Last weekend I spent a wonderful 3 days in Paris with my good friend Melissa. We enjoyed an entirely hassle-free journey across the Channel on Friday afternoon on the Eurostar, easily managing to quaff a bottle of pink champagne in the process, then took a short taxi ride to Montmartre. Our mission: to live like a local for the weekend.
Our beautiful Parisian apartment in Abesses was booked through Housetrip.com, an award-winning holiday let website that was founded with the intention of making holiday rentals easier, safer and faster. Unlike other homestay booking sites like AirbnB or Wimdu, Housetrip personally vet all the apartments listed on their site for suitability and amenities, and have the safeguard of releasing the payment to the owners 2 days AFTER the guests settle in to the property. This ensures the complete satisfaction of the traveller, and as the middle-man, they take on all the tedious admin and communication between parties. Furthermore, as we were to discover, Housetrip can provide you with the kind of insider knowledge of the area that turns a holiday from a good one into a great one.
We met with popular Housetrip host Gail, a Canadian long-term resident of Paris, who thoughtfully hand selected her favourite secret finds and local places to visit during our stay in Montmartre. The entire itinerary focused on the local neighbourhood rather than the usual tourist traps to give us a true feel of Parisian life. And since Melissa and I are regular visitors to Paris for work, usually staying in fairly bland corporate hotels, this list of local gems was right up our Rue.
Dinner on Friday evening was a short walk from our apartment through narrow, cobbled streets to La Bascule, 24 Rue Durantin. Packed to the rafters with stylish locals (think Shoreditch types), the service was very friendly and conveniently spoken in English. La Bascule serves a very affordable combination of tapas and French classics such as Coquilles Saint Jacques, and as you would expect, has a fantastic wine list. Food highlights for me were plump, oversized, perfectly cooked scallops, and a traditional toasted bread pudding called Pain Perdu which has to be tasted to be believed.
After dinner, Melissa and I ambled back through the cobbled streets, tired, tipsy, appetites satiated, and fully intending to get an early night in order to be fresh for a 9.30am walking tour of the neighbourhood. However, someone once said that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ and someone else said something about ‘the best laid plans’, and before we knew it, our evening took an unexpected turn. Walking past a heaving bar full of locals, we were virtually dragged inside by a group of impossibly handsome young French men, and proceeded to get rip-roaringly drunk until 3.30am. So much for an early night.
Melissa and I fraternising with the locals
The following morning, after a large hot chocolate and croissant and some extra-strength painkillers, we joined Gabriela from Tours by Locals who specialise in matching travellers who want an individualised tour of the city with Parisian residents with specