During my recent trip to Paris i decided i wanted to know a bit more about the area known as Montmatre. My hotel was just beyond the Sacre Coeur and i’d only ever heard of this place in association with good food. One sunny but slightly chilly morning i joined one of the free walking tours of offer in the city by Discover Walks Paris. We met outside Blanche metro station. My guide was a lovely, knowledgeable and funny woman called Anna who had lived in the area for nearly a decade. Over the next hour and a half she proceeded to role of fact after fact but also her own little tales.
We started at the infamous Moulin Rouge. I have to admit i knew very little of this place or ever seen the movie (side note, i watched it when i got back…….i’m not a fan of musicals). Anna took us into the entrance and told us all about the history of the building right back to it origins. She informed us that this area was just outside the Paris city wall and so there was no tax and building restrictions. The people here did class themselves as Parisian. At the time the Moulin Rouge was seen as very modern and one of the first buildings in this part of the city to have electricity. The windmill on top is representative of the windmills that used to stand here and are a symbol of Montmarte.
As we walked through the cobbled back streets, avoiding the tourist drag, we were shown the different styles of buildings and even the cafe where Amelie was filmed. This was exciting to the rest of my group, but i have to admit i haven’t seen that movie either. As we continued our walk we came to the fashionable street, Rue de Abbesses, where all the best restaurants and shops in the area reside. Anna informed us of one restaurant, La Mascotte, where celebrities often dined. However, her favourite was a little charming place called Un Zebre de Montmatre, where i have to admit i had a cracking Croque Monsieur after the tour. It also turned out the day before i had a baguette from La Grenier a Pain which has been voted the best baguette in Paris….and yes it was good!
As we continued on Anna went on the talk about the artists that have lived here over the many years including Picasso and Renoir. It used to be a cheap place to live but over the years has been gentrified and many buildings are now owned by actors and directors. One famous woman who still has a large influence on French culture was Galida. A statue of her is over the back of the hill by the ‘Alley of Fog’ and it is said that to touch her breasts is to bring you good luck. The area over the back of Montmatre is also popular for movie shoots as it is often quiet.
We also passed La Passe Muraille, a statue of a man stuck in a wall. It is based on a popular book of the same name set in Montmatre of a man who had a gift where he could walk through walls, except one day the gift suddenly disappeared as he was walking through a wall and so was stuck forever.
The tour ended at the back of the Sacre Coeur. We were the only people in a small park behind the impressive structure. Anna explained the history of why it was built. After one of the bloodiest rebellions in French history the government built the church on anit-revolutionary ideals. For years the Parisian’s hated the building and what it stood for but now it is appreciated for it’s beauty. The bells is said to 19 different tones (if you can hear them, Anna said she only ever counted 12) and is made of a stone that means dirt just washes off and so it always looks white. But one thing you can not deny in the view!