Paris’ Hilltop Haven: MontmartreTours & Attractions — By Kristen P on May 11, 2011 at 3:00 pm
By Kayleigh Minicozzi
Photos by Kristen Putch
LG North American Travel Editor
Ahh Pari, c’est magnifique. The iconic city of love and lights was a must see at the top of my bucket list from the moment I posed for my first passport photo. The history, the lights, the romance, the Eiffel tower; I felt the innate urge to venture out into the city and soak it all in.
In my daydreams of visiting Paris I envisioned myself on a checkered blanket at the base of la tour Eiffel sipping wine or reading a novel amongst smoking café patrons at a busy corner bistro on a rainy afternoon. Admittedly every image my mind painted about Paris was straight out of a cliché postcard. My appetite would have been satisfied by the double-decker bus tour route that looped through the cities obvious attractions. On my first trip to Paris I expected to fall most in love with one of those historic stops but it was in fact an unexpected afternoon adventure that took me to my now favorite beloved Parisian spot.
When I first climbed the hundred or so stairs to the Montmartre, the northern peak of Paris, it literally and figuratively took my breath away. This hilltop oasis felt like a step back in time with its painted villas, winding streets and panoramic views. It never came to my mind when I thought about Paris and in fact I’d never even heard of the area before being introduced to it by a fellow backpacker. I now tell anyone I encounter who’s traveling to Paris to carve out a few days of their trip to roam around Montmartre for an incredible experience they’ll never forget. I could easily ramble for pages about why this nestled neighborhood full of character should be your next travel destination, but instead below is my top five reasons to visit Montmartre.
Standing along the railing of the Montmartre cliff was an indescribable feeling and I truly don’t believe words or photos can do it justice. The view unveils itself in astonishing climax, like unwrapping a beautifully constructed present. After navigating through tight alley ways and climbing numerous sets of steep stone staircases, you turn a corner and are suddenly met with a bright open air feast for the eyes. 130 meters high, Montmartre overlooks the entire bustling city of Paris and in the backdrop everything from the Notre Dame Cathedral to the winding River Seine dots the landscape. As beautiful as the sight was in the daytime, I was blown away at the transformation after dark. As the sun goes down, the city is iced in twinkling lights and the entire sparkling city of Paris is visible for miles. Don’t forget your camera and multiple sets of batteries to swap in!
The white landmark basilica is cemented at the summit of Montmartre and at first glance resembles an ornate tiered wedding cake. Uniquely different from the more gothic style Notre Dame cathedral, the Sacré Coeur is made up of a series of layered domes and the very top dome is open to the public for an even more stunning view of the city. Inside the basilica tourist take in towering stained-glass windows, religious relics and historic statures. Haunting choir music fills the halls of the church at different hours of the day and rows of votive candles set a romantic atmosphere. Visiting the Sacré Coeur at any time of day is a must but I recommend trying to catch a mass or boy choir performance for an even more heightened experience.
The Montmartre was a 19th century Mecca for famous painters such as Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. The area was cheap and many impoverished and struggling artist could afford to have studios in the community. They also benefited from the inspirational and free scenery. Although these famous greats have passed on, the artsy aura remains. In many of Montmartre sprawling squares artists with flimsy canvasses and a kaleidoscope of paints create portraits, landscapes and modern pieces that passers-by can bargain down to a good price. The scene feels like it’s out of a movie as men in paint-stained jeans wearing berets call out to woman and beg to paint them. A great sunny afternoon activity is to grab yourself a crepe and browse through the outdoor gallery and best of all, it’s free of charge.
Croissants, brioches and macaroons, oh my! If there’s one thing a trip to Montmartre can satisfy, it’s a carb-o-load sweet tooth. Nestled within the hilltops streets are tons of small bakeries and creperies where for a few pounds you can taste some of the freshest delicacies straight out of the oven. If you’re ambitious enough, I recommend hiking up to the Montmartre in the early morning before the streets are crowded and the shops fill with people. In these early hours, the bakers get busy and the streets fill up with the aroma of their hard work. This is one situation where you need to throw moderation out the window. Get a bag of assorted pastries to sample and watch the sun come up on the steps of the basilica. A priceless breakfast reservation!
Picturesque Bohemian Streets
The streets circling the Sacré Coeur are a days worth of exploring on their own. There is no set destination and I don’t have recommendations of walking tours or guide books to navigate through them but simply suggest you start walking and get lost. Within minutes of strolling, the crooked cobblestone pathways, ivy and flower laced houses and small lantern posts lining the curb will engulf you. Every little detail of the scene will transport you to a different time and for a few hours make you feel like a true Parisian. Playing a voyeur, you can sometimes mingle in the routine lives of locals while they bring their children to school, get the groceries or have idle chit-chat with neighbors.