Friday, 19 October 2012

Paris off the beaten track: A walk between two artworks

Paris is full of major must see monuments, sights, and museums. However, hidden within the small side streets of Paris and down some of the less traveled boulevards there are some hidden gems; secret sights that are off the beaten track but are well worth visiting. Not only will they give you some photos of Paris that are different from your friends and family, but they will also give you an insight into the real Paris of today, and the Paris of yesterday.

The 18th arrondissement, Montmartre, home of the Sacre Coeur and Place du Tertre, is not really one of those places that you would call 'off the beaten track'. In places the 18th is absolutely heaving with tourists, souvenir sellers, and con artist (especially the bracelet scam at the bottom of the Sacre Coeur).

Many tourists (and by no means all) make the treck from the Anvers Metro station, up Rue de Steinkerque, through the bracelet scammers, up the Montmartre Funicular, around the Sacre Coeur and across to Place du Tertre. However, here is an option for seeing a little bit of the real 18th (and by no means all of the real 18th) for getting to the top of Montmartre while picking up a few interesting sights on the way.

[side note: when I started preparing this post, I wanted to look at two pieces of art in the 18th. These have become the bookends for this walk, and the other items are bits that I found as I made my way between the two places].

Square Rictus

This walk starts at the Abbesses metro station. Make your way out of the metro station and you surface in a little plaza called Place des Abbesses. To get your bearings, there will be a large red church in front of you (Eglise Saint Jean de Montmartre) and behind you is a park, Square Rictus.

The first stop is in Square Rictus, named after the famous Montmartre Poet Jehan Rictus (1867 - 1933) It is open from 08h00 (9h00 on weekends and holidays) - 18h30. Head into the park and turn left about halfway down and you will come across the piece of art known as "je t'aime" or the "I love you mural". Created in 2000 by artist Frederique Bardon and calligrapher Claire Kito, the mural, made of blue tiles with white writing, displays the words "I love you" in 311 different languages.

Frederique Bardon's idea was that just as love has a day, Valentines day, with the creation of the wall, it now also has a meeting place, in the 18th arrondissement. There is more information on the wall and its creators at

The second stop is the red church, just across the road from Place des Abbesses. The church is the church of Saint Jean de Montmartre. The church makes beautiful use of tiles, both inside and outside, but is actually more famous for being the first church made out of reinforced concrete. At the time of its construction there was immense skepticism about the use of reinforced cement as it went against some of the construction rules of the time and consequently delayed the construction of the church for several years. The church also has a number of Art Nouveau stained glass windows and some great murals and mosaic work (including the alter) inside.

Now its time to start the walk up the Montmartre hill.

Come out of the church and turn left - cross the road as soon as you can. The first road on your right is Passage de Abbesses. The passage is home to designers and creative types, and has a strange calmness about it, especially after the bustle of Place des Abbesses. At the end of the Passage, on your right, is a little hidden garden, which is in fact the back of Square Rictus, but feels like a completely different place; it has a nice community garden kind of feel to it.

Check out the modern take of Edward Hoppers "Nighthawkes" on one of the walls.

Head up the steps. At the top of the stairs is Rue des 3 Freres. Turn left on Rue des 3 Freres and take the next right at the park/plaza up the short set of stairs. This will put you on Rue Ravignan.

The next stop is where Rue Ravignan meets Rue Gabrielle. A small plaque will show you were Pablo Picasso had his first Parisian workshop which he shared with Max Jacob in 1900. The story goes that Max would work during the day and sleep at night while Picasso would sleep during the day and work at night.. While it is not a tourist attraction, it appears that it is possible to rent the room as a serviced apartment should you wish to follow in the footsteps of the late great master.

Head up the hill directly behind you (Place Jean-Baptiste ClĂ©ment) and turn right into Rue Lepic. At the top of Rue Lepic is a peculiar building - octagonal shaped in white marble and surrounded by vines this interesting building which was originally a water tank and tower is now home to the "Montmartre wine brotherhood" founded in 1983. Closely tied with the small wine industry of Montmartre, the building is "A former water fountain which has become a temple to Bacchus". It appears that the facility is available for weddings and special occasions.

Also worth noting is that at 54 Rue Lepic is a house where Vincent van Gogh lived for two years with his brother in 1886.

At the end of Rue Lepic is Rue Norvins. Turn left onto Rue Norvins until you come to 2 Rue Norvins. An especially hard location to find as Google Maps takes you (logically) to number 1 Rue Norvins, which is by Place du Tertre, however number 2 is at the other end of Rue Norvins from Place du Tertre (so if someone is trying to paint your image you have gone the wrong way).

Just below a little park on your left as you reach the end of Rue Norvins is Place Marcel Ayme. Here is the second piece of art, and the last stop on the route. It is the statue called "Passer through Walls" or in French "Le Passe-Muraille". This statue is in memory of the famous Montmartre author Marcel Ayme who lived near by and is inspired by his short story about a man who can pass through walls.

Marcel Ayme is buried in Montmartre cemetery  An interesting touch is the brass bottom that someone has added to the wall to the top right of the statue. Also interesting is the number of guided walking tour groups who walk right by this statue as they explore Montmartre; people don't seem to see it.

From here it is possible to head back along Rue Norvins and visit Place du Tertre and the Sacre Couer, or head around the corner, back onto Rue Lepic, to the giant windmill "Moulin de la Galette" immortalised by Montmartre-based artists such as Renior and van Gogh.

For other activities that are off the beaten track and to get a taste of the real France, explore options for day trips from Paris using public transport on

Keep up to date with upcoming "off the beaten track" locations, and ideas for day trips from Paris on our Facebook page and our Twitter account.


  1. Will do this walk in May next year - thanks. we've given ourselves two weeks this time, just to take opportunities like this.
    Is there any way to begin that avoids Abesses Metro - which I understand could well be re-title Abyss, given the legendary stairs and dodgy lift?
    Thanks for your contributions.

  2. Hi Brizoid,

    The easiest route would be to take the Metro to Pigalle (either the 2 line or the 12 line) and walk up Rue Houdon to Rue des Abbesses. Turn left from Rue Houdon into Rue des Annesses and you come straight to Place des Abbesses.

    If you prefer to avoid Pigalle (as it is in the heart of the red light district - perfectly safe, but not so lovely) the other option is the Anvers station (2 line only). If you come out of the station and look uphill towards the Sacre Coeur, turn left and walk down towards the Moulin Rouge, turn right into Rue Dancourt (the first on your right), take the first left into Rue d'Orsel and go straight ahead - this changes into Rue des Abbesses at Rue des Maryrs (head across the plaza at the intersection).

    Of course your other option, if you don't want to walk uphill, is to do the walk in reverse. There isn't a good public transport option to get to the start, but you can head up to the Sacre Coeur via the Funiculair, then walk around to Place du Tertre. Rue Norvins is off one corner of Place du Tertre. Just walk along it to the end to find the 'start' of the walk, and then follow the instructions down the hill to Place des Abbesses.

    If you are looking for other things to do to fill in your holiday in Paris, I have put up a website with ideas for day trips from Paris, with instructions on how to get to them using Public Transport. I am adding more destinations regularly. They all have photos and lists of what is to see and do at each place. It is at

    I will also be putting up other 'off the beaten track' sights and walks here on the blog.

    Enjoy planning your trip

  3. Whilst up at Montmartre the Dali exhibition is well worth a visit.