Many neighborhoods in Paris used to be their own distinct village before being swallowed up by the voracious city. None clings to its former identity more than Montmartre (the “Butte”). If you were set down in Montmartre and didn’t know better, you could easily think you were far from Paris. This is primarily because Montmartre is much more hilly than the rest of the city, and also because Baron Haussmann did not wipe this area clean back when he was widening streets and creating the six-story buildings we see in so many other parts. The result is narrow, winding streets that climb steep hills and turn corners to reveal hidden vistas and tiny shops tucked into alcoves. It’s quite enchanting if you are able to find the parts that aren’t packed with tourists and artists begging to paint your portrait or worse, draw your caricature ( I have never understood why anyone would pay to have her worst features blown up with a Sharpie). Too often when I have gone to Montmartre I have stayed close to Sacre Coeur, the church on the hill with the amazing view, and the Place du Tertre, which used to be the village square and is now where artists set up shop and tourists browse art. It gets to be a bit much, particularly in the height of the tourist season. I spent a very nice afternoon there last spring, however, and captured it here.
Last week I went on a food tour in Montmartre and we never even saw Sacre Coeur (or the Eiffel Tower), as we were deeply wound into the inner streets of the neighborhood. Our guide was a young American woman who used to write for Gourmet and then for Saveur magazine, who sent her to live in Paris, where she is connecting with local foodies and their myriad enterprises, like food tours. Not a bad gig, right? She said she chose to live in Montmartre because the apartment with the best kitchen was in that neighborhood, which makes perfect sense to me. She has clearly made it her home, however, and had friendly relationships with the shop owners who graciously welcomed our group of 6 into their small spaces. We learned about (and sampled) baguettes, croissants, olive oil, sausage, pate, pastries, cheese, butter, and wine. Yeah, it was a pretty OK day, I guess. If you’re into that kind of thing.
This metro station pops you up right into the heart of Montmartre. The first time I used it I made the mistake of climbing the stairs to the surface. All 3000 of them. This time I knew to go straight to the elevator. I’m smart that way.
I loved this shop window, which used an old institutional sink as a planter. The little sign explains that the window is not finished yet, lest it offend your aesthetic sensibilities. I think it looks fabulous just as it is!
We sampled the baguette that won the most recent annual prize for best baguette in the city. The winner, in addition to receiving an abundance of free advertising from all the press, also has the honor of providing bread to the President of France for the year. Yes, it was delicious.
I apologize for the glare on this picture, but I wanted to show you the awards that this butcher has won (and there were a lot more on that bar in the window) and how they are proudly displayed in his window.
I thought this patisserie was so elegant, so gorgeous, so Parisian. The owner was some kind of celebrity chef and he was all of those things, too. And he did NOT want pictures taken in his shop. I would love to have been able to show you the hanging lights, which you can barely make out in this picture. They were each comprised of two glass lids, one a deep dome, and one a shallow one, encasing a very cool bulb. Awesome. The pastries were good, too.
I did manage to get this picture of the cool floor and the gorgeous color on the shelves and cases. If anyone questions me about this photo I am going to say it was taken by accident. And doesn’t my friend have cool sandals?
And on that note, I am going to conclude this post.
Go to Montmartre the next time you are in Paris, my friends, and don’t forget to check out the floors.
Oh, and if you want to try a food tour like this one, it’s Paris By Mouth.