Parisian Living

Learning to Love Montmartre

by Lily Heise

For years I was firmly an eastside Paris gal. My first Paris apartment was located in the 12th arrondissement, not far from the 11th. I loved being able to do my food shopping at the buzzing Marché d’Aligre and I would spend my Sunday afternoons strolling along the Coulée Verte, a gorgeous promenade atop a former train line. My place became le quartier general, the go-to hangout, for my tight-knit group of friends who were, just like me, recent arrivals in our early 20s, eager to absorb all Paris had to offer.

A sleepy street bathed in golden sunlight as the sun rises in Montmartre in Paris (left). The cobblestone stairs of Montmartre bathed in golden sunlight  in spring (right).
Siebe Warmoeskerken

When my landlady told me she needed the apartment for a cousin, I had to scrambled to find a new home, preferably in the vicinity. After countless apartment visits and rejected dossiers, a friend gave me a tip on an even better located apartment found a mere few minutes walk from Place de la Bastille, splendid Place des Vosges, and the nightlife hub of rue de Lappe. I loved being able to walk everywhere, however, this new apartment came at a steep price. This financial issue was worsened by the fact that I was in between jobs, making every centime count even more.

A quiet cobblestone street leading up the the Sacré Coeur Basilica in Montmartre, Paris (left). A panoramic view of the Paris rooftops from the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre (right).
Siebe Warmoeskerken

One job opportunity fell through and I was barely scraping by on my part-time work as a minion in a posh Haut Marais art gallery. I started selling off my books for cash and was reduced to eating discount-brand pasta with olive oil for dinner.

Breakfast of runny eggs that have been eaten, set on a plate on a menu at a Parisian bistro (left). The panoramic view of the Paris rooftops from the top of Montmartre (right).
Fleurishing

“Are you sure you don’t want to come back home?” my mother gently asked. She didn’t even know the full extent of how bad things had plummeted in only three months—but my banker did! I was descending deeper and deeper into credit card debt. Mais non! Impossible! I couldn’t and wouldn’t give up on my Paris dream. That said, something had to give. Luckily, I landed a more steady job; nevertheless, I’d need to wait another month to get paid, and then several more months to have enough payslips to please any potential landlord. 

A street shaded by tall trees in Paris in summer (left). An archway in Paris' 10th neighborhood with graffiti and posters on the walls, leading to a street of bars and restaurants (right).
Ali Postma

“You should contact Dave,” suggested a French friend who’d put me up when I first arrived in Paris. For some reason, I hadn’t thought to reach out to her earlier; in France so much happens via connections. “His landlady has all these empty apartments in Montmartre.”

A chalk drawing of the Sacré Coeur Basilica in Montmartre on a sidewalk in Paris (left). A quaint bistro lined by a terrace on a tree-lined square in Paris in summer (right).
Erica Berman

Montmartre? Ugh. For me, Montmartre might as well have been on another planet, and one reserved for tourists. Since moving to Paris I’d ventured up there a few times, and while there were nice views to be had from in front of Sacré-Coeur, it didn’t feel like a real neighborhood. Plus, I loved walking. Montmartre seemed so far from everything, I’d have to resort to taking the metro everywhere. Would my friends still come up to see me? At this point, I couldn’t be very picky, so I called Dave and we made an appointment to see his landlady.

A table, two cups and a coffee pot on a table set up on the balcony of Parisian apartment, with a view of the sunny street (left). The narrow stone stairs leading up to Montmartre hill in Paris, lined by leafy trees (right).
Julien Hausherr

Climbing up la butte to meet Dave, we were welcomed by a spirited elderly woman. After a few hours of lively discourse, I seemed to have passed the courtesy-call test, and was subsequently granted another appointment to visit the apartments she had in my budget. Two were a good size and located behind Montmartre, near the city hall of the district, the third was smaller and nestled right in the heart of Montmartre.

The view of a Paris street from the balcony of an apartment (left). A café in Montmartre in Paris, on a cobblestone square, where people are sat a tables outside, enjoying the sunshine (right).
Julien Hausherr

Despite being a six-floor walk up and having a rotting floor covered in well-trodden military green carpet from the 1970s, I had to take this small studio apartment for one simple reason: its sweeping view of Paris, from Sacré-Coeur to Les Invalides. If I was going to make Montmartre my new home, I was going to do it right.

