The arrival of spring in Paris is quite something to see. It is as if nature, risen from it’s quiet winter slumber, awakes in a heady fragrance of fresh blooms, the first of the seasons fruit that emerge, fat and round, drinking in all the liquid, virgin sunshine. There is a bustle about the streets and vendors lift their wintery shrouds and emerge with displays to delight us all with….there is no such cliché as spring in Paris, it is truly worth all the poetry and literature of the ages.
I am in love. Already. As I step out into the sprightly chilly air, a wash of sunshine bathes me in liquid warmth… there is a wonderful atmosphere all around me. There are groups of friends huddled together, already enjoying their early morning patisserie and steaming coffees, laughing jovially as they warm their souls with stories that I would love to hear. An elderly couple guide each other down the cobbled streets, hand in hand and him draping her shawl over her shoulder as it slips a touch. Lovers choose fruit in between a kiss and a loud, yelling street vendor gathering attention to his prize-winning artichokes. Oh dear. I am in Paris and I am already in love.
I am staying in Montemarte, a pretty little district in the north of Paris, settled peacefully just under the watchful grandeur of the Sacre Bascilica. The view over the city of Paris is extraordinary in this area that Van Gogh once referred to as the “grands boulevards,” that housed the apartments and studios of established painters such as Edgar Degas(1834–1917), Auguste Renoir(1841–1919), and Gustave Moreau (1826–1898). This locale was also home to art supply vendors and several important art dealers and galleries, such as Georges Petit, Paul Durand-Ruel, and Goupil & Cie. It is quaint and the cobbled lined streets harbour small specialty patisseries, tea shops, boulangeries and fromageries. Art, fine foods all in a perfectly pretty parcel.
A short wander down the street and I am overwhelmed by the lively displays of seemingly just handpicked fruits and vegetables. It’s rather beautiful and I can’t help but be drawn into these immaculate little shops that are brimming with wildly colourful displays. The fat, sweet strawberries are perfect to accompany a freshly baked breakfast croissant, drizzled with some organic honey and a dollop, or two of the freshest fromage frais. It will be difficult to compete with a more perfect breakfast.
If I was cooking lunch in Paris that day, I would most certainly have a basketful of the perfectly formed globe artichokes to delicately poach in a buttery sauce and simply served with crushed vine ripened cherry tomatoes, lightly dressed with the finest olive oil, sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, with all those buttery-tomatoey juices mopped up with a crisp warm oven fresh baguette. This, of course washed down with a lovely chilled Cap de Fleur.
The cheese in France, I am sure I don’t have to tell you this, is formidable. I’m quite certain that I can happily spend more time in a fromagerie that a jewelry boutique. The selections are endless and I’m fascinated by some of my finds.. take the Tommette Baies Roses. A fresh raw goat-milk cheese seasoned with a pinch of “Herbes de Provence” and sprinkled with pink peppercorns. The peppery flavour reduces the acidity of the fresh goat milk cheese and leaves you with a delightful fresh and fruity aftertaste.
Tommette Baies Roses
I was so excited to see the whimsical Neufchatel, a traditionally heart shaped cows milk cheese from the French region of Normandie. These little delicacies would happily make up part of my dried fig, fresh peaches and fresh honey cheese platter. There are food tour groups that flock into these fromageries and I can’t help overhearing a very useful tip from the cheese expert, ‘when you are trying to discover your taste for cheese, try it without the rind first and if you feel that you require a more robust flavor, add a sliver of rind..’ I think any cheese will do fine from where I am standing, such is the outstanding nobility in the selection that graces the shelves.
As we weave our way through tiny, steep, uneven streets – my eyes are drawn to the bright blue painted windows along the ageing walls, lined with even brighter flower boxes crammed with blooms. These, I find are art in themselves.
Montemarte still holds much of its historic artistic appeal, obvious by the many tiny artisan, creative boutiques that fit neatly along the winding cobbled pedestrian paths, some clinging precariously to the steep incline leading up to the Sacre de Bascilica . In the 1800s, Artists, intellectuals, and writers flocked to this bohemian district, frequenting its vibrant performance halls and celebrating them in their paintings, literature, and poems. But while Montmartre’s popularity as a brash amusement district reached dizzying heights in the 1890s, the area itself had rather humble beginnings as a picturesque village, dotted with windmills and vineyards, overlooking the growing metropolis of Paris below.
Soaking in the peace of this area, we forget how much gentle climbing we have done and, quite unprepared we round the corner to face the grace of the Sacre de Bascilia and it truly and simply takes my breath away. With the most commanding view of the whole of Paris, this is a monument that has graced visitors with ornate mosaics, one that is noted to be the largest in the world and an absolute sanctuary for peaceful prayer and reflection.
We light candles and whisper silent prayers, the only noise surrounding us is the quiet murmuring of a thousand wishes – perhaps even for forgiveness in this holy monument. It’s quite surreal that such peace can be found whilst in full view of one of the most fast moving cities in the world. The architecture is beguiling, quite imposing and certainly a statement of sorts. Sacré-Cœur is a symbol of the former struggle between the conservative Catholic old guard and the secular, republican radicals. It was finally consecrated in 1919, standing in utter contrast to the bohemian lifestyle that surrounded it.
The artists, certainly far more commercial, still surround the bascilica and I’m not sure how to react to the heated, vibey dance off taking place directly in front of the Bascilia, an almost modern recantation of what took place in the 1800s, from Van-Gogh’s artistic rebellion to religious boundaries to today’s street hip Parisian cool. It’s fun, it’s very funky and it’s a side to Paris I want to see more of. I couldn’t help but be drawn into the numerous caricature artists that take up the main square and it’s all in the good spirit of being part of an a trade that is far older than we can imagine.
So this place, I should mention, is where we also gave in to our obsession for the freshly made, paper thin, French Crepes, mine with Nutella – sorry you just cant beat it and there will always be that inner kid craving that must absolutely never be ignored.
We head home as the pretty city of Paris below us begins to light up, taking up a sparkling life of its own. I already feel attached to the now familiar cafes and small shops of this little district of Montmarte, that also begin to wind their shutters down and switch on their own small outdoor lights.
I am so at peace, so fulfilled by astonishgly good food and breathtaking sights, I simply cant wait to explore more of this ever surprising city.