My daughter and I were lucky enough to snag inexpensive return flights from London to Paris on a visit to the UK recently, and after extensive research, decided we wanted to spend much of that time in Montmartre in the 18th Arrondissement. It’s home to a very trendy, food-oriented cafe-culture, which is exactly what we were looking for. Add to that the fantastic Airbnb apartment we found that directly overlooks Sacré-Coeur in one direction, and the Eiffel Tower in the other, and we had the makings of a pretty amazing few days.
I have visited Paris on three previous occasions, and each time I wasn’t that impressed to be honest. I was much younger though, and I guess that I hadn’t been open to all Paris has to offer. I was really hoping that this visit would change my mind.
First of all – I have to point you in the direction of this amazing Airbnb apartment we found. The owner was incredibly attentive to our needs and the location was simply amazing. So, ok, there are 100 steep stairs up a spiral staircase to reach the apartment – but for us, that just added to the charm of the place.
There are so many positives about this apartment – incredible views from every window (day and night), every amenity you could need, including access to laundry facilities in the apartment, walking distance from Sacré-Coeur, and The Moulin Rouge, and a mere moment from many cafes, Fromageries,Patisseries, Boulangeries, Marchand de Légumes, Metro Stations – and that’s before even mentioning that you are living right there among the locals. This is a vibrant community with an authentic Parisian atmosphere.
Sacré-Coeur is a short 5 minute’s walk from the apartment – a steep walk, admittedly – but hey, think of it as a way to undo the artery damage you’ll be doing from the amount of cheese you will be eating over the next few days, and that climb will feel really good. Watch out for the hawkers on the approach to the attraction however – they can be pretty persistent, one even grabbing my daughter’s arm to try and tie a bracelet on her. She’s pretty feisty though, and a quick ‘Don’t touch me!’ did the trick! Avoiding eye contact and saying a stern ‘NON!’ works too. If you approach Sacré-Coeur from one of the side streets, though, you can avoid them completely.
You’ll also do yourself a favor, by turning a blind eye to all the shops and stalls on the way up. Walk for about for 2 minutes in either direction and meander around the maze of streets there instead. You’ll find local shops with far more interesting content. It’s pretty amazing actually – also avoid the main route from the Metro station to the Basilica as it is completely aimed at tourists, and loaded with pick-pockets. So do take the time to walk those few streets in either direction and approach from a different angle.
Our favorite breakfast place was Coquelicot, a mere 3 minute saunter from the apartment. Their English is limited – and of course, so is my French – but we had no problem understanding the menu and getting exactly what we wanted. If you’ve read any of my blog, you’ll know that I am allergic to wheat. However, on this occasion, I allowed myself half a pain au chocolat and a some french bread. Yes, I suffered for a few days afterwards – but sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. My husband and I always seek out big steaming bowls of coffee for breakfast, and I had told my daughter about the big bowls of coffee and hot chocolate in France, so it was definitely one of our must-have items while visiting Paris. Coquelicot did not disappoint! I don’t think I could ever eat a croissant outside of France again to be honest. That flakey, buttery pastry is like no other. Really. Definitely not worth a stomach ache to eat wheat in the US for sure. However, if I was to find myself in back in France …
If you’re intending to visit Moulin Rouge, then take a stroll along Boulevard de Clichy after dark. The whole area comes alive at night, and there’s definitely some colorful characters around to be sure! Not to mention some interesting stores! Again, this is just a short walk from the apartment.
L’ Arc de Triomphe is definitely worth a short ride on the Métro. It was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806, to commemorate his victory at Austerlitz. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies underneath the Arch, and is re-lit every evening. It lies at the western end of the Champs-Élysées and it is absolutely beautiful close-up, and although we didn’t pay to climb to the top, it is thought that the views from the top rival the views from the Eiffel Tower. Plus the lines are so much shorter!
There’s also some wonderful busking to be found on the walk in the subway leading up to the monument. The day we were there, a young female violinist was drawing quite a crowd with her exquisite music. Keep an eye open again for people trying to relieve you of your possessions though.
Using the Metro in Paris is extremely easy. Many of the stations are beautiful inside. It’s a very simple way of getting around, a one or three-day pass is the cheapest option, depending on how long you are visiting for.
