Mrs Wilbur and I love Paris, particularly from winter to the spring.
We have just returned from a trip of just over a day in length by Eurostar thanks to a bargain break through Last Minute – £190 for our return train and a night in a comfortable three star hotel.
We have lost count of our fabulous trips to the French capital and have stayed in just about every arrondissement – Quartier Latin, Champs Élysées, Marais, Ile St Louis, Eiffel Tower, Montparnasse, Opera, Republique, Concorde, Place d’Italie, Chatelet, Bastille, St Germain and even La Defense.
The 18th arrondissement is now where we nearly always have our temporary Parisian home (a permanent bolt hole would be wonderful!) – Montmartre beats all comers for us.
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To many Montmartre is a trashy tourist trap. Sure the beguiling Sacre Coeur is a draw for many a weekend tripper and if you let it happen, you can end up with an over-priced and less than satisfying meal, an extortionate caricature portrait and a bagful of tat from the many shops and stalls peddling Le Chat Noir goods.
However, the beauty of the area for me is to live like the locals do. Rather like New York’s Greenwich or London’s Highgate, the place possesses a real village feel, a small town within a city.
Romantic & cosy backstreet cafés & bistros, bric-a-brac shops selling interesting junk, rustic independent boulangeries & patisseries with bread & cakes to die for, colourful wine stores selling dusty gems, green grocers proudly displaying their wares like Chelsea Flower Show exhibitors, florists with buckets of colourful flowers sprawling out on the pavement, fishmongers with a whole aquarium of seafood on view, delicatessens vending every variety of French oil, vinegar, honey, spice, mustard & herb you care to mention, authentically real art shops run by local artists who have frequented and painted in the area for decades.
Don’t get me wrong, I am partial to a touch of paying tourist prices and am not some sort of travel snob who lays claim to knowing where all the bargains are situated and refuses to pay a cent more than a local would.
Rue Lepic is up there with my favourite Parisian streets and many times I have lunched in Amelie’s favourite haunt, Café des Deux Moulins, jazzed the night away at Autour de Midi…… et Minuit and bought fresh lobster bisque in a jar or delicious tiger prawns from Poissoniere Pepone.
See Jazz & Sea Food, Rue Lepic
Coffee and cake at boulangerie/cafe Le Coquelicot is also a must at least once a trip – don’t expect much change out of €10 per head, but there is something special about eating tartes that have been freshly prepared on the premises.
Venture a bit further down the hill (or some of the vertigo inducing flights of steps) towards the Jules Joffrin metro however and you arrive at street markets, budget shops, very French bars & cafés plus the odd laundrette, frequented almost exclusively by locals and with prices to match.
I mentioned Amelie earlier and the delightful film starring Audrey Tautou certainly helped to put Montmartre on the map in the same way as Hugh Grant & Julia Roberts brought Notting Hill to the world’s attention.
Montmartre wasn’t exactly a secret beforehand of course, it’s fabulous light attracting artists such as Cezanne, Le Trec & Van Gogh to set up loft apartments/studios in the area, making it a favourite of the bohemian and the creative ever since.
It is also a draw for buskers, street entertainers, jugglers and the like. We happened to be there during ‘La Fete De La Coquille’, a gastronomic & music festival celebrating the scallop – really just an excuse for a feast and a knees-up!
Locals Having Fun
I think this is the essence of why Montmartre works so well. It is an eclectic mix of locals, artists, tourists and artisans. Different backgrounds and outlooks, but a common love and respect for the place.
For a different view of Paris life, you are also so close to the ethnicity (& sex shops) of Pigalle (we were reminded as such by a demonstration by immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo) and a stone’s throw from Paris’s most famous nighttime venue, Moulin Rouge (everybody should go once!), whilst a brisk walk can bring you to Les Grandes Boulevards & Galleries Lafayette in thirty minutes.
On the latest whistle stop visit, we did not use the metro, did not see the Seine or even the Eiffel Tower, steered clear of art galleries and bought no souvenirs. Not your typical Paris trip, but hugely enjoyable all the same.
If you live near London it is all so close (and roughly the same price by train) as Manchester or Liverpool. I am fond of the North West metropolises, but really love Paris.
Where do you most enjoy staying when visiting the city of love?