At the risk of catching a fair amount of flack, I’ll dare to say that exploring Montmartre, in
springtime, while the rest of the known world is on-lockdown, is a surreal and downright
peaceful experience. Strolling through the village past Sacré-Cœur, Montmartre
Vineyard and ascending and descending the approximately one-bazillion steps
throughout the district, without the typical tourist hubbub, is practically paradisical.
Montmartre is definitely a ‘bang-for-your-buck’ Parisian neighborhood. Is it touristy?
Mais oui. Well, usually. While France is in a state of Le Confinement, I am seemingly
the only tourist roaming around Montemartre.
If you want to catch some Parisian-feels, Montmartre is the place. Spend a day with a
hunk of cheese, a baguette, and a bottle for a petite picnic at your choice of charming
parks and quaint green spaces that dot the district. In addition to the usual can’t miss
sights, there are places that are really legit and frequented by actual Parisians. Bring a
sturdy bag for carrying quirky tourist booty procured at any of the cool and wacky
boutiques that are tucked into hundreds of years’ worth of cobbly streets.
Let’s start on one of the main rues in the area, Rue des Abbesses;
● You’ll need a little something to sip at some point along your promenade so take
a few minutes to peruse the shelves and chat about le vin with the fun and
friendly merchants at La Cave des Abbesses at No. 43. If you’ve forgotten your
corkscrew, never fear; buy a screw-topped bottle or snag a corkscrew there.
Head to short-but-sweet Rue d’Orsel to fog-up some windows;
● Hey skater, ready to risk life and limb careening down the butte of mons Mercori?
Step inside tiny Odilon Skate Shop and check out the sweet decks and skate
paraphernalia. Can’t shred? At least grab a cool rag to rep some Parisian skate
culture so you don’t look like le poseur, dude.
● Dip into Le serment d’Hippolyte next door to Odilon, for a blissfully
less-than-touristy happy hours experience whatever time of day. Tapas are the
perfect repast to prepare for a sojourn through Montmartre, and the owner,
Didier, is friendly and always ready to pour the house special dix ingredient Le
Maka-Be, which comes with a challenge to guess all ten ingredients, so it’s its
own drinking game. Dive into a meat-n-cheese plancha before tackling the
inevitable climbs that await you.
● Before leaving Rue d’Orsel, peek into the windows of a few more shops on the
street. Rock the Kilim features fuzzy, contemporary Berber carpets that make
you want to wrap yourself up in one and cozily roll away.
There are about half-a-dozen clothing shops that will tickle your fancy too and if you can
afford to drop €300+ on an adorably chic plaid wrap skirt, more power to you.
● Pain Pain by Sébastien Mauvieux is open for business with plenty of
window-licking goodies on display. Its one of those hoity-toity award-winning
boulangeries/pâtisseries that is ‘by’ someone. I usually eschew places that come
with a side of ‘tude but on an everlasting search for incredible bread, I overlook
the clerk’s upturned nose and happily fork over €1.25 to rip into the 3rd best
baguette I’ve chewed in the city. Tuck one under your arm and head up Rue des
Abbesses toward the carousel and Eglise Saint-Jean de Montmartre.
● Square Jehan-Rictus, is a small square adjacent to the Abbesses metro station
(tres convenient). With its merry-go-round, ‘I Love You Wall’ and park benches
perfect for a rest-and-relax, you can pause for a moment before starting up Rue
la Vieuville. Colorful potted plants usher you up a narrow, bricky street with a
gentle incline. It provides a welcoming greeting for your come hither trip toward
Place du Tertre in Montmartre Village.
● Halfway up Rue la Vieuville, on the corner of Rue des Martyrs, exists two-floors
of an achingly hip vintage trove. The treasures at Chinemachine are fun to
browse and oh, how you’ll be delighted to turn over those price tags! Affordable
goodies that run the gamut from Maribou scarves and vinyl jackets to mod boots
and Bakelite accessories will make you feel tres Parisian. Shelves of tchotchkes
that make fabulous one-of-a-kind souvenirs are fun to investigate.
● Round the corner on Rue la Vieuville. If you’re feeling hunger pangs, you could
dive into a saucy tajine or crispy brik at Au Rendez-Vous de Montmartre before
heading up the steps of Rue Drevet. Wave a melancholy adieu to Au Petite
Theatre du Bonheur (on your right, halfway up) which closed its doors recently,
but there are rumors of a revival (here’s hoping). It was the little-est theatre in
Paris and still a lovely landmark.
● Hang a quick left, make a jog to the right and keep heading up. When you reach
the top of those steps, don’t forget to turn around. You’ll be treated to a wee
peekaboo of Paris below from between the buildings.
You’ll notice street art and graffiti everywhere. Some of it a complete waste of ink and
wall, some of it actually quite inspiring. Pause whenever you can and look all
around…there are plenty of almost-hidden mini-murals to spy. As with all of Paris, the
street art scene is a relatively revolving installation and new messages pop-up
● Bienvenue! You’re now in Place du Tertre, the heart of Montmartre. The area is
called Montmartre Village (not by Parisians) and this square is usually a buzzing
hive of sketch artists, art dealers, tourists and tourist traps, which does provide a
certain sense of energy. Being here at this moment in time has its own sublimity.
