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Montmartre travel story

February 11, 2014 Travel Deals No Comments Email Email

emile_zolaSome 35 years after his first visit to Paris, JOHN ROZENTALS spends a day in Montmartre and finds that it’s still an essential ingredient of the city’s soul. Images: SANDRA BURN WHITE.

6.30AM

The view from the bedroom window is absolutely gorgeous — bright early-morning sunshine over a couple of domes of Montmartre’s Sacré-Coeur that are peeping over the apartments just across the street. Early risers going about their business and a street full of cars parked impossibly close to each other.sacre_couer_spanish_steps

This isn’t the tourist-dominated Sacré-Coeur or Montmartre of the Spanish Steps, though that aspect is obviously also well worthwhile. This is the Montmartre of Rue Muller, where locals live and eat, and few visitors bother to venture.

It’s Paris for real, warts and all. And that’s the advantage of renting an apartment for a couple of days rather than booking into a hotel.

Our accommodation is basic more than luxurious and by morning I’ve almost forgotten hauling our bags up five — or was it six? — flights of spiral staircase and disposing of cares over three or four  — or was it six? — glasses of vin ordinaire at a nearby bar. But it makes up for everything in character and position.

We booked through Paris Cosy, which handles some 150 apartments across the French capital, mostly in the 100-to-250-Euros-per-night range. It’s certainly an option worth considering.

sacre-coeur7.30AM

It’s hunting-and-gathering time and I’m almost led by my nose to the boulangerie just down the street, to purchase a freshly baked baguette, a couple of croissants, a slab of butter and some marmalade. Just about everyone I see has the obligatory baguette tucked under their arm.

Together with a quite un-French pot of tea the pickings provide a fulfilling start to the day’s activities.

8.30AM

Time to climb the highest point in Paris, the Montmartre butte, where Henry IV placed his canons in 1590, where artists such as montmartre_artistPicasso, Monet and Dali have worked, and where the bawdiest of nightclubs have existed for a couple of centuries.

The reward for ascending what seemed a thousand steps is Baselique du Sacré-Coeur, a magnificent structure inspired by the French Revolution but built mostly in the early 20th century. A grandiose piece of architecture that demands attention from anyone visiting Paris.

10.30AM

The Museum of Montmartre, with its old mansion and quiet, lush garden, provides a rambling embodiment of what is undoubtedly Paris’s most fascinating enclave. Set aside at least an hour to shake hands with many of the characters who made Montmartre the wonderful place it is.

12.30PM

It’s time for a bite to eat and to take our chances in one of the many bistros that line Place du Tetre. No espace_dalinames in this case, simply because any choice will be much the same as the next. The food, like the artwork on sale on the footpaths, is of fair-to-middling quality.

1.30 PM

Espace Dali provides one of the most complete and fascinating assessments of the great surrealist’s work. Salvador Dali lived in Montmartre and here you can see the world’s largest collection of his full-size sculptures and etchings … free-flowing clocks, Quixote tilting at windmills, the couch inspired by Mae West’s voluptuous lips.

3PM

Montmartre Cemetery, located at the base of the butte in a disused quarry, was the burial ground for a host of well known souls — Degas, Dumas, Nijinsky, Truffaut and Irish revolutionary soldier Myles Byrne among them.

We make a pilgrimage to the grave of Emile Zola, one of the greatest of France’s many great writers. His bodily remains have moved on — to Rome’s Pantheon, where he shares a crypt with Dumas and Victor Hugo — but I suspect much of his spirit remains in Montmartre.

On the way out, we chance on the grave of Louise Weber, a dancer better known by her stage name, La Goulue, but more of her a bit later.

5PM

A quiet ale and a kip before the evening takes off.

7.30PM

Dinner is L’été en Pente Douse (“summer on a gentle slope”) just a hundred metres or so up Rue Muller and we share the restaurant with local families and couples beginning their own night out. The food is hearty and delicious, the house red, a cabernet from Bordeaux no less, has little to recommend it. I’m beginning to think that at the cheaper end of the market French wine has been moulinseverely outgunned by the Italians, Spaniards and Australians.

9.30PM

We wander down the shopping strip of Rue Lepic to the Boulevarde de Clichy and drop into O’Sullivans by the Mill, an Irish pub with a distinctly Australian feel. The band is playing a mix of Paul Kelly, Hunters and Collectors and Australian Crawl, while the voices on the next couple of tables have a distinctly Down Under ring.

11PM

Fill your glass to the brim with bubbly. It’s show time at the Moulin Rouge, where the trademark windmill promises access to all the sauciness and naughtiness that Paris is renowned for. Actually, it’s not all that saucy and not all that naughty. Think of a classy cabaret performance with bare breasts. No Kings-Cross-style smuttiness here.

This is absolutely classy and absolutely over-the-top, top-rate entertainment. Dancers, singers, jugglers, magicians, acrobats, men of montmartre_laneenormous agility and strength. Can they go one better”? Of course they can. A glass-enclosed pool emerges from the stage, filled with snakes that writhe around a dazzling young — of course bare-breasted — female. The audience applauds loudly … as, of course, it should.

And, of course, there’s the can-can, reputed to have been invented at the Moulin Rouge by, you guessed it, La Goulue in the late 1800s and performed by her successors with a gusto she’d be proud of, though I’m not sure what she’d how she’d have regarded leg-swinging, hip-twisting males in the line-up.

2AM

The view from the bedroom window is still absolutely gorgeous — bright moonlight over a couple of domes of Montmartre’s Sacré-Coeur that are peeping over the apartments just across the street. Good night and goodnight.

IF YOU GO

Paris Cosy — www.pariscosy.com.

Moulin Rouge —www.moulinrouge.fr.

Baselique du Sacré-Coeur — www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com.

Espace Dali — www.daliparis.com.

Museum of Montmartre — www.museedemontmartre.fr.

O’Sullivans by the Mill — www.osullivans-pubs.com.

Montmartre — www.montmartre-paris-france.com.

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