Friends who know Paris often turn up their noses at Montmartre. The Moulin Rouge, the Place du Tertre – with its identical caricaturists and peddlers of plastic Mucha prints – this, the stereotype goes, is the Paris of tourists who’ve watched the Baz Luhrmann film once too often: a place no genuine Parisian would ever go.
But the back streets of la butte – the hill, as Montmartre is often known – offer a bucolic glimpse into a Paris few locals, let alone tourists, ever see. Near the Place des Abbesses, I find a flea-market selling Victorian boots, old furs, and dog-eared copies of Balzac and 1940s editions of P.G. Wodehouse in French – far more evocative of a vanished era than the bright reproductions sold in front of the Moulin Rouge.
The restaurant Le Basilic serves up country dishes in what looks like a provincial French cottage, while above it Rue Lepic – all red brick and sloping hills – rises towards Sacré Coeur, dotted by bobo wine bars like Bistrot Lepic, whose terasses overlook the sprawl of Paris below. Steep stairways climb la butte, interspersed with tiny, unnamed parks.
I slip past hidden vineyards to the little Musée de Montmartre, once home to Renoir, which evokes not just the riotous Montmartre of artists and courtesans but also the little village of moulins – windmills – including Le Moulin de la Galette, which Renoir himself painted from that very point in 1864.
Montmartre may not be the same village that it once was. But as I turn the corner beneath one of the old moulins, leaving the tourists and the hawker behinds, it’s easy to pretend.
Musée de Montmartre is at 12-14 Rue Cortot, Paris 75018.