START: Place des Abbesses (Métro: Abbesses).
FINISH: Sacré Coeur (Métro: Abbesses).
TIME: About 1 1/2 hours.
BEST TIME: Weekdays, when stores are open and the crowds are smaller.
WORST TIME: Weekends, when the area around Sacré Coeur looks like the Métro at rush hour.
Montmartre has become forever linked with a certain mythic image of Paris: quaint cobblestoned streets, accordion serenades, and Sacré-Coeur hovering in the background. Or maybe it’s the Moulin Rouge and can-can girls whooping it up on the place Blanche. Although the area just around Sacré-Coeur is probably the most tourist-clogged in the capital and the Moulin Rouge is a tour-bus trap, the Butte still has its own magic and it’s not hard to find. Though legendary artists like Picasso and Utrillo are gone, new ones have taken their place, and they aren’t the ones hawking portraits in the place du Tertre. In fact, within a couple blocks from the mobs on the place are quiet cobbled streets lined with lovely vine-trimmed houses and punctuated by cute cafes and shops.
Montmartre for the Weary: Montmartrobus
The actual distance on the walk described below is not long, but the terrain will make it seem a lot longer. Montmartre is up on a high hill (butte) overlooking the city, so be prepared for some steep ups and downs. Visitors with reduced mobility (or who are simply tired) might replace parts of this walk with the Montmartrobus, a bus on the city bus system that makes a circuit of the Butte. The bus, which costs a regular Métro ticket, leaves place Pigalle every 15 minutes. For information and a map, visit www.ratp.fr.
1. Place des Abbesses
The first thing you’ll notice when you are coming out of the Métro is the exit itself: This lovely Art Nouveau confection of smoked glass and metal is one of two surviving Métro entrances by Hector Guimard with a glass roof (the other is at Porte Dauphine in the 16th arrond.). Now, look around the leafy plaza. Back in 1134, King Louis Le Gros (the Fat, otherwise known as Louis VI) founded an abbey up here, and this square is named after the various abbesses who ran it. As most of them came from wealthy, aristocratic families, they did not fare well during the French Revolution. In 1794, the 43rd abbess, Louise de Montmorency-Laval, who was 71 years old and both blind and deaf, was guillotined and the abbey was pillaged. Her crime? She was found guilty of “blindly and deafly plotting against the Revolution.”
Walk west on rue des Abbesses to rue Ravignan, where you will make a right uphill. At the top of the street is place Emile Goudeau. At no. 11 bis–no. 13 is the:
This building started out as a piano factory but later was home to a virtual hall of fame of artists, actors, and poets, when they were all young and struggling. In 1889, this odd edifice—constructed on different levels to accommodate the steep slope it was built on—was divided into artists’ studios. By 1904, a young man named Pablo Picasso was living and working there, as well as Kees Van Dongen, Juan Gris, and Amadeo Modigliani, not to mention the poets Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire, among others. It was here that Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (even though he was nowhere near Provence), a painting that signaled the birth of Cubism. Unfortunately, this fertile artistic breeding ground, which was dubbed the Bateau Lavoir, or the Floating Laundry, by Jacob, burned down in 1970. All that’s left of the original structure is one facade on the small plaza. The rest was rebuilt in 1978 and today still houses a few artists’ studios, though none are open to the public.
Turn left on tiny rue d’Orchampt, a quiet cobbled street, which curves up to an intersection with rue Lepic. Take a short detour left down rue Lepic to the:
3. Moulin de la Galette & Moulin du Radet
More than 30 windmills once dotted Montmartre’s vineyard-covered slopes. Here are the last two that still exist: the Moulin du Radet, which is now a swank restaurant called the Moulin de la Galette, and—somewhat confusingly—the “real” Moulin de la Galette, of Renoir painting fame, located down the street at no. 75, also known as the Moulin Blute-Fin. Whatever its name, this old mill, which was owned by the same family of millers since the 17th century, was a witness to tragedy. In 1814, it had the misfortune of being attacked by a garrison of Cossacks, who were in town because the Allies (Germany, Prussia, and Russia, among a host of others) had come to Paris to stop French attacks on the rest of Europe and put Napoleon in his place. The miller tried valiantly to defend his property but ended up hacked to pieces and nailed to the blades of his windmill. Years later, the miller’s son turned the farm into an outdoor music hall, the famous Moulin de la Galette depicted in a legendary painting by Renoir (you can see the painting at the Musée d’Orsay). Other painters who frequented these bucolic dance parties included Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, and Utrillo. Today you won’t get to dance here—the mill is private property and a prim little sign outside informs you that it is under electronic surveillance and protected by radar and guard dogs.