A street forking around  cream-colored iron-shaped building in Paris in summer, with people outside enjoying the sunshine.
Julien Hausherr

Waking up to this exceptional vista everyday was the first step in starting to like Montmartre, but it wasn’t the only one. The apartment was situated just above rue des Abbesses, which I would quickly find was a world apart from the small tourist zone at the top of the hill.

An empty cup of coffee set on a wooden table in a Paris coffee shop.
Fleurishing

Lined with cafés packed with locals, a large array of shops, and what might be Paris’ highest concentration of exceptional bakeries, it was overflowing with neighborhood life and character

A crusty French baguette of bread in Paris.
Fleurishing

In no time I was on friendly terms with the sweet vendor at my favorite boulangerie, I would chat with the cheerful salesmen at my local “convenience” store, which just so happened to be the one featured in the film Amélie. I would still spend my Sunday afternoons strolling, but now it was around the narrow streets of the lesser-visited backside of Montmartre.

A view of the Sacré Coeur Basilica through bare trees in the winter in Paris (left). A row of apartment buildings that line a street in Paris (right).
Julien Hausherr

My friends even started moving to the area. There are very good reasons why visitors, and Parisians, love this neighborhood. And gazing out of my window at the district’s rooftops and the basilica’s suncast dome, I too was falling under its spell.

An old house on a cobblestone street in Montmartre in Paris, near the wall of I love yous (left). A basket of beautiful fuchsia and lilac flowers set on a wooden staircase inside a Parisian apartment building (right).
Fleurishing / Erica Berman

Knowing I wanted a bigger apartment, my landlady gave me the keys to go look at a more spacious place she had, around the corner from my tiny abode. Although I would lose my view, Montmartre had already solidified its place in my heart. I would have a proper one-bedroom apartment, with wooden beams to boot, and could enjoy the pleasures of the neighborhood simply by stepping out of my cozy place, where I’m writing this article, now fifteen years after my initial, reluctant move up here. 

A detail in the wrought iron balcony of a Parisian apartment (left). A view of the Sacré Coeur Basilica at the end of a narrow lane, with a pink balloon painted on the right-hand wall (right).
Loove Photography / Lily Heise

I still smile when I walk through Place des Abbesses. I cherish the calm when I drift through Place du Tertre on drizzly autumn evenings, after the artists have packed up for the day and the café lights glisten on the cobblestones.

Expat blogger Lily Heise wearing a red jacket, sat on a Paris bench where the often-seen slogan 'Love runs through the streets' painted on it. She is smiling at the camera.
Lily at the Places des Abbesses – Didier Pazery

I say bonjour when I pass Capitaine, the dog that “lives” in Picasso’s old art studio and has his own name plate on the door. I enjoy un petit verre in the wine bar hidden at the back of the Cave des Abbesses, owned by the same family since 1962. I imagine how exciting the area must have been back in the Belle Époque when I walk past the Moulin Rouge, its red arms lighting up the Pigalle night sky. I’ve officially become a true Montmartoise and I’m proud of it.

The panoramic view of the Paris rooftops from the top of Montmartre.
Julien Hausherr

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Written by Lily Heise for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation, or long term, rental in Paris, Italy, France or elsewhere in Europe.

Written By

Lily Heise

Lily Heise has been living in Paris for more than 10 years. When she's not getting into romantic mischief, she writes on dating, travel, and culture. Her writing has been featured in Frommer’s Guides, the Huffington Post, Conde Nast Traveler, City Secrets, DK Eyewitness Guides, and other local and international publications. She is the author of Je T'Aime, Me Neither, and Je T'Aime... Maybe? lively novelized memoirs on her romantic misadventures, and continues to share dating tips, stories and travel features on her blog www.jetaimemeneither.com. View Website

One comment on “Learning to Love Montmartre

Much enjoyed your insight and learned more about a part of the city I believed I knew rather well.
Thank you

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