Cam Ly

Discover a new side to the City of Light by taking a stroll around Montmartre

Montmartre Hill on a sunny afternoon

For many, Paris is linked to luxury and glamour. Coined “the City of Light”, Paris is a major cultural hub famous for its iconic landmarks and works of art. Paris is also considered a fashion mecca, home to the world’s most luxurious fashion houses. However, for those who grow enamored with French culture, Paris offers much more than that superficial splendor.

To me, Paris is full of fleeting inspiration and romance, a place where human souls mingle with the surrounding beauty that permeates every single corner of the city and allows everyone to become an “artist”. Should you have any hidden talents, you might be inspired to sketch, pen a short poem, or snap some photos. Artistic or not, I bet this city will inspire you to hum some tunes while admiring some poetic corner.

The charming district of Montmartre

Setting aside the established downtown landmarks that all first timers must visit, I decided to explore the 18th Arrondissement in this dream city. This quarter is home to Montmartre Hill, on which rises the dazzling white Sacré Coeur Basilica that overlooks the entire city. The area’s little streets and cafes are associated with revered musicians and painters.

The French word “flânerie” refers to an aimless stroll. Instead of heading straight to a determined location, I set out on my French-style stroll from the Lamarck-Caulaincourt metro depot. I passed lovely two-story townhouses draped in greenery and flowers, and drenched in the piercing summer sun. Lacking the curved iron balconies typical of Parisian apartment buildings, these houses are a bit different, but still feel totally Parisian. This is the Paris of everyday life, so soothing without throngs of tourists. Turning from a narrow street, I stumbled down an alley called Allée des Brouillards, which led me to the bronze statue of Dalida, a mid-20th century songstress whose iconic tunes are deeply loved by many, not just in France but all over the world. A square in Montmartre was even named after her to remind people that this extraordinary figure once lived here.

Steps of Montmartre to the Sacré Coeur Basilica

Heading up the left slope, I caught a glance of the dome of the Sacré Coeur Basilica down the street. As the cobbled road brought me closer to Montmartre Hill, I saw the restaurant La Maison Rose, one of the most famous landmarks in this area thanks to a painting of it by the artist Maurice Utrillo. From here, following the slope of Rue des Saules that intersects Saint Vincent Street, it is worth stopping at the famous cabaret Le Lapin Agile on the corner.

First mentioned in the 1860s, Le Lapin Agile was a favorite meeting place for artists, writers, poets, composers and painters by the beginning of the 20th century. Famous patrons included Picasso, Modigliani, Apollinaire and Utrillo, to name a few. Here they shared ideas, played music, sang, made contacts and even influenced each others’ work. In 1905, Picasso gave the pub his work “Au Lapin Agile”. The cabaret’s owner eventually sold this painting for USD20 in 1912. He could not have imagined that over 70 years later, the same painting would fetch USD41 million at auction!

An art gallery in the Montmartre district

I felt wonderful standing in this place that had hosted such great figures in the world of arts and had even inspired some of their timeless works. My journey continued to Sacré Coeur Basilica, a Catholic cathedral built in the late 19th century. From here, I had a panoramic view of vast Paris with its cramped housing blocks far below. I then climbed down to areas packed with tourists who made the scene even more noisy and vibrant. Tertre Square was enlivened by photo booths and amateurish portrait sketchers. There were rows of quintessential Parisian cafés with rustic chairs and tables set on their verandas. Offering simple menus, these cafes are fine spots to stop for a buttery croissant and an aromatic coffee.

Strolling back and forth, I reached the garden of Jehan Rictus Square at the Place des Abbesses, which hosts the Wall of Love (Le mur des Je t’aime). On this wall lie 311 inscriptions of “I Love You” written in 250 languages, including the Vietnamese words, which appear twice on the wall. It’s much more than a unique artwork, but also a tangible declaration of love in a city where romance fills the air.

Panoramic view of Paris from the Sacré Coeur Basilica

  At the end of my trip, I stopped at my final destination on Montmartre – Le Moulin Rouge. There, red and yellow LED lights were switched on, lighting up this cabaret. With its red windmill sign and its sultry, enchanting cancan dancers, Le Moulin Rouge has been a symbol of Paris for over a century.

While my exploration lasted just one day and was totally random, it filled me with strange and memorable emotions. I was blessed to experience this mecca that was home to some of the greatest artists of the last century.