A Hike in Montmarte
The experience of Sacre Couer is in many ways the experience of Montmartre, aptly summed up as a cozy romantic evening through the narrow alleyways of Paris. Exploring the streets of Montmartre is a hike! These cobblestones dotted with shops of various interests give you a very local feel. And for good reason. This region of Paris was home to many artists of the long gone Beautiful Era.
You can take a subway to Pigalle or Anvers station and begin the climb to the cathdral. On the way, you will see several points worth a well-deserved pitstop, starting with a love-themed wall of 40 square meters in the Jehan Rictus garden square, known as Wall of Love. On this deep blue tiled wall are over a thousand “I love you”s, each written in a different language. We could not help but see how this great wall had made everyone cuddle with their partner or even parents while they stared at it. What a romantic spot to be at!
After being overwhelmed by the love-filled airs, we moved on to climb what was a tall stairway with tiny doors on either side that probably led to the homes and so many more stories. But as you move higher and higher, the bustling spread of Paris appears to play hide-and-seek as it comes into view and vanishes just as quickly. Ironically, one of the better views happens to be at spot where you’d find yourself smitten by something entirely different - a cute pink cafe, nestled under a low roof, called La Maison Rose. Upon entering this quaint cafe, we met a friendly hostess who seated us at tiny table and served delicious coffee and fresh bread, the perfect break to our long but exciting climb! There are several ways to reach Sacre-Couer but we advise you take the path that goes past the Wall of Love and this cafe.
As we set out with happy tummies, we reached several souvenir stores a short walk away, and lining the street that now directly takes you to the final destination. It’s a good place to pick up a few knickknacks - maybe a coin purse with Paris embossed on it or a couple love mug that locks with each other and says J’taime! As you move forward, the path has one last gem in store before unraveling the cathedral - Place du Tertre. Oh, how do I even begin to describe the splendor of this square! A dimly light yet lively space that once used to be the main square in the village of Montmartre and inspired renowned artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Pissarro, Modigliani and many more; it has now come to be known as “The Artist’s Square”. It is located high on the hill approximately 300 meters from the Sacre Coeur Basilica, buzzing with local artists quickly drawing up stunning sketches of their customers while others indulge themselves in various delicacies sold by cafes and restaurants that frame this square. It is a mesmerizing sight to see. But like everything in Paris, it only takes a short walk to come across a view that beats even that.
For generations, Montmartre had been considered a place of worship by the local Parisians. It is said that after the war in 1870 between France and Germany, Alexandre Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury vowed to build a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart as reparation since they believed that the misfortunes of France was due to spiritual rather than political causes. In the late 19th century, the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur was erected keeping in mind its tradition - “God is well and truly present”. The Basilica was designed by Paul Abadie and 6 other architects. While exploring this magnificent place of worship, we noticed that the architecture was Romano-Byzantine style. This house of God dimly lit and surrounded by tranquil silence has been designed gave a feeling of eternal harmony and peace. After basking in this serenity and praying for a while we continued our tour of the basilica.
A look at the ceiling showed us a 475 square meter Mosaic of Christ in Glory, considered to be the largest in the world! This mosaic is said to represent the risen Christ, clothed in white and with arms extended, revealing a golden heart. Surrounding him is a world of adorers including the Virgin Mary, Saint Michael, Saint Joan of Arc, as well as a personification of France offering her crown and Pope Leo XIII offering the world. On either side, in two rows of gilded architecture, the homage of the Church and France to the Sacred Heart are depicted beautifully. The grand pipe organ of the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur adds to the magnificence of this basilica. It is considered to be one of the most remarkable ones in Paris, in France and in Europe. Built in 1898, it is the last great instrument built by the illustrious Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Rumors have it that in 1611, a staircase was discovered that led to an ancient crypt that was said to have been sanctified by Saint Denis.
If you feel you are in the mood for an adventure, we recommend that you do not miss the climb to the dome of Sacré-Cœur at sunset which is open every day from 8.30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (May to September) and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (October to April). Once you embark on your adventure you will come across a narrow spiral stairway with 300 steps and no lift that leads to the dome of the basilica. Once we finished our climb to the top, watching the sunset accompanied with a panoramic view of the Paris, timed perfectly to witness the Eiffel Tower begin to sparkle, was probably the highlight of our trip! We truly lost ourselves in the glory of this basilica.
As we descended on the other side, we availed the services of a minivan located at the climb below the basilica where a jolly host singing old Parisian songs serves you a glass full of hot wine that was perfect in the chilly weather around us. Aah, but our pièce de résistance came by soon after when the hunger pangs took over. We headed to Le Refuge des Fondus! Don’t miss it as this unique little restaurant is filled with loud chatter, delicious food and a dining concept that will leave you talking about it for months. That included climbing over the tables to get seated, and drinking wine served in baby bottles!
To experience Montmartre truly, soak in the streets and these little corners. If you listen closely, you will find yourself to be the closest to La Belle Epoque than you’ll ever be.