Today on the Action for Happiness agenda we have to do absolutely nothing and be lazy. I truly appreciate when I have this opportunity because our life is busy enough to let responsibilities and worries creep into our days for relaxation as well. I always try to find a way to incorporate a day of doing nothing into my calendar as much as I can because I can step back a little and look at my challenges with a fresh perspective.
I tend to apply the same approach to travelling as well. No matter how packed our itinerary is with visits to all sorts of tourist attractions, we always try to find at least 1 day when we will simply enjoy a stroll and will soak in the general atmosphere of the city we are currently in. A day when we won’t be worried of getting up early to go somewhere and avoid the long queues of tourists. A day when we will have a long lunch over a glass of wine without having to hurry. A day when the only thing on our mind will be against which building to take the best photo.
We love to have such days when travelling and Paris was not an exception. Today I will be telling you more about our easy and chill day we spent in Montmartre, the beautiful artistic area within Paris. With its narrow cobbled lanes, secret passageways, and centuries-old houses, there’s a reason why the 18th arrondissement makes it to the top of everyone’s Paris bucket list. After all, one mooch around this whimsical neighbourhood and you’ll soon be falling in love with the charm of this former hilltop village. And you can definitely tell that the area was once a village – it has not lost any of the village charms amid the growing population and urbanization of Paris.
We deliberately left Montmartre for the end of our one week in Paris because we wanted to have a more relaxed day at the end of our trip after a few days of frantic walking and visits to all the tourist spots in our itinerary. And this was the best decision ever – we had the chance to take it easy, spend more time for taking photos with almost no people around us, and most importantly feel the true Parisian vibe that we aimed for. Let’s indulge in our 1-day stroll in Montmartre, Paris!
Sacre Coeur – the Basilica that took our breath away
Our stroll began from the regal Sacre Coeur Basilica located on one of the hilltops in Montmartre. It is very easily accessible via the metro – we got off at the Anvers metro station which I believe is the closest station to the basilica. The street leading to Sacre Coeur has plenty of souvenir and sweet shops so I advise you to stop at some of them on your way and try some French delicious pastries. We did that on our way back because we got to Montmartre very early in the morning as the weather forecast for the afternoon promised some light rain which we wanted to avoid as much as possible.
The basilica itself is an impressive building – its white stone has remained pristine in the smog-filled city because of the calcite in it. Apparently, each time it rains, the calcite acts as a bleach, thus ensuring that the Sacre Coeur maintains its ‘silky cream’ look. Interior-wise, the basilica has a more modern feel than you would expect – it was constructed from the beginning to the middle of the 20th-century.
There are a few things that you should know before visiting Sacre Coeur. It is open from 6:00 until 22:30 and the entrance is free. As it attracts many tourists each year, it attracts some questionable chaps as well so be careful of your personal belongings. There are 222 steps that you will need to climb but there is also a funicular that you can take free of charge, if you have purchased a Navigo Decouverte Card.
Art – the backbone of Montmartre
As you wander around the Montmartre village, you will notice the definitive artistic vibe it carries. And this is not a surprise – artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Picasso were attracted to the area. If you are particularly interested in the subject, you can visit the Museum of Montmartre which was formerly a residence and meeting place of prominent artists such as Renoir, Bernard, and Valadon. Picasso’s first studio, the Bateau-Lavoir, is also located in the area – it is the place where Cubism began as an art movement and where Picasso drew some of his most famous paintings (the Gertrude Stein’s portrait, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, etc).
Art is still very much in the heart of Montmartre. Every morning at Place du Tertre, a little square in the area, artists gather to draw illustrations or portraits. Unfortunately, the weather was quite bad when we were in Montmartre so we could not see the artists working but it is definitely something that we would like to see in some of our future visits to Paris.
Cute cafes and restaurants
Honestly, there are so many cute and charming cafes and restaurants in the Montmartre area, that we had to stop at every corner to admire them and take photos. La Maison Rose, Le Consulat, and Le Refuge Café are locations that you must have seen at least a thousand times in your Instagram but I can verify that these look so much more charming in real life. Even though the day was quite gloomy, they shone like diamonds!
As diamonds, however, these cafes are a bit pricy so have that in mind if you want to enjoy a meal in the historic atmosphere. We decided to have our lunch in a lesser know restaurant, Le Relais Gascon, as it was close to our final stop in the Montmartre area. The food was amazing and the atmosphere and general customer service was brilliant. It had already started raining outside, so the restaurant was a great place to get some rest and enjoy a big plate of delicious beef tenderloin with potatoes and some classic French bread at a very reasonable price.
Montmartre – love, love, love
The last stop of our little Montmartre stroll was the Le Mur des Je T’aime. Navy blue and famous the world over, Le Mur des Je T’aime literally translates to the ‘wall of I love yous’ and is the work of artists Frédéric Baron and Claire Kito. Covering a surface area of 40m² and comprised of well over 600 square tiles, the wall displays how to say ‘I love you’ in over 250 languages.
Take some of the famous French macarons from a nearby sweet shop and indulge in them while admiring the wall. Try to find the “I love you” in your language. We did manage to find the Bulgarian “I love you” and of course took a photo of it!
Have you ever been to Montmartre? Let me know in the comments.