The square is almost desolate and the few of us that are here, are speaking in
hushed murmurs. The bird songs, usually eclipsed by human chatter, seem
practically vociferous. Even when throbbing with tourist activity, no one would be
faulted for soaking it in. It is hundreds of years of French history after-all.
● To your right, you’ll see the grande dame of the butte, the Sacré-Cœur basilica.
It’s the perfect midway point of your promenade, grandiose and imposing, you
can’t miss it. There are other scenic spots in the opposite direction but
double-back for those after your visit to the summit of Paris, and the 2nd most
visited monument in the city. From its steps, you can cop a squat and see almost
all of Paris’ greatest hits (except oddly, the 1st most visited monument). In
normal times, you can buy trinkets, lose at rigged carnival games, even procure
beer from rogue vendors. These are not normal times but there are still a few of
us just hanging out, picnicking, and sticking out a tongue to snap a selfie.
● Leafy, terraced Parc Marcel-Bleustein-Blanchet stretches behind the basilica and
makes an idyllic stroll if the gate isn’t locked due to a pandemic. The view is
amazing and the terraces allow you to gradually step down, and down, and down
to the neighborhood below. Fancy a little game of Pétanque? Bring your balls
and set up shop on one of the courts in the park or learn a little French and ask
to drop in on a game s’il vous plaît.
Did you remember how to get back to the village? Great. Head back, and past, the
center square to a gentle downslope. Traverse streets that were not designed to attract
visitors but have dome so for hundreds of years, taking in crumbly stone edifices,
Geranium-stuffed window boxes, walls crawling with thick, waxy ivy.
● The first corner brings you to the Galerie d’Art Ceramique, which will be pretty
obvious. There are colorful, whimsical pieces adorning the stone wall and there’s
even a ceramic covered handrail. You can purchase ceramic stuff if you’re into
that kind of thing. A bit farther along down the hill brings you to La Maison Rose,
a storied little cafe from the 1800s that almost needs no introduction (but just in
case, it is the little pink house on the corner at 2 Rue de l’Abreuvoir that serves
lunch, dinner, coffee, snacks and drinks.)
● Charm abounds in this part of the village. Lovely homes with verdant live walls,
fragrant Wisteria and pastel-y colors invite photo after photo. And smack-dab in
the middle of the block, voila, a vineyard right in the heart of the neighborhood.
Le Clos Montmartre itself is fenced-in and inaccessible but because it is on a hill,
can be easily seen. Roughly 1500 bottles are vinted each harvest, with over
two-dozen varietals growing within the relatively small space. The grapes are
picked in late summer and the wine sold for charity. Across the street from the
vineyard on Rue des Saules, is a ridiculously adorable cabaret worth a peek. Au
Lapin Agile is one of a few remaining very old buildings in the ‘hood. Yes, by
American standards, almost all of the structures here are old, but there are a few
that are old even by Parisian standards. If you want to enjoy a show, it’s probably
pretty dang fun though the marketing materials posted outside look to be from
the late 70s (1970s that is).
● Speaking of the 70s, I consider myself quite a disco lover. I can accurately
lip-sync any one of a number of disco diva B-sides from 1978 through 1982. I
have, and regularly wear, a collection of vintage platform shoes, stilettos and
sequined halter tops. A pair of hotpants hangs in my closet. All of that being said,
I must admit that I was relatively unenlightened about Dalida. She is a minor
deity here in Montmartre. She resided here until her tragic, and orchestrated,
death in 1987. You can visit a bronze bust of her likeness, a statue of her at her
tomb in the Cimetière de Montmartre and stand outside the walls of her former
residence. There is an alleyway that leads up to its backside and you can find
messages, graffiti, art and effigies dedicated to her.
● If you’re into slightly oddball art, there are quite a few gallerie l’ateliers in the
area, and specifically on Rue Lepic, across from Le Moulin de la Galette.
Dali-esque scenes and painted faces composed of flora and fauna in one shop
and quirky paintings of cats being presided over in real-life by a curled-up sleepy
fat black cat that doesn’t particularly care whether or not you buy something.
● You’ve covered a pretty small area, though it may not seem like it. You’re not far
from where we started. If you’re in the mood to suck down on some iced oysters
and sink your teeth into a few succulent, sweet, pink crevettes, enjoy a mini
Plateaux de Fruits de Mer a emporter (to-go) at Pépone Poissoniere at 65 Rue
● If you’re looking to take a load off, duck into Boca Dos at 41 Rue Des Trois
Frères for great service (yes really!) well-made drinks, super tapas and if you’re
lucky, an open mic experience. Heck, tape some bottlecaps to your shoe soles
and try your hand at Flamenco. No one back home will be the wiser.
It’s all wishful thinking for the moment. Most of the places on this list are currently
closed but in le monde parfait, doors will be reopening toute suite to welcome eager
visitors, happy to stroll up, down and around one of the most character-packed,
charming, vertical neighborhoods in Paris. Just watch those knees.
Tracy Whipple began her life of adventure gator
wrestling and captaining airboats in the Florida
Everglades before heading to the SF Bay Area to live
the chef and somm life. Always looking around the
corner for the next “yes” opportunity, she’s now
enjoying nomad-status in Paris with her amazingly
patient French translator filmmaker boyfriend, feasting
on French culture, and a fair amount of cheese.
At the risk of catching a fair amount of flack, I’ll dare to say that exploring Montmartre, in