Sitting atop the Butte de Montmartre like a Byzantine meringue, and visible from almost everywhere in Paris, the beautiful 19th-century Sacré Coeur basilica is understandably a tourist magnet.Yet wonder off the beaten track, through the cobbled streets behind and to the west of the monument, and you'll touch upon a more authentic Montmartre, still populated by locals - many of them artists, actors or media types. You should also head below the Butte into the trendifying SoPi (south Pigalle) district (9th), where grand hôtels particuliers, hidden museums and foodie haunts run by young chefs, offer an alternative atmosphere to the Butte - especially around rue des Martyrs, which is lined with quirky shops and cafés.
For our suggestions of the best places to go, follow the list below.
Just one word of warning: on the narrow streets leading up to the Sacré Coeur from Métro Anvers, illegal betting stands (cardboard boxes piled as tables) have taken root on almost every corner, coaxing tourists into loosing their money, while look-outs check that the police are nowhere to be seen. Do not be put off by this; just avoid the area by walking to the basilica from Métro Blanche or Pigalle. If you do find yourself at Anvers Métro, you're quite safe (it's also a good stop for exploring rue des Martyrs), just make-sure you avoid the betting stands.
For more information on the Sacré Coeur, click here.
Around the Sacré Coeur...
To explore Pigalle's erotic side without the sleaze, go for a giggle at the Musée de l'Erotisme, where you'll find seven floors of erotic art and artefacts amassed by collectors Alain Plumey and Joseph Khalifa. The first three run from first-century Peruvian phallic pottery through Etruscan fertility symbols to Yoni sculptures from Nepal; the fourth gives a history of Paris brothels; and the recently refurbished top floors host exhibitions of modern erotic art. It's an eye-opener and rather fun - especially after dinner!
A ten-minute walk from Montmartre and you'll find this wonderful museum, which combines the small private apartment of Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau (1826-98) with the vast gallery he built to display his work. Downstairs shows his obsessive collector's nature with family portraits, Grand Tour souvenirs and a boudoir devoted to the object of his unrequited love, Alexandrine Dureux.Upstairs is Moreau's fantasy realm, which plunders Greek mythology and biblical scenes for canvases filled with writhing maidens, trance-like visages, mystical beasts and strange plants. Don't miss the trippy masterpiece Jupiter et Sémélé on the second floor.Printed on boards that you can carry around the museum are the artist's lengthy, rhetorical and mad commentaries.
When it comes to modern chanson, this is the place to see and be seen. Founded in 1947 by Jacques Canetti, Les Trois Baudets is a mythical place where numerous great talents of the last century – Jaques Brel, Georges Brassens, Boris Vian, Raymond Devos, Jeanne Moreau, Boby Lapointe, Juliette Gréco – made their debuts. But the venue fell on hard times, and became just another Pigalle sex shop and erotic cabaret, until in the 1990s it became the focus of a massive government restoration project. After five years of thorough renovation, it reopened in 2009, rediscovering its true vocation as a breeding ground for French musical talent. Today, this huge art deco building with its vast glass façades includes a beautiful 250-seater underground concert hall and an upstairs bar/restaurant, and is the place to discover the latest trends in French music, in all its variety. Popular song, rock, electro, rap – anything goes, as long as it’s sung in the language of Gainsbourg. The programming is audacious and eclectic, and the concerts are either free or at a symbolic price. On weekends, there are occasional hip-hop or electro nights. Visit the website for more details (French only).
This boutique hotel below Montmartre is a real hit with the in crowd. Each of the 20 rooms is decorated on the theme of love or eroticism by a coterie of contemporary artists and designers such as Marc Newson, M&M, Stak, Pierre Le Tan and Sophie Calle. But the reason the locals flock is for the late-night brasserie and leafy outdoor garden. Sat amongst the creeping ivy and over-grown flowerbeds you genuinely feel cut off from the city. The young and beautiful crowds also make people watching good fun. Food wise expect hearty, well-prepared dishes like roasted chicken with buttery mash.
