A Weekend in Paris #1 : Exploring Montmartre

As Audrey Hepburn once said, “Paris is always a good idea” and you know what, I couldn’t agree more. Beautiful buildings, chic fashion, romantic streets and tree-lined boulevards await you in perhaps the world’s most visited tourist destination. Whether you are travelling solo, visiting with family, with friends or with your beloved, there is something for everyone and each visit brings new encounters and wonderful memories. For those of you who have been reading my blog for a little while, you will probably be thinking “But you’ve only just been to Paris”, which may well be true, having visited in back in December with my parents (you can read about that trip here) but this time around was a very special occasion, and to celebrate a special occasion you need a special location.. Last weekend, my boyfriend and I celebrated 5 years of being together and where better to spend a romantic weekend than the so called “City of Love”.

Arriving mid-afternoon on Thursday, Dom and I met in the “Hall de Londres” of the Gare du Nord and were soon off in search of our hotel. We had decided to set up camp in the 10eme Arrondisement, due to its reasonably central location and good transport links with the rest of the city and our hotel was only a short walk from both the Gare du Nord and Gare du l’Est. After dropping off our bags and freshening up from our respective journeys, I donned my imaginary tour guide hat and we set off to explore the city.

Our first stop was the very charming and ex-Bohemian area of Montmartre. Sitting high upon the ‘Butte’ (Paris’ highest and most northerly hill) Montmartre overlooks the rest of the city and provides wonderful views over to the Eiffel Tower, the Pantheon as well as the rather imposing Tour Montparnasse.

Montmartre is probably most well known as the artists’ quarter, which is not surprising given that every street offers a variety of art shops, galleries and museums dedicated to famous artists who once called this area of Paris their home. The attraction of artists, intellectuals and writers to this area began a long time ago, when Montmartre was a serene village, packed out with vines and old windmills. The picturesque ‘village’ along with its views down on to the metropolis below, drew in a great number of artists, including landscape artist Georges Michel. It was not long before this tranquil village became engulfed by the expanding city. Due to the areas secluded location and the inexpensive living quarters, the area welcomed a new wave of inhabitants who transformed it into a predominantly working class community, known for its revolutionary politics and underground culture. This zone also attracted many of the city’s liberal students, writers, musicians and artists who hoped that they would be able to reach their dreams. Nowadays, the district has still kept much of its character with a mixed community of artists and intellectuals, but has also suffered from constant invasions by hordes of tourists, particularly in the Place du Tertre. Despite the crowds, Montmartre is arguably the most romantic part of Paris, providing a place to explore the narrow alleyways, climb quiet stairways or to sit in charming little cafes to watch the world go by.

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After alighting the metro at Anvers and making our way up Rue de Steinkerque, we were greeted with the first glimpses of the spectacular sugar-domed Sacre Coeur.

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Feeling, perhaps a little too energetic, we opted to climb up to the ‘village’ through the grassy and terraced gardens, as opposed to taking the funicular train – no pain, no gain, right?!

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Once at the top, we stopped for a while to catch our breath *ahem* admire the view and then ventured into the wonderful Sacre Coeur itself.

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Back on our sightseeing path we headed for the aforementioned Place du Tertre, home of portrait sketchers, watercolour artists and caricaturists.

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After dodging a number of these artists, whilst still trying to admire their work, we found ourselves wandering down a few of the side streets, peering in through gaps at the ivy-clad buildings. In doing this we began to understand how this area, full of character and history, was truly considered to be a village, independent from the city.

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Winding our way back down the hill and leaving the ‘village’ behind us, we approached the area of Abbesses at the foot of Montmartre. This scenic square may look like it is part of a Hollywood set but it does in fact offer an insight into authentic Parisian life, as not far from the metro-stop are a plethora of trendy cafes, boutiques and chic restaurants. It was in this area we stopped for something to eat and then finished our evening off with the short walk down to Boulevard de Clichy. This boulevard offers plenty to those wanting to experience ‘Paris by Night’. The area of Pigalle has a reputation of being the sleaze hub of Paris with its peep shows and sex shops, however whilst these still do exist, the area is now frequented by a younger, trendier crowd who line the pavements in an attempt to  get into music clubs. Further along the boulevard (Blanche) we found ourselves mixing with a slightly more upmarket clientele; either tourists simply wanting to photograph the iconic Moulin Rouge or those waiting to enter the world-famous cabaret and be enthralled by the spectacular show.

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For A Weekend in Paris #2 click here