Montmartre, a Must-See Place to Visit on Your Next Trip to Paris
Off With Your Head: The Origins of Montmartre
What does every great French story begin with? A decapitation, and the story of Montmartre ('mountain of the martyr') is no different. This funky neighborhood in Paris' 18th arrondisement owes its name to Saint Denis, who was the Bishop of Paris and, as all good Bishops of yore, was decapitated somewhere in the middle of the third century AD.
While Saint Denis was likely not decapitated with the humane swiftness (well, that's what the French said anyway about the guillotine when they introduced it) of the guillotine, since it was not invented until the 18th century, Saint Denis the martyr did nonetheless lose his head, likely in a much more brutal fashion than that of having a giant, rusty, weighted blade drop upon his neck to send his head dropping into a basket.
If it was an axe, it probably took a couple blows. A little to the right, please. Yes, that's it, that's the spot.
Rambo, Eat Your Heart Out. And You MIGHT Regain Our Respect
In any event, as the story goes, Saint Denis was really something of a third-century Rambo; more of a Rambo, in fact, than the one we are familiar with today. Were he still kicking about, Saint Denis would likely look to our 20th-century Rambo sewing up his own wound with the needle and thread that he pulled from his survival knife in much the same way an MMA fighter might look upon the local county's arm wrestling champion.
That is to say, 'Yawn.'
What made him so tough, then, you ask, this Saint Denis the Martyr? Well, after they chopped off his head, goes the story, Saint Denis leaned down, picked it up (yes, his head . . . he picked up his decapitated head), and walked 10 kilometers (even in the third century the French had to be different from us and use the metric system), preaching a sermon the entire way. Subject of the sermon? 'Why Rambo is a wuss'. Just a guess.
If you stop by Notre Dame, which of course you better do if you are sightseeing in Paris, you can see Saint Denis, holding his head, just outside the cathedral. For being decapitated, he has a very contented look upon his face,
Montmartre: The Paris Village You Must See
Montmartre is the highest place in Paris, a big hill, really, that rises 130 meters and upon which sits the 18th-century Basilica de Sacre Coeur and the 12th-century village church, Saint-Pierre de Montmartre.
Montmartre is much like a village inside the city of Paris. It has a very Bohemian history and many artists and craftspeople still gather in the streets, where tourists looking for that perfectly unique French souvenir to bring home are a great market for their works.
Montmartre offers panoramic views of the entire city of Paris, and you can really see how different Paris is from most American cities as you look across the city to see a remarkably low skyline, interrupted only by th eEiffel Tower and a small cluster of high-rises.
One of the coolest things about Montmartre is the great collection of unique hotel choices. If you are planning your trip to Paris, I would recommend staying in one of the Monmartre hotels for one or two nights to get the most out of the neighborhood and wake up to enjoy a morning café and crêpe while looking across stunning views of the Parisian skyline.
A very Parisian-style hotel that also has all the modern ammenities, Hotel des Arts Montmartre is right next to the Basilica Sacre Coeur and offers a terrific value. Check Trip Advisor -- an amazing 4 1/2 star avergae rating over 700+ reviews for a mid-range priced hotel.
This is one of the most modern of the Monmartre hotels. If you want to take in the Paris attractions by day and feel as close to your American roots as you can by night, this hotel is about as close as you can get. Very nice, very clean, complimentary high-speed Internet. Breakfast is a little expensive -- ~18 euros at last check -- but who wants to eat in the hotel anyway?
The Hotel Gare du Nord ('gare du nord' = 'north (train) station') is actually in the 10ème arrondisement, but it is on the northern edge of the 10ème, which is adjacent to the southern end of the 18ème arrondisement, the neighborhood of Montmartre. Hotel Gare du Nord boasts a sleek, modern interior and has a great location next to a major train hub.
If you are on a tight budget and you don't mind bunkbeds (with strangers . . . but hey, this is the City of Love, you may not be strangers in the morning), give the Village Hostel Montmartre a try. Shared rooms are as cheap as 28 euros and sometimes they even offer promotions for less than that. It's tough to find a better Paris neighborhood to stay in and a better price than this Montmartre hostel offers. Be sure to check out their website linked above, it has tons of information and photos.
Enjoy your Paris vacation, be sure to see all the amazing tourist attractions that Montmartre and Paris have to offer, and, last but not least, bon voyage!