In the heart of SoPi, Jean-Luc André is as inspired a decorator as he is a cook, and the quirky charm of his fresco clad dining room has made it popular with fashion designers and film stars. But behind the style there's some serious substance. André seeks out the best ingredients from local producers, and the quality shines through. Everything is à la carte and changes with the seasons: dishes might include marinated sardines with tomato relish, rosemary-scented rabbit with roasted vegetables, deep purple poached figs and a rather luxurious tournedos Rossini, consistently and perfectly pink.
The terrace of La Fourmi [the ant], whose name is a wink to the nearby concert hall La Cigale [the cicada], is a summer sun-trap for pretty girls with cute haircuts and skimpy dresses, attracting a throng of Pigalle street singers come to serenade their charms. As soon as they launch into song, the venue’s crowd of arty bohos take up position behind the big bay windows of the big main room with its high ceilings and post-industrial décor – an enormous, yet warm and friendly wood-panelled space, with a stunning chandelier made of glass bottles.Come here to sip cocktails, glasses of wine and beers (€2.80 a pale ale) – all very affordable when compared to the neighbouring Café la Cigale or the Petit Trianon. The area is full of Parisians helping out at concerts at the Cigale, the Boule Noire, the Trianon and the Divan du Monde, so be prepared to fight your way through to get to the bar, and for the attention of the perfectly nice but overstretched staff. If, by a miracle, you get a table, there’s a menu of sandwiches, salads, charcuterie boards and some dishes of the day.
This is one of the rare authentic dive bars in Montmartre, despite being slap bang next to that stickiest of tourist honey-traps, the Place du Tertre. Sitting on a terrace on a little cobbled street, around little wrought iron tables with coloured mosaic tops, it’s a bit like being in a rural village. The wine list is all AOC vintages (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or the guarantee of origin for wines in France) at good prices (€2.70 a glass), which you can order with a cheese or charcuterie board. You can also put the world to rights while leaning on the bar with the locals in a noisy blue-collar atmosphere. In winter, the room at the back of this quirky bar offers pleasing canapés, but the place is full to bursting during happy hour (8pm-10pm), so go early.
Strolling at the base of the Montmartre mound, it’s hard to miss this bar, installed as it is in a pretty art deco building over three glass-fronted floors on the corner of two intersecting streets. Its pink neon lights give it a healthy glow, and its retro 50s American decoration and friendly staff are an invitation to take up position on the top floor and spend the day enjoying the view with a coffee. When evening comes, order a house cocktail (which vary according to which fruits are in season) or a bottle of imported beer (Bud, Peroni). For the hungry, Le Floors has a highly recommended burger menu. For those on a budget, the original burger is good value at €10.90, with plenty of hand cut chips and salad.Recently, the management changed and the bar is busy every day. On weekends, electro club nights attract crowds of hipsters and neighbourhood regulars, all sweating away together on the first floor, posing on the tiny terrace or arranging themselves artfully in front of the bar. In the basement, you’ll often find bric-a-brac sales, so it’s worth stopping by in search of a bargain.
You could spend hours in Exodisc on rue du Mont Cenis behind the Sacré Coeur. This record shop is run by ex-pat Larry, whose encyclopedic knowledge of rock music has been practically unrivalled in the city for the last 30 years. Amid the rows of records and CDs you’ll find everything from the Rolling Stones and Death in Vegas to underground groups like Wooden Shjips and obscure krautrockers Cluster. Any questions about what to buy – just ask Larry (or his wife Dominique, also in the shop). They make a point of listening to their stock so that they can offer proper advice to music lovers looking for something new.
It's worth the downhill stroll from Montmartre to this coveted auction house: A spiky aluminium-and-marble concoction is the unlikely location for France's second largest art market - though it is now rivalled by Sotheby's and Christie's. Inside, escalators take you up to a number of small salerooms, where everything from medieval manuscripts and antique furniture to oriental arts, modern paintings, posters, jewellery and fine wines might be up for sale. Details of forthcoming auctions are published in the weekly Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot, sold at various newsstands around the city.