There is a French saying, and roughly, it translates to something like; ‘there is more of Montmartre in Paris than there is Paris in Montmartre’.
There is an undeniable image of the Moulin Rouge, the infinite sex shops that line the streets, and the Café des 2 Moulins where Amélie once waited. All magnificent in their own rights, of course. But to a Parisian such as myself, Montmartre holds much more magic than that.
On my last few visits to the City of Lights, my friends and I have firmly upheld the tradition of heading to Montmartre first. Blessed with beautiful on all occasions, the Sacré-Coeur is without a doubt our starting point. None of us have a particularly religious affiliation with the church, but it is remarkable. The way the pure white stone seems to shine brilliantly across the blue sky.
Even the herds of tourists with their selfie sticks are more hushed here; as they stand to admire the great domes and the ever-present twang of a harp. The steps of the Sacré-Coeur offer a most breath-taking view of Paris, and there’s nothing better than simply letting your eye wander over typically Parisian rooftops that seem close enough to step on. Up here, the city is quite literally beneath your feet.
My fondest memory is from my first year, where I sat with friends I had just made on the steps of the Sacré-Coeur. It was a beautiful day, and I wished I had packed my sunglasses. I remember this sense of calm. Although, none of us knew each other too well, we bonded in that moment. And most importantly, of course, we felt very Parisian.
The Sacré-Coeur is extravagantly beautiful inside too. Unfortunately, or happily, depending on which way you look at it, I don’t have any photographs. The Church does ask visitors not to take any, and as a mark of respect I never have. Whilst it is a destination for tourists, it still is a place of worship for many. That itself is what makes the Sacré-Coeur so remarkable. In a country that prides itself on staunch secularism, this church remains a symbol of hope for those that still pray there.
Behind the Sacré-Coeur lies a rich history, one plagued with death and religion versus the State. Perhaps a little too heavy a subject for now, but a bloody story well worth a read.
Far from the safest neighbourhood in Paris, Montmartre is an intricate little maze of streets and sights alike, all waiting to be discovered. Ignoring the less than charming men who try to arm you with bracelets (and these really should be avoided), there are little shops filled with trinkets and quaint treasures. Vintage shops with designer pieces and concept fashion. Let’s not forget the sheer abundance of cafes and bistros, with prix fixe menus that include espressos and crêpes. It is an undeniable truth that the French know how to cook.
My words and my photographs can only help you imagine so much about Montmartre, it is simply somewhere you must stop the next time you find yourself in the City of Lights. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s a serenity I have felt every time. I suppose it’s typically French in that way, in that it is unabashedly itself. It is dirty, and it is raw with graffiti, but it’s Paris. This is the Paris that belongs to its inhabitants, the ones who work hard to make rent and pay for a pack of cigarettes. This is the Paris that belongs to artists, having played home to Degas and Van Gogh and even now, there is no shortage of painters perched at café tables.
It sounds odd, to say that in a city famed for its beauty and romance I love the lesser travelled streets where I can blend in with the locals, but I suppose I’m Living Like a Parisienne for a reason. Experiencing a city as if one lives there is just that little bit more special than playing tourist.
Montmartre is more than a seedy neighbourhood nestled in the city of Paris. When the tourists are a little too much, and you want to experience Paris beyond the Eiffel Tower, climb the hill and bask in the magic of Montmartre.