I think the most disappointing part of this trip was our visit to the Eiffel Tower. Since my last visit, the once beautifully-kept grounds have transitioned into dust and dirt and the whole area is surrounded by security fencing. I understand the need for security given recent terrorist activity, but instead of wanting to wander around, or even go up to the first or second level, I just wanted to leave. I did not find it welcoming or somewhere I wanted to be. My daughter had the same thoughts about it, so we walked along a few side streets and happened upon an amazing area, lined with fantastic food stalls.
Don’t you just love it when you take a wrong turn, or not know exactly where you are going, and you end up at exactly the right place? We happened upon a street market that had all kinds of really interesting food on it.
Amazing-smelling cheeses and incredible displays of pastries and nougats. Many locally sourced and beautifully crafted. It’s difficult to make a choice, when presented with such an abundance of goodies!
Hearing the locals ordering their food and bartering for the best price is extremely charming.
Strolling around the myriad of streets in an area is, for me, so much more interesting than actually visiting the monuments and tourist attractions. Walking along the Seine and watching people go about their every-day business makes for such an authentic experience.
Last on our ‘sites’ to see list was Nôtre-Dame Cathedral. Unfortunately, we would have had to wait for about 3 hours to gain entry, so we decided instead to walk all the way around the periphery – and we weren’t disappointed with our decision.
It really is an incredible building, and I suspect most people just look inside, but they are really missing out by not walking around the outside.
The streets surrounding Nôtre-Dame also did not disappoint, and although more aimed at the tourist than we normally would have liked, it was very atmospheric, and allowed my daughter to seek out a hole-in-the-wall crêperie and sample the ubiquitous chocolate-filled crêpe.
This wasn’t our only crêpe experience of course! That night we serendipitously visited the restaurant next-door-but-one to the apartment. I say that, because I really (really) wanted a crêpe, but really didn’t want to eat more wheat than I had already. This great little restaurant had buckwheat crêpes on their menus! I was not expecting to find I could eat the crêpes, so I was very excited to find I only had to walk about 10 steps from the apartment to find them!
We actually had two different dishes here. The first was raclette, caramelized onions and potatoes. The second was camembert, mustard sauce and tomatoes with a simple side salad. Ah, authentic, ripe, delectable camembert, I remember you well! Both incredibly delicious. Both incredibly over the top! On leaving the restaurant, however, I think both my daughter and I may have agreed that we had definitely had a bit much cheese!
That said, once we woke up next day, all bets were off as we went out in search of making up our own cheese plate!
There are several cheese shops in Montmarte, and I suspect that wherever you end up buying your cheese, you’ll be happy. We settled on Fromagerie Lepic and had a really enjoyable time deciding what we wanted to get. A pretty difficult decision all in all, but (eventually) I opted for a piece of extraordinary Emmental, and a Saint-Nectaire, which is made in the Auvergne region, from Saler’s cows. It is luscious, fruity and rich. My daughter chose a particularly ripe brie, which was heady (and incredible), to say the least!
We also chose some astounding organic berries and fresh, succulent figs along with some butter and of course, some Bonne Maman jam to go on the bread for dessert. Yes, I consider french bread, butter and jam a dessert. Well, we did have a Suchard chocolate as well, but it paled into significance alongside the other food, to be honest! A small bottle of Burgundy rounded out the feast nicely, of course.
Sadly, the next day found us returning to the UK, but not before finishing our eating experience. Le Relais Gascon called to us as we strolled along Rue des Abbesses, on our way to the Abbesses Métro station.
Our simple salad consisted of tender young butter and romaine lettuce, green beans, sliced grilled potato, tomatoes, along with probably the best Emmental I’ve ever had, and finished with a light french dressing. Very simple; incredibly delicious. I have since tried to recreate this salad at home several times, but am really missing that particular Emmental!
I can’t express how pleased I am to have returned to Paris and had such a lovely, positive experience. I definitely would return to Montmartre and once again stay in Seb’s fantastic apartment in Montmartre Sous Les Tois. Special thanks to my lovely daughter for being so open to travel and making wonderful memories with her mum!