48 hours in Montmartre

From Sacré-Coeur to Moulin Rouge, Paris's last village is where majestic and seedy meet

Because Paris moves closer to Britain tomorrow, at least for those who travel to the city by train. From 8.01am, when the first train of the morning leaves Waterloo, the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link through Kent will cut 20 minutes from the journey time: London to Paris will take just 2 hours 35 minutes. And Montmartre, the last village left within the French capital, is only a stroll uphill or a quick Métro hop from the Eurostar platforms at the Gare du Nord.

BEAM DOWN

Eurostar (08705 186 186; www.eurostar.com) is the easiest and most direct route to Montmartre. Return fares from Waterloo to the Gare du Nord start at £59, first class at £139. You can fly from many other UK cities to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, from which there is a fast non-stop train to the Gare du Nord.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

If you prefer not to walk to Montmartre from Gare du Nord, one stop on Métro line 4 to Barbès-Rochechouart , in the direction of Porte de Clignancourt, will do the trick. The fare is €1.30 (90p), although if you are planning to combine a trip to Montmartre with sightseeing elsewhere in Paris, it is worth buying a carnet of 10 tickets for €10 (£7). Montmartre is a muddle of old and new, seedy and majestic. It lies in the middle of the largely petit-bourgeois and working-class 18th arrondissement. The tone is respectable around the slopes of the Butte, or hillock, that dominates the area, distinctly less so around Pigalle; here, decorum and sleaze rub shoulders, as music shops and grey façades are interspersed with tiny ill-lit bars where "hostesses" lurk in skimpy outfits. The boulevards to the southern edge of Montmartre form part of the main ring around the city; the Montmartre Cemetery is to the east, with rue Caulaincourt curving round the top until it meets rue de Clignancourt to the west. There is a small tourist office (00 33 1 42 62 21 21) on the Place du Tertre , which opens 10am-7pm daily.

CHECK IN

Top of the range is the Terrass Hotel at 12-14 rue Joseph-de-Maistre (00 33 1 46 06 72 85; www.terrass-hotel.fr), conveniently close to the main attractions but away from the tourist haunts. Double rooms here start at €232 (£161), singles at €194 (£135). The Timhotel at 11 rue Ravignan (00 33 1 42 55 74 79; www.timhotel.com) has an excellent location halfway up the Montmartre hill; rooms start at €130 (£90), €8.50 (£6) extra per person for a buffet breakfast. A good mid-range hotel is the Bouquet de Montmartre at 1 rue Durantin (00 33 1 46 06 87 54; www.bouquet-de-montmartre.com). What you lose on the uninspiring decor you gain on the atmospheric setting. Rooms here start at €64 (£45), with breakfast an extra €5 (£3.50) per person. For budget travellers, one of the best deals in the city is the clean, well-located and friendly Bonséjour at 11 rue Burq (00 33 1 42 54 22 53), with singles from €22 (£15) and doubles from €30 (£20).

TAKE A RIDE

The walk to the top of the Butte is steep, but there is a shortcut to the top: hop on the funicular that glides up and down from Place Suzanne Valadon to the upper terminus on rue du Cardinal Dubois. It runs daily from 7am until midnight, and costs €1.30 (90p); Métro tickets are valid.

TAKE A HIKE

Start your walk outside Abbesses Métro station in the square of the same name , one of the few stations that still has its original Art Nouveau awning over the entrance. There are Art Nouveau echoes across the square, too, in the mosaics around the door of the church of St-Jean l'Evangéliste de Montmartre at 19 rue des Abbesses (00 33 1 46 06 43 96), a brick and concrete building constructed in Moorish-style. It opens 9am-noon and 3-7.30pm Monday to Saturday; 8.30am-noon and 3-6pm on Sundays. From the Place des Abbesses, take a short detour to the Chapelle du Martyre at 9 rue Yvonne-Le-Tac (00 33 1 42 23 48 94), a crypt built on the site of a shrine to the early city martyrs, among them St Denys, the first Bishop of Paris. It was here, too, that Ignatius de Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, took his vows. Unfortunately, it opens only on Fridays, 3-6pm. Walk up to the Bâteau-Lavoir at 13 Place Emile-Goudeau; now reconstructed following a fire in 1970, it once housed a labyrinthine network of artists' studios. Many well-known painters worked here, including Picasso, who used the studio to paint Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Then wander back down to rue des Abbesses and up rue Lepic; this is part of the Montmartre that tour-bus visitors rarely see, with a villagey atmosphere that makes it easy to forget that you are in the middle of Paris. Loop around avenue Junot, which contains a number of interesting Art Deco and modernist-style houses, including number 15, a tall, thin building that was designed for the Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara. From here, it is a short walk to rue du Mont-Cenis, and the delightful church of St Pierre at 2 rue du Mont-Cenis (00 33 1 46 06 57 63), once part of a Benedictine monastery and one of the oldest churches in Paris. As you wander around the church, you may hear snatches of accordion from the musicians serenading the visitors in the nearby Place du Tertre .

