On my last excursion to Paris, I spent some time in the most charming little neighborhood called Montmartre. This dreamy cobblestone and quaint-housed district is located on top of a hill in Paris’ 18th arrondissement. Montmartre’s most prominent feature is Sacré-Cœur, a Catholic basilica constructed in the Romano-Byzantine style and completed in the early 1900s. It’s the best place to start your self-guided walking tour of the neighborhood and the sooner you start, the better.
I began my weekday morning trek up the stairs to the basilica around 9 AM, when the tourist crowds were still hours away. I stopped at the top of each flight to admire the view but also low-key to catch my breath. I see why there is a funicular located next to the base of the stairs but I’m definitely glad I chose the pedestrian option. It was a hazy late summer morning and the energy seemed to match the atmosphere. The sleepy neighborhood was in no hurry to begin the day, and of course, neither was I. I took a seat at the top of the stairs, just at the foot of the church and took in the views.
After a comfortable period of time spent there, taking what seemed like a million pictures and a walk through the beautiful interior of the basilica, I continued on through this picturesque village. It’s known for being the home of several artistic residents such as Picasso, Renoir and Van Gogh and inspiring countless others. And who wouldn’t be inspired here?! I passed by several souvenir shops and a row of cafés that appeared to have just opened their doors, chairs and tiny bistro tables still being uniformly lined along every flat sidewalk. I gravitated toward the café at the end and opted for the last table in the row which had the best vantage point for people-watching. It wasn’t until after I ordered a café crème that I heard reggaeton playing in the background and peered into the café to be greeted by a classic Latin flavor. I think I’ll forever be subconsciously attracted to the culture I grew up along side of. A permanent fixture of my childhood I suppose. I spent the next couple of hours sipping that incredible coffee, filling one page after another in my notebook.
The rhythm of the neighborhood picked up as more tourists arrived and by noon, every chair was filled and table served. Yes, I was still sitting there. No, I did not have plans to leave anytime soon. That’s the beauty of solo travel. You are the only one who decides what to do and I decided to do nothing. I noted differences among the pedestrians which I labeled tourist or local and analyzed each individual, justifying my categorization. I observed painters paint at their stations lining the opposite sidewalk, tourists taking pictures, locals going to work, workers going about street work and renovations, musing on their leisurely pace and speculating about their lifestyles. The morning haze was rising and the sun was breaking through so I decided to continue my exploration and begin my search for lunch.
By the time I reached another café in Montmartre it was nearly 1 PM and in the spirit of honoring the time of the day, I opted for a rosé instead of another coffee. I needed to wash down the delectable three-cheese crepe I just had for lunch on the walk over to this incredibly picturesque café and nothing washes down cheese better than wine. Everyone knows that… Browned leaves littered the cobblestone paths and the air paralleled the incoming season in its crispness. The sun illuminated the yellowing leaves above creating this golden-green umbrella high above the café. Rows of quaint buildings lined the street, disappearing as the road bent downhill. Locals were leaving the boulangerie on the corner one by one with a baguette in hand. I was mesmerized by this different and simple way of life.
As my rosé came to an end, I decided to stop by a few vintage shops before heading back to Saint-Germain-des-Prés for the rest of my afternoon. From one idyllic neighborhood to another. There’s something about a place like Montmartre that just draws you to a vintage shop. Whether it’s the charming storefront itself, or a quest to be immersed in a piece of the neighborhood’s history, I knew I couldn’t resist the detour. As I ventured shop to shop, I found an incredible range of items from antique mirrors, whose worn, heavy, gilded frames betrayed their age, through vintage stamps yellowed with time and old photographs with messages in fading ink neatly penned on the back. I let my imagination script their stories in my mind, archiving them in my memories to flip through later. And just like with everything on this trip, it was worth my time and I was rewarded with an adorable second-hand top that will be my little souvenir from this picture-perfect neighborhood on the hill.