The charismatic location of our latest home away from home in Montmartre-Pigalle, in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, is a captivating area that, with its population of artists, bohemians and budget tourists, little old ladies and ladies of the night, simultaneously manages to be cool and vulgar, charming and seedy. It fascinates and seduces, as much as it delights and dismays, in the same way as Soho does in London or Potts Point-Kings Cross in Sydney – and that’s exactly what makes it such a fascinating place to stay.
On the lower slopes that creep up the hillside from boulevards de Clichy and de Rochechouart are buzzy bars, nightspots, and vintage furniture and bric-a-brac shops, while the tiny parallel doglegged streets of Rue des Abbesses, Rue des Toire Frères and Rue d’Orsel are lined with bistros, bakeries, and boutiques. Higher still, on the top of the hill is the stupendous cathedral of Sacre Coeur, and the crowded tourist-heavy lanes centred on and around Rue Rustique, while on the slopes on the other side of the hill are lovely tree-lined streets of elegant old apartment buildings in an everyday neighbourhood that see few tourists.
Our home for two weeks is smack bang in the centre of the action on the lower slopes, on vibrant Rue des Abbesses. On the top floor of a sixth floor building, with a courtyard at its centre, we have Rear Window-like views of the other apartments and grey rooftops, and from the toilette we can just see the tops of the spires of Sacre Coeur.
A light-filled one-bedroom apartment, with a compact kitchen-cum-living-dining room, a decent-sized bedroom, a bathroom much too big for the size of the apartment (someone once loved a long soak!), and a separate toilette, our quarters are petite without being cramped, and far more spacious in size than a Paris hotel room of the same price.
Our little Montmartre pad may not be as chic as the sumptuous Paris Apartments that feature in the glossy book of the same name that sits on the shelves among a library that includes everything from the French New Wave and Paris Architecture to Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso’s Paris, but it has an eclectic charm and an anything-goes style that is très Parisian.
Beside the books are bowls, vases and carvings from Africa and Asia, there are a few Morroccan lanterns, a blue-and-white Chinese bowl, and on the walls throughout the apartment hang alluring paintings, prints and black and white photos of Paris. There’s an excellent French-themed DVD collection, featuring fabulous Parisian-set films from Godard’s Breathless to Truffaut’s The Last Metro, and a CD selection ranging from Josephine Baker to French Chanson.
The charmingly-mismatched blue-hued décor includes a Japanese futon in the living room and a white antique writing desk and rattan chair in the bedroom (and more books and guidebooks there too!), where I’ve set up office for the duration of our stay. Terence has taken over the foldout dining table in the living-dining area, which means no dinner parties here I’m afraid, although the compact kitchen didn’t stop him cooking up an aromatic Côte de boeuf and Dauphinoise potatoes (Pierre Gagnaire’s suggestion for The Dish) our second night here!
Terence is enjoying the range of amenities for such a tiny kitchen and although he loathes induction stovetops, he appreciates having a quality oven – something many apartments in Paris don’t have. But while there is a fridge, freezer, and dishwasher – he’d love to see some big white plates and more wine glasses in the cupboards. (Maybe I shouldn’t rule out that dinner party yet?) My only complaint is the lack of elevator – I would have happily paid anyone to lug my bags up here the night we arrived, especially after 13 hours of travelling from Ceret. However, that’s the price we knowingly paid for such a compelling location, and, after all, the more calories we burn, the more we can eat, right?