LUNCH ON THE RUN

The heart of Montmartre is allegedly the home of the original fast-food joint: the bistrot. It was to this part of Paris that the Cossacks who occupied the city in the early 19th century came to eat, asking for their food to be served quickly - "bistro!" in Russian. They often frequented La Mère Catherine (00 33 1 46 06 32 69), founded in 1793, which is still a popular spot on the Place du Tertre, where they serve traditional bistro fare, from frogs' legs to Tarte Tatin .

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

From the beginning of October, the permanent collection at the Musée de Montmartre at 12 rue Cortot (00 33 1 46 06 61 11; www.museedemontmartre.com) will be on display again, after a summer of temporary exhibitions. It occupies the oldest residential building on the Butte, and was the home of Renoir, Utrillo and Dufy, among other artists, at the end of the 19th century. The exhibits reflect the events of that time. The museum is open 10am-12.30pm, 1.30pm-6pm daily except Monday, entrance €4.50 (£3).

WINDOW SHOPPING

Montmartre is a good place to shop if you are interested in art. At one end of the scale, there are the overpriced sketches offered by the artists around the Place du Tertre ; a better investment might be the original prints and etchings by Salvador Dali, on sale just round the corner in one of the exhibition rooms at the Espace Montmartre (see Write a Postcard, above). High-quality, inexpensive fabrics are on sale in the Marché St-Pierre on Place St-Pierre , which opens 1.30-6.30pm on Mondays and 10am-6.30pm Tuesday-Saturday, and in the shops along the rue Livingstone.

AN APERITIF

For a drink with a view, aim for the Ronsard at 13 Place St-Pierre (00 33 1 46 06 03 38), beneath the Sacré-Coeur. For a lively ambience, go to Place des Abbesses and order a pastis in one of the atmospheric bars there that are frequented by the locals, such as Au Petit Montmartre, or, better still, Au Baroudeur, which is open from 11am until 5am the next morning.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Beauvilliers , at 52 rue Lamarck (00 33 1 42 54 54 42), is a long-established Montmartre restaurant, away from the tourist haunts. Although dinner here is not cheap, there is an excellent menu, with many traditional French dishes, modernised with some interesting touches. A Montmartre landmark that was once frequented by the locals - at least in the days when the cancan was the latest thing - is the Moulin Rouge at 82 boulevard de Clichy (00 33 1 53 09 82 82, www.moulin-rouge.com). There is still entertainment here every night; dinner and a show costs €130 (£90), drinks can easily double the cost, and advance booking is essential.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

The huge white basilica of the Sacré-Coeur (00 33 1 53 41 89 00), crowning the Butte, is one of Paris's picture- postcard images. Unfortunately, it is also a magnet for tourists, so the best time to visit is early in the morning, before the coaches arrive; it opens 7.30am-11pm daily. The basilica was built to commemorate the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, although it wasn't finally finished until 1914.

TAKE A VIEW

The panorama from the steps in front of the Sacré-Coeur is the best in town; the only problem is that on a warm day there is hardly room to move as visitors sit and admire the view. Pay the extra €5 (£3.50) to climb up to the dome, the highest point in the city after the Eiffel Tower. The ticket also gives you access to the crypt.

OUT TO BRUNCH

A delicious brunch is served at one of Montmartre's landmarks, the Moulin de la Galette at 83 rue Lepic (00 33 1 46 06 84 77), a reconstruction of the windmill painted by Renoir. Combining all the best elements of an American brunch and a French petit déjeuner, it is served every Sunday from 12.15-2.30pm, for €19 (£13).

A WALK IN THE PARK

Montmartre Cemetery at 20 Avenue Rachel (00 33 1 53 42 36 30) is the next best thing to a park, and far more interesting. This tree-lined space, with its flowers, benches, and a muddle of tombs and mausoleums, is a microcosm of the history of the district. A map near the entrance explains how to find the graves of the many famous people buried here; these include the composer Offenbach, who wrote the cancan music, and Louise Weber, the dancer known as La Goulue who became the racy dance's most famous exponent and was immortalised in paint by Toulouse-Lautrec. The cemetery opens at 8am Monday to Friday, 8.30am on Saturday, and 9am on Sunday. It closes at 6pm until 6 November, 5.30pm thereafter.

WRITE A POSTCARD

...from the Espace Montmartre at 11 rue Poulbot (00 33 1 42 64 40 10; www.dali-espacemontmartre.com), an impressive exhibition of original drawings, lithographs and sculptures by Salvador Dali, the largest collection of his work in France. There are some classic pieces, including a number of melting watches and a long-legged elephant sculpture, and some unusual furniture. It opens 10am-6pm daily, admission €7 (£5).

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

Paris has its very own vineyard, the Clos Montmartre at 12 rue Cortot. Planted in 1933, there are 2,000 vines representing the varieties most frequently grown in France. Wine from the vineyard is on sale at a number of shops in Montmartre, including the one at the museum. And on the second weekend of October there is an annual festival to celebrate the harvest. It takes place this year on 11-12 October, starting with a parade, which will leave the mairie on Place Jules Joffrin at 3.30pm, ending up in Square Willette , where there will be music played in the evening. A traditional market will be held around Montmartre throughout the weekend.

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