If you ever find yourself in Paris for a few days, I would highly recommend at least a half-day trip to the quaint neighborhood of Montmartre. At 130 meters high, and located in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, this hill towers over the rest of the city and provides an experience unlike any other quartier. It should be noted that I decided to visit this neighborhood on my third trip into the city, qualifying it as the third most important spot for travelers to visit in my eyes.
The name Montmartre stands for “Mountain of the martyr,” where Saint Denis was decapitated in 250 AD. Saint Denis was the Bishop of Paris and is the Patron saint of France. More famously, this area is known as a bohemian mecca for Parisian artists beginning in the mid 19th century. Salvador Dalí, Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec all lived and worked there at some point during their lives.
I decided to arrive at the metro stop Blanche, just outside of the Moulin Rouge. This starting point puts you at the bottom of the hill, while other metro stops might get you further up. I wanted to begin at the bottom though, to work off all those heavy French calories, and to catch a glimpse of the unsavory red-light district before I ascended towards the top and the crowning jewel of Sacré-Cœur. Both the Moulin Rouge and Sacré-Cœur deserve their own blog post, so more about them later.
I started up the hill on Rue Rachel, past the Cimetière de Montmartre. I’m not one for visiting cemeteries, as I generally find them a tad creepy but if you are interested, many famous artists who lived and worked in the Montmartre area are buried here. Birds-eye views of the cemetery are available from Rue Caulaincourt, and actually made for some interesting pictures.
Winding through steep, narrow streets and passageways, the next famous monument I arrived at was the Moulin de la Galette. This windmill (actually named the Moulin Radet, while the restaurant is named Moulin de la Galette, confusing I know) has been around since 1622 and in the 19th century became a restaurant and bar as well as a mill. Like many other establishments in Montmartre, Moulin de la Galette became famous as a local hang-out for bohemian artists such as van Gogh and Renoir. Most notably featured in Renoir’s painting Bal du moulin de la Galette. Only two original windmills still stand in the Montmartre district, shown below, Moulin de la Galette on the left and a private property mill on the right.
On my way from Moulin de la Galette to Place du Tertre, I was finally able to see the great dome of Sacré-Cœur through the rooftops. It made me feel like my arduous journey up the steep hill was going to be worth it in the end! Place du Tertre is a tourist heaven of overpriced boutique restaurants and artists attempting to swindle naive foreigners. I still find it incredibly cute though! And if you aren’t in the market for an original piece, reproductions of famous Parisian works are available for rock-bottom prices at various souvenir shops nearby. On my first trip to Paris, I bought reproductions and had them framed for my kitchen, voilà Paris in Ohio!
Next, I swung through St-Pierre-de-Montmartre, an old Benedictine abbey that is now a small, early Gothic church. Dating back to 1133, St-Pierre has little to offer in comparison with Notre-Dame or other famous Gothic works, but was a quiet respite from the hub-bub of Montmartre. There were literally 5 people inside the church with me, proof that simplistic beauty in Paris is often overlooked.
Lunch time was approaching so I ducked into a small bistro off the beaten path and picked up a sandwich au jambon (ham) and tarte framboise. 8 euros (or about $10.50) later, I was reminded that I really need to pack a lunch from home on my days in the city. It’s nice to pick up a traditional French on-the-go meal while in the city, but my pocketbook will like me much more for packing something. With food in hand, I finally made my way to the steps in front of Sacré-Cœur. Offering almost as much of a religious experience as the basilica itself, the stairs give excellent panoramic views of Paris. First, the crowd was serenaded by an adorable Frenchman with a harp. Later, a man with a violin took his place. There was a moment during the violinist’s performance where I literally had to pinch myself to see if I wasn’t part of a dream. He started playing Por ti volaré (made famous to me from the epic Catalina Wine Mixer scene with Will Ferrell in Step Brothers) and mixed with the sights and sounds of Paris, I was instantly overwhelmed by emotion. I pulled myself together pretty quickly, but I am glad that for at least one minute, I didn’t take my situation in Paris for granted.