Travel around France and you’ll discover most villages have a vineyard close by and Paris is no exception.
Montmartre – known as the last village in Paris – has its own tiny vineyard, Clos Montmartre. It nestles on the gentle slope of rue Norvins that leads you to Place du Tertre and the Sacré-Cœur.
But more wine talk later.
Located in the 18th arrondissement, Montmartre sprawls across the highest hill in Paris.
Scan the skyline and you’ll easily find it, as the sparkling white-domed Sacré-Cœur sits on top of this hill.
Climb to the top and you’re rewarded with a jaw-dropping view of Paris. And on a clear day it’s easy to pick out the main attractions in the city; Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and the towering buildings of La Defense – the financial district of Paris.
While many people come to Montmartre to enjoy this historic area with its cobbled alleyways, hidden stairs and gardens, there’s a lot more to it than artists and a grand cathedral.
This is a thriving part of Paris with an intriguing mixture of historical buildings, designer boutiques and trendy eating places.
Nevertheless, you’ll find bistros and restaurants here offering delicious but inexpensive menu choices. And if you’re travelling on a budget, it’s a great place to find somewhere to stay, minus the central Paris price tag.
It also has a risqué side to it with sex shops, erotic shows and the Musée de l’Erotisme. This seven-floor museum is devoted to art and eroticism with curious and hilarious artifacts from Paris and around the world.
The Artists’ Quarter
Montmartre wasn’t always part of Paris. Until the beginning of 1860, it was outside the city boundary. It attracted artists with its low rents and creative, edgy atmosphere. And as more creatives and freethinkers ended up there, a lively boho café and cabaret society soon followed.
Place du Tertre
Today the main square, Place du Tertre, is still filled with artists who proudly display their artwork and use every persuasive ruse to get you to sit for them. Be prepared to haggle and agree a price before they start your portrait.
There are almost 300 artists sharing this small area. It can take years to get a license to work here and at any one time you’ll discover almost 150 artists crammed into this tiny space, or spilling over into the nearby alleyways.
Some are great caricature artists. Others create beautiful paintings in a style similar to their favorite painter.
And it’s fascinating to peer over the shoulder of an artist as they draw the person sitting opposite them.
With my drawing ability at stick man level, I have overwhelming admiration for the way they create a person’s image in just a few minutes.
Someone they’ve only just met yet they manage to capture them on paper. Often with a throng of people watching and taking selfies with them.
Some artists speak a few languages so don’t be surprised if they chat to you while they work.
And it’s fun to watch a person’s reaction when they see the painting or drawing for the first time.
Near the square, you’ll also discover ceramics and carvings. This pottery studio displays colorful samples – firmly cemented to the wall. (I know because I tried to pick one up…d’oh.)
The gleaming white Catholic Sacré-Cœur Basilica dominates the area and the view from the top of the dome is worth the steep climb up the 300+ steps.
It’s open for worship every day, despite the thousands of tourists that flood into the main body of the church. And there are now so many people visiting, they have a traffic system to keep you moving.
Volunteers walk around the church all day constantly reminding you to be quiet.
In other words, they walk round putting their finger to their lips and saying “shush” glaring at you if you make too much noise.
For someone like me with an appallingly wicked sense of humor, it did have me giggling (quietly of course) a few times.
You access the steps to the upper level by a separate entrance. You’ll find the door on the left side of the church as you look at it from the front.
For just a few euros, you get to climb all the way up to the top dome of this amazing creation and experience a 360 degree view of Paris.
It’s free admission to visit the church and crypt.
A word of caution.
If you have any health issues, this climb might be difficult. The steps are very steep and narrow in some parts and there are sections without handrails.
Close to Montmartre, in Pigalle, you’ll find the Moulin Rouge cabaret with over 80 performers and musicians performing nightly. And the Moulin Rouge was the birthplace of the famous high-kicking, cartwheeling Cancan dance style.
The cabaret offers stunning costumes, spectacular sets and you can dine while you enjoy the show.
Although it looks a bit rundown in daylight, this area comes alive at night with night clubs, burlesque shows and busy street cafés.
And you can still visit the Moulin de la Galette as it’s now part of a lovely and reasonably-priced restaurant.
Back to the wine…
In the 12th century the square, Place du Tertre, was part of a Benedictine Abbey destroyed during the French Revolution. Within the Abbey the nuns worked the vineyards and the area became the producer of wines for local bars and entertainment halls.
Today the only relic remaining from that time is the small church, St-Pierre-de-Montmartre, one of the oldest churches in Paris. It has a tiny cemetery next to it that only opens to the public on November 1st each year – All Saints’ Day.
By the 19th Century the vineyard had almost disappeared. But thanks to a group of local artists, Clos Montmartre started producing wine again in the mid-1930s and the present day vineyard is owned by the local Mayor.
It covers 1500 sq m and they grow 28 grape varieties on almost 2000 vines.
In the middle of October every year, the Fete des Vendanges takes place in the vineyard. The grapes are harvested and depending on the year’s growing conditions, around 1500 bottles of wine are produced.
Recent reviews have noted that the wine quality is getting better, despite the city pollution, but with an average cost of 45 Euros per bottle it gets a mixed reaction from wine critics.
The quirky labels are painted by local artists every year with all proceeds going to charity.
Montmartre Funicular Railway
Exploring Montmartre is fun and there are several ways to do it.
There are lots of interesting stairways to follow and you’ll discover street musicians perched on these steps, playing everything from a large harp to flutes, accordions and guitars.
There’s a cute toy train, Le Petit Train de Montmartre that takes you on a guided tour around the area, with a running commentary.
You can also use the regular bus service that travels in a loop around Montmartre and Pigalle.
And there’s a small funicular railway that runs parallel to the rue Foyatier, a 220-step stairway.
The original funicular was built in the late 1800s and was water-powered. Then in 1935 it was converted to electricity. The current railway was rebuilt in 1990 and carries over two million passengers every year.
Montmartre is a must-see area if you have time during your visit.
And its worth getting up early to explore it before the masses descend on this fascinating part of Paris.
Image credits: Author, Marcovannozzi, Hrohmann, 271277, Pinterest.com