Planning a trip to Paris? You’d be crazy not to visit Montmartre, the hilltop artists’ haven with its wonderful views across the city. Last December, I was lucky enough to spend a weekend there with two great friends. ‘It’s a long way to go for tea and cake’, my mother told me… but it was so worth it!
WHERE WE STAYED
The three of us took a private room in Plug Inn, a hostel in the heart of Montmartre. It’s very cosy (almost to the extreme) in both temperature and size. The room itself was basic, and included bunks (without railings) and a single bed, plus a compact but clean bathroom. The hostel occupies a traditional Parisian townhouse, so expect winding staircases and awkward suitcase moments. Although the website states there’s a lift, it’s coffin-sized. Breakfast is a dry affair: substandard croissants and a chunk of baguette plus tea and coffee. It’s good value for security and cleanliness though, so safeguard your suitcase in the morning and go hunting for more edible sustenance.
WHERE WE ATE
The first evening, we munched at La Villa des Abbesses, a typical Parisian brasserie round the corner from our hostel. We both had the camembert rôti: roasted camembert with honey and walnuts, plus a small potato salad on the side. The food was pretty decent, but on leaving the initially warm customer service turned cold: I was mimicked for wishing the barman a ‘good evening’. Safe to say we weren’t back.
Saturday night, we booked a table at Soya Cantine, a veggie restaurant in the 11e. We didn’t feel the service was that welcoming, but the food was tasty: cashew curry with fresh veg and wild rice, and some amazing puddings on the dessert menu. This might be a nice place to try for lunch.
Brunch & boulangeries
On the Sunday morning, we spent a great few hours at Le Pain Quotidien, what us Scots ignorantly thought was a cute Parisian café (not realising it’s a chain spanning London and the US). As usual it was busy, but we were quickly seated by a very efficient waitress and we didn’t wait long for food. We had brioche, yogurt parfaits and ate copious amounts of own-brand Nutella. If anything, go to this place for the condiments.
Just around the corner in Montmartre was Paul, another boulangerie that was inevitably busy, being a French export (again, stores in London!) The baking was great (including the giant macarons) but in retrospect, I suppose it’s rather like a posh Parisian Greggs. Nevertheless there was inside seating, service was speedy and the cakes were tasty, so Paul makes a perfect pit-stop.
WHERE WE WENT
Montmartre is a beautiful area of Paris where you can feel completely immersed in the culture. Although there are holidaymakers, it has a surprisingly ‘local’ feel away from the Moulin Rouge road: Parisians in the cafés and shops, and there’s not too much tourist tat on show either. The top sights to see here are obviously that red windmill, the Sacré-Cœur and the Place du Tertre, the open air artists’ marketplace.
Further away from the hill, don’t miss visiting the breathtaking Musée d’Orsay, heading straight up the stairs for a glimpse of the famous clock (like most museums, admission is free for 18-25 year old EU residents). Cross the river at one of the stunning stone bridges and head towards the Louvre, before following the Seine downstream towards Île de la Cité and Notre Dame.
If you’re into shopping, the Champs-Elysées is unavoidable with its fashion houses, buzzing atmosphere and (of course) token Marks and Spencers. The Champs is also a good starting point for more city wanders: you’ll spot the Arc de Triomphe at the head of the street, and if you wander from here towards Trocadéro, you’ll find the Tour Eiffel on the other side of the Seine.
Where’s your favourite place in Paris?