Return to rue Giradon and turn left, then left again on av. Junot, walking past some of Montmartre’s most elegant homes. Follow av. Junot as it curves to the right, making a sharp right on rue Simon Dereure. The street ends at place Casadesus; climb the stairs to the footpath called:
4. Allée des Brouillards
This tranquil path leads past a number of massive houses, set back in large gardens, most of which are at least partially shielded from prying eyes by tall fences. The largest garden surrounds a white country manor known as the Château des Brouillards, or Fog Castle. Built in 1772 for a lawyer in the Parisian Parliament, this romantic dwelling most likely got its name from the mist that crept up from a nearby spring when the water contacted the cold morning air (real fog is a rare thing up here). Gérard de Nerval lived here in 1854, and surely this was the ideal writer’s haven for this quintessential Romantic-era poet. Painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir lived and worked in one of the houses behind the chateau; his son, filmmaker Jean Renoir, was born there.
Continue down the path to its end, at:
5. Place Dalida
This small crossroads is graced with a bust of one of Montmartre’s most beloved residents, Yolanda Gigliotti, aka Dalida. This Egyptian-born singer, of Italian ancestry, was one of France’s biggest stars, recording hundreds of hits and winning 70 gold records. The blonde bombshell moved to the Butte in 1962, where she lived out the rest of her stormy life in a four-story mansion that her fans dubbed “Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.” After a series of unfortunate love affairs, two of which ended with her partners’ suicides, she took her own life in 1987. Her statue looks out on one of the most prototypical views of Montmartre, down rue de l’Abreuvoir: a cobbled lane leading up a hill with Sacré-Coeur in the background.
Walk up rue de l’Abreuvoir and turn left on rue des Saules:
6. Clos Montmartre Vineyard
As you make your way down rue des Saules, you will notice an unlikely vineyard on the right-hand side of the street. This is in fact the last of Montmartre’s vineyards; for centuries, vineyards covered the Butte. Back in the 16th century, winemaking was the primary industry in the area—though nobody ever bragged about the high quality of the product, which was mainly known for its diuretic virtues. A ditty about Montmartre wine went thus: “The wine of Montmartre—whoever drinks a pint, pisses a quarte.” By the way, in those days, a “quarte” equaled 67 liters (70 quarts). Whatever its merits, this tiny vineyard still produces. Rare bottles of Clos Montmartre are auctioned off every year by the district and the proceeds benefit local public projects.
Continue down rue des Saules to the intersection with rue St-Vincent:
7. Au Lapin Agile
The story goes that a certain André Gill, a habitué of this rowdy corner cabaret—which was then called the Cabaret des Assassins—painted a sign for the place showing a rabbit (lapin) jumping out of a stock pot. The cabaret became known as the Lapin à Gill (Gill’s rabbit), which in time mutated into Au Lapin Agile (the Agile Rabbit). The singer Aristide Bruant (immortalized in a poster by Toulouse-Lautrec) bought the inn in 1902, and asked Frédé, a local guitar legend, to run it. Under Frédé’s guidance, the cabaret thrived, and the best and the brightest of the Montmartre scene was drawn to its doors, including Picasso, Verlaine, Renoir, Utrillo, and Apollinaire. Not everyone who came was a fan of modern art, however. The writer Roland Dorgelès had had enough of “Picasso’s band” from the Bateau Lavoir and decided to play a trick on them: He tied a paintbrush to the end of Frédé’s donkey, Lolo, and let him slop paint over a canvas. Dorgelès then entered the painting, which he titled And the Sun Set Over the Adriatic, in the Salon des Independants, a major art show in Paris. The critics loved it—until they found out who really painted it, and a scandal ensued. Today Au Lapin Agile is still a cabaret, though a much calmer one, showcasing traditional French chanson. The shows are heavy on nostalgia and cheesy sing-alongs, but they can be good fun when you’re in the mood.
Turn right on rue St-Vincent, then right on rue Mont Cenis. Climb the stairs and turn right on rue Cortot:
8. Musée de Montmartre
At no. 12 rue Cortot lies the peaceful Musée de Montmartre Jardins Renoir (www.museedemontmartre.fr; 01-49-25-89-39), which offers an overview of neighborhood history and is housed in the former residence of Rosimond, a famous 17th-century actor who was in Molière’s troupe. In another century, Renoir painted here (this is where he created the Bal du Moulin de la Galette), as did Utrillo, who lived here with his mother, the model and painter Susan Valadon, and her lover André Utter. The gardens make for some wonderful down time, with views over the vineyards and the northern side of the city. At the seasonal cafe, chairs sprawl out toward the lawns on hot days.
Continue to the end of rue Cortot and turn left on rue des Saules; walk up to rue St-Rustique and turn left:
9. Rue St-Rustique
By now you’ll have noticed the crowds thickening and a change in the atmosphere toward the Disneyesque. Trinket shops appear on every corner, and “artists” badger you to draw your portrait. Dive quickly into rue St-Rustique, a narrow channel of calm. Not only does the noise die down, but you’ll be rewarded with an excellent photo op of the bulblike tops of Sacré Coeur sprouting above the end of the street. This is one of the oldest streets in Montmartre, with a medieval-style gutter in its center and no sidewalks.
Walk to the end of rue St-Rustique and turn right. On your right is the entrance to:
10. Place du Tertre
Now there’s no avoiding it: the most tourist-drenched, mob-swamped spot in Paris. If you squint hard enough and use a tremendous amount of imagination, you’ll see the lovely village square as it once was—but most likely you’ll just be trampled by the crowds wandering around trying to figure out what all the fuss is about. Do not eat here, even if you are starving—you will be taken for a ride. A quick walk down the hill toward the Place des Abbesses will lead you to plenty of nice restaurants and cafes. You will probably be approached by people begging to do your portrait—these “artists” may do nice caricatures, but if you think you’re looking at the next Picasso, you’re kidding yourself.
Duck back out of place du Tertre and continue down rue du Mont Cenis until it curls around to the left and becomes rue Azaïs. Keep walking until you’re in front of:
11. Sacré Coeur
After you’ve looked up at the gleaming white basilica and its odd, pseudo-Byzantine domes, turn around and admire the stunning view from the esplanade, or parvis, in front of the church; on a clear day you can see as far as 50km (31 miles). No matter how many people are standing around snapping pictures, it just won’t ruin the beauty of this sight. Though you won’t be able to see the Eiffel Tower (it’s too far over on the right, though you can see it if you climb up the dome), you will take in a majestic panorama that includes the Pompidou Centre, St-Eustache, the Opéra, and the Louvre, not to mention distant hills and vales beyond the city. What you are mainly looking at here is eastern Paris, the more plebian side—an entirely appropriate view from this historically working-class, low-rent neighborhood. The view actually gets better as you walk down to the bottom-most level of the esplanade; from here you can also take in the lovely gardens below, which had a starring role in the ultimate Montmartre movie, “Amélie,” by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (2001).
Montmartre Cemetery: Where the VIPs RIP
When it comes to strolling through historic cemeteries (a favorite Parisian pastime and a surprisingly lovely way to spend a peaceful hour), the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in the 20th arrondissement steals the show with the graves of legends such as Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and Edith Piaf. But overlook Montmartre’s cemetery at the foot of the Butte and you’ll miss more than just a tranquil stroll. This is where the tombs of famous artists such as Edgar Degas, ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, and the New Wave movie director François Truffaut lie along higgledy-piggledy alleys (alongside not-so-famous greats, including Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone). It’s like walking through history, and a great spot for some downtime on a sunny day. Tag it onto the end of your tour by heading back to Place des Abbesses and following rue des Abbesses westwards. When it turns into rue Lepic, take rue Joseph Maistre on the left, and turn left again onto rue Caulaincourt. As you walk over the aforementioned bridge, look for the staircase down to avenue Rachel on the left; the entrance is on your left.
Cinemacity—A Walking Tour App for Film Buffs
If you get misty-eyed watching Paris on the big screen, this is the app for you. Created by the Franco-German TV channel Arte, known for its cultural programming, this app offers walking tours to locations where movies were filmed, and even lets you watch the clip. You can also follow a “fictionalized” route, where you walk from one point to another to follow a story line. You can get the app in French, English, or German, and what’s more, it’s free. For more info and links to downloads, visit http://cinemacity.arte.tv.