Set on the Right Bank, Montmartre is famous, or some say infamous for being thecentre of the bohemian and decadent Parisian lifestyle that took off in the 19th century.
The beautiful, but now slightly dilapidated Elysees Montmartre Theatre, the oldest can-can dance theatre in the world can be found there, as can the famous, but less impressive Moulin Rouge.
The name Montmartre comes from Mont de Martyrs, when around the year 250 the Bishop Saint Denis, the priest Rustique and the archdeacon Eleuthère were decapitated there.
Although it is easy to get swept up in the tourist herd route heading straight up Montmartre to the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, stopping only to see the Moulin Rouge, actually the nicest way to see the area is to take oneself off the map route and explore Montmartre’s steep cobbled streets, where you will find one of the cities most interesting and historical districts.
You can walk up from any point at the base of the hill, but if you aren’t feeling so energetic then it’s easy to catch the Metro from Blanche (Moulin Rouge) or Anvers Metro. Alternatively you can catch the quaint funiculaire, a mini train that slowly ascends and takes you through the districts narrow cobbled streets where you get a great feel of the ‘village’ of Montmartre.
When you reach the top of the hill you arrive at the Basilica Sacre-Couer (Sacred Heart Cathedral), it’s a very rewarding experience – especially if you have arrived on foot! You have the beautiful basilica to take in and visit and turn around and take in the spectacular views across the city of Paris.
The influences of the Sacre-Couer are both Roman and Byzantine, although construction only took place a century ago, to commemorate the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, opening its doors in 1919. The entrance to Sacre-Couer is flanked by grandiose sculptures of Joan of Arc astride her horses, and King Louis the Blessed. Above the entrance a statue of Jesus Christ looks down on those who pass through the arched entrance.Entry is free to the Sacre-Couer, although there is a donation box and it’s definitely worth a visit inside, you can also climb up the 300 steps to the bell tower which houses a nearly 19 ton bell, one of the heaviest in the world.
There is also a meditation garden and fountain within the grounds. Sadly the Sacre-Couer is a tourist magnet, so it’s best to visit first thing in the morning. The church opens daily from 7.30am.
Following the streets to the left of the Sacre-Couer you will come to the Place du Tertre; it’s quite touristy, but pleasant; artists fill the square painting the portraits of eager visitors. There are many restaurants and cafés, but be warned you will pay tourist prices here. If you want to eat bistro-style in Montmartre we recommend Café Zazir, Les Deux Moulins or La Mouscoute. The Maison Rose, on Rue Cortot, offers a good set menu and is decently priced.
And to top it all, Montmarte is the keeper of Paris’ own vineyard, the Clos Montmartre, at 12 Rue Cortot. The first vines were planted in 1933 and there are now over 2000. Wine from the vineyard is on sale locally in Montmartre and also in the vineyard’s museum.Every year there is a festival and market to celebrate the harvest, the Fête des Vendanges which takes place in October. It sets off with a parade and ends up with a music concert in the Place de Willette.
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