Paris is not alone in being as much a collection of villages as it is a single city; but its villages have to be among the most charming of any city’s. And none more so perhaps than Montmartre, set high on a hill; with its basilica, the Sacré Coeur, visible from miles around.
Its charm however makes it a mecca for tourists and in ‘normal times’ the crowds can too easily destroy the charm they have come to see. For that reason it’s a part of Paris that we have tended to bypass on recent visits; indeed I think the last time we were there was in 1989! But with the city so much quieter than usual, due of course to the Covid pandemic, now seemed the perfect time to rectify that.
We spent the best part of a day weaving our way around the lanes of Montmartre, passing some of its most famous sights and some much less known. Close to the basilica there were some knots of tourists; but as soon as we got even a short distance away the streets were, if not deserted, quiet enough that the magic of the Montmartre of old was apparent.
This was the village that artists such as Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas, Picasso, Monet, Pissarro and many others flocked to. This was the village that drew bohemians, writers and poets. And this was the village that tourists expect to see and are so often disappointed to find over-commercialised and even a bit tacky. Not so today, although of course there were the portrait artists and caricaturists touting for business around the Place du Tertre, and shops trying to sell cheap and gaudy souvenirs to the few tourists passing by.
Come with me on a stroll around Montmartre …
This is the Consulat café, said to be the most ‘Instagrammable’ in Montmartre. You may recognise the couple sitting in the foreground from my recent Streets of Paris post.
I was also taken by the exterior of this café, Le Poulbot, in the street of the same name. I liked the paintings around the window. Look carefully at one of the windows and you’ll see a reflection of me taking the photo!
Here we are in the Rue Saint-Rustique, just around the corner from La Consulat. You can see the Sacré Coeur at the end of the road. The sign on the left is for La Bonne Franquette, a bar frequented by many artists; Pissaro, Sisley, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, Monet and many others all drank here. Its garden featured in Van Gogh’s painting La Guinguette.
This is the Rue du Mont-Cenis, a classic Montmartre stepped street. It was originally a steep path that provided access to the hill on its northern slope, linking the Abbey of Montmartre to the Abbey of Saint-Denis.
The Rue de l’Abrevoir is one of the prettiest in the neighbourhood, and features in my opening shot too. In the 19th century, the residents of Montmartre would follow this path to fetch water for themselves and to lead horses and cattle to the watering trough (abrevoir in French) that was located near what is now number 15.
This is the Moulin Radet, one of only two windmills that still stand on the hill (there were once thirteen). These windmills were not only used to grind wheat, they also pressed grapes. This and nearby Moulin Blute-Fin, the only other remaining mill, together sat on the land of the popular guinguette (dance hall) Le Moulin de la Galette that was immortalised in Renoir’s painting, Bal du Moulin de la Galette. Van Gogh also painted the Blute-Fin a number of times.
Talking of artists, Le Bateau Lavoir on the Place Émile Goudeau, which had been a ballroom and later a piano factory, was divided into around twenty small workshops for artists. There was no heating and only a single water point. Artists such as Modigliani, Matisse and Braque had workshops here at one time. Most famously, Pablo Picasso took a workshop at Le Bateau Lavoir in 1904. Here he executed the last works of the blue period, those of the pink period, and The Young Ladies of Avignon (1907), a prelude to cubism.
Meanwhile this is a present-day artist’s studio on the Rue d’Orchampt, a street with several such buildings.
This bust in the Place Dalida commemorates the famous singer of that name, who lived in Montmartre (on the Rue d’Orchampt) and fought for its protection. She committed suicide in 1987, distraught by the loss of several dear friends, and is buried in Montmartre’s cemetery.
From a real famous person to a fictional one. This shop on the Rue des Trois Frères featured as La Maison Collignon in the film Amélie; she had an apartment above the store and did her food shopping here. Apparently it still sells Amélie souvenirs but was unfortunately closed when we passed.
This is just a small selection of the many photos I took on our walk around Montmartre. I hope they have given you a sense of its picturesque streets and artistic history. We were fortunate to find it so relatively peaceful and to enjoy perfect weather. But whatever the weather, and how ever many the visitors, maybe Montmartre, like Paris itself, ‘is always a good idea’.
Sharing retrospectively for Jo’s Monday Walks – good to have you back walking with us again Jo!
I visit Paris often; these photos are all from my 2021 trip