A visit to Paris is incomplete without visiting Montmartre, the Mecca for any art lover. The inspiration for many artists and the birthplace of cabaret and cancan, Montmartre is a district in Paris to reckon. This is the place where art and bohemianism get together.
Before heading to Paris, I did quite a bit of research and found that the best way to visit Montmartre is by taking a walking tour. Each day the walking tours began at 10 am and 2pm from the Blanche metro station. I had planned to go to Montmartre on the first day itself but when I reached my hostel it was way past 2pm, so I missed the walking tour but decided to go on my own.
As you know from my previous post that I met an Indian guy at the airport, let us call him R. You will meet him in subsequent posts also. He had booked an accommodation in the outskirts of Paris and when we reached Gare Du Nord station he asked politely if he could keep his luggage at my hostel and accompany me for the Montmartre tour. He was equally interested in exploring Montmartre.
We checked into the hostel and kept our luggage. After exactly 10mins we were on the Barbes Rochechouart Boulevard. Montmartre was barely a 10 minutes’ walk. The sky was cloudy and it was drizzling intermittently but that did not deter our spirits.
Our first stop in Montemarte was the Sacre Coeur that is situated on the top of a hill. Climbing the stairs to reach up was a daunting task for my torn ligament but thankfully I managed. The view of Paris City from top of Montmartre is breathtaking but we did not have the good fortune to view that. It was cloudy and what we saw was a foggy outline.
The Basilica of Sacre Coeur is a relatively new structure that was completed in 1919. Its white dome is a highly visible landmark in the city, and near it, artists set up their easels each day amidst the tables and colorful umbrellas of the place du Tertre. It was amazing to watch them drawing sketches even on a rainy day.
The ceiling of the Sacre Couer has beautiful fresco, a tradition that owes its legacy to the Italian Renaissance. The intricate designs are also eye-catching. The pillars are adorned with various grotesque creatures, a unique French tradition.
Hardly there is an artist who hasn’t been inspired by Montmartre. It is no surprise that artists from Vincent Van Gogh to Salvador Dali to Pablo Picasso lived here at some point in time. The houses where Van Gogh, Dali, and Picasso stayed at one point in time are now popular tourist attractions in Montmartre. If you are fond of art then there are numerous art galleries to explore. The gallery with artworks of Salvador Dali deserves special mention.
You can also get your own sketch by the artists at Place du Tertre. There are also some amazing crepe shops behind the Place Du Tertre where you can indulge in some Nutella crepe. However, they are a little bit overpriced so we skipped them.
The Moulin De La Galetta is another interesting landmark in this small village. The restaurant is now a place for Parisians to hangout however it once found a reference in many interesting artworks. Artists, such as Renoir, Van Gogh, and Pissarro have immortalized Le Moulin de la Galette; likely the most notable was Renoir’s festive painting, Bal du Moulin de la Galette.
Montmartre is a place for numerous other ‘not-so-innocent’ pleasures. Once you get down from the hill you come across Moulin Rouge, the name synonymous to guilt, pleasure, and art. This is the icon of cabaret. The sidewalk next to the Moulin Rouge is lined with sex shops, kebab shops, and bars and more sex shops and peep shows, that you can hardly avoid. The crowd here is edgier and faster, neon signs flash, pimps lean in doorways, sex shops sell everything you had never thought of and countless nationalities mix on the crowded sidewalks. While Montmartre is gentrified and somewhat “sanitized” these days, the neighboring areas are certainly not.
Montmartre is a beautiful place to walk around. The Basilica, the view of Paris, the small cafes, the crepe shops, the artists at Place du Tertre, the art galleries, the small theatre, the sex shops, the exotic bars, the kebab shops everything together is a heady mix of art and entertainment. Therefore this place is certainly not to be missed. Walking is the best way to explore Montmartre and we did exactly that. Walking in Montmartre will transcend you to the past era. There is also a small vineyard inside. From Montmartre, we took the metro and went to Bir Hakeim station. Our next destination was the Eiffel Tower.