Paris wasn’t my original choice for this year’s New Year trip, but I’m very glad it’s where I saw in the start of 2015. Despite many visits there’s always something new to discover in Paris and this time it was that Montmartre, an area I’d previously only visited briefly, is the perfect area to call home for a couple of days.
My hotel was in Rue des Abbesses, which I think is one of the nicest streets I’ve ever come across. It’s lined with gorgeous small shops, cafes and brasseries and had lights strung across the street, though that may have been seasonal. Fruit and veg sellers, fishmongers, butchers and gourmet delis jostle for space with wine sellers, clothes stores and cheese shops, while some of Montmartre’s many glass fronted cafes offer outside seating with heaters and blankets.
We loved being able to sit outside in winter, so in only two days we became regulars sitting with orange blankets wrapped around our legs under the heaters at Le Sancerre. We tried out the coffee, wine, cocktails and a wonderfully extensive cheese board that defeated our group of three.
And when we could drag ourselves away from Rue des Abbessesthere was plenty of sights to see in Montmartre. The most obvious and popular is of course the Sacre Coeur which I had visited before and admired from the outside, rightly so as it’s one of Paris’ most stunning buildings. This time the queue to get in wasn’t too long and I was very glad I joined it. The inside of the basilica is really beautiful and the camera ban meant I could appreciate it without worrying about getting the best shots for my blog.
Of course despite the large and frequent signs reminding people to be silent because it’s a house of prayer and to take no photos, tourist cameras were much in evidence. I was particularly incensed to see someone taking a photo of a group of nuns walking away from the altar and quickly pointed out the signs. The nuns had looked so serene in their white robes and black habits. But about 5 minutes later one of them walked passed us talking on a mobile phone. So much for silence and serenity!
Near to the Sacre Coeur is Place du Tertre, once the main square of Montmartre village. I’d read it was home to people peddling portraits and caricatures and there were a few at one end. But most of the square was filled with paintings of all styles and types from artists who may not be up to the standard of Montmartre’s famous former inhabitants Picasso or Toulouse-Lautrec, but offered some appealing wares.
Talking of art we followed the Montmartre Art Amble walking tour in the Lonely Planet Discover Paris book, which was a great way to see some of the other art related sights in the area. It starts with the two remaining windmills, Moulin Blute-Fin and Moulin de la Galette and meanders through the narrow cobbled streets to end at the Sacre Coeur.
Of course the other famous windmill in Montmartre is the red one on the front of the Moulin Rouge, Paris’ most famous cabaret spot. I went to a show there years ago after seeing the film Moulin Rouge and while there was no sign of Ewan MacGregor or Nicole Kidman it was a great night out.
Also worth a mention is the Cimetiere de Montmartre, which despite being filled with graves is a lovely place for a quiet stroll. Some of the tombs are magnificent and not surprisingly there are some famous inhabitants including writers Alexandre Dumas and Emile Zola, artist Edgar Degas and composer Hector Berlioz.
The other great thing about Montmartre is that its actually the name of the hill that the area sits on, so the views of the rest of Paris are pretty spectacular, particularly near the Sacre Couer. It’s in the north eastern part of the city which also means its very easy to get to. We were driving as our original New Year plan was to go to Bruges. That’s only an hour and a half from Calais and taking a car on the Eurotunnel is very cheap and means you can stock up on French wine. But when it became difficult to find a restaurant for New Year’s Eve in Bruges that wasn’t closed, fully booked or ridiculously expensive we cancelled the hotel and charted a course for Paris instead. It takes less than 3 hours to drive and parking in a Montmartre car park that was less than 10 minutes walk to the hotel was only 20 euros a day. Or if you prefer the train, the Gare du Nord where Eurostar terminates is also close by.
For New Year’s Eve there was no shortage of restaurants open in Paris. In the afternoon we decided on a short trip out of the 18th arrondissiment to visit a couple of favourites sights, Notre Dame and Ile St-Louis. The former had a queue not to be believed so we skipped seeing the inside and walked up to nearby modern art mecca the Pompidou Centre for lunch at Georges, the restaurant on the 6th floor that is uber trendy and has fabulous panoramic views of Paris. It’s not particularly cheap, but as we were in for a big meal later we just had a Croque Monsieur (without the ham for two of us) with salad which was beautifully presented and tasted delicious.
After lunch we walked back down to the Seine for a wander around gorgeous little Ile St-Louis, one of the two islands on the river where the main street is another great one for browsing and shopping the boutiques and galleries for quirky gifts and art.
Then it was back to magical Montmartre and an early evening drink at Le Sancerre before getting ready to see in the New Year at Antoine de Montmartre, a fab restaurant in Rue Lepic. They serve French food in a sort of tapas style so we had a seven course dinner which despite being a set menu for the evening was adapted to suit two of us being vegetarian and one also being allergic to shellfish – not easy but they did it with grace and style.
We could have walked up to the Sacre Coeur before midnight for a view of a laser show from the Eiffel Tower, but having already seen some pretty spectacular New Year displays including at Sydney Harbour, we chose to stay and see in the New Year where it was warm and less crowded. We wandered up there later where the crowds had thinned but we could still soak up the wonderful atmosphere before yet another drink sitting outside Le Sancerre.
So as I said at the start I’m very glad Paris became my New Year destination this year and even though it was the fifth time I’d spent it there it really was a wonderful trip and I most definitely fell in love with magical Montmartre.
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