A guest post by Cathy Sweeney, a recent visitor to Montmartre
First impressions of a place can be disappointing if they don’t match our preconceived notions. My expectations of Montmartre were like the colors, moods and charm of impressionist paintings brought to life, plus scenes from movies filmed there and a dash of 21st century reality. Happily, I was not disappointed
It’s easy to understand why Montmartre inspired artists like Renoir and Van Gogh to paint their perspectives of the rooftops, windmills, and cafés. Winding my way through the maze of cobblestone streets and climbing the long staircases, the dome of Sacré-Coeur Basilica, a frequent art subject of Utrillo and many since, dramatically appeared above the older, picturesque buildings below.
Even on this overcast December day, the panoramic views of Paris from the terrace of Sacré-Coeur were captivating. As I passed apartments, colorful shops, and romantic cafés, they gave me a sense of being in old Paris.
Although Montmartre is a year-round tourist destination, it was far less crowded during my visit than what would be expected in peak travel seasons. In fact, Le Petit Train de Montmartre (the Little Train) that carries passengers on a tour through the area had only a few sightseers on board as it passed.
At the Place du Tertre (Artists’ Square) tourists surrounded the artists painting portraits and selling their work, but I could still imagine the square of old when renowned painters gathered there to create some of their famous works.
Montmartre is well-known as a popular film set and I enjoyed seeing familiar sights from movies, old and new. Peering in the windows of Café des 2 Moulins, it looked just the same as in the movie, Amélie, except that the cigarette counter is no longer there. Since Amélie is one of my favorite French movies, it was a real treat to see the café and other film locations such as the Boucherie des Gourmets and Les Petits Mitrons.
I was also pleased to learn that renowned director, Claude Lelouch, lives in the area and runs a small cinema as a hobby. This was of special interest to me because my first impressions of a hot French romance were probably derived from his movie, A Man and a Woman.
Then there is the unexpected about Montmartre, such as the sculpture that depicts a man’s head, arms and one leg protruding from a stone wall. It’s based on author Marcel Aymé’s story, Le Passe-Muraille (The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls). I was also surprised to see on a hillside the only remaining working vineyard in Paris, Clos Montmartre. Its grapes are auctioned at Fêtes des Vendanges, the annual harvest festival.
My afternoon in Montmartre ended at the Abbesses Metro Station, considered one of the most beautiful stations in Paris with its art nouveau glass canopy. On the walls of the stairway going deep underground is graffiti, much of it quite beautiful. To me, this artwork seems a tribute to the artists of the past who were first inspired by Montmartre and to those who keep the creative spirit alive today.
Cathy Sweeney is an internet entrepreneur and investor who shares her perspectives, experiences and ideas reflecting a lifelong passion for travel (Follow her blog Traveling with Sweeney). She hopes to inspire people to consider new destinations, learn something different about a familiar place, or reminisce about their own travel experiences. She has traveled extensively in North America, the Caribbean and Europe, eagerly looking forward to more traveling throughout the world. A Chicago native, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.