lovely clear prose and fine photos; mellow skies and golden scenery; delicious grub and pleasant companionship; what more could anyone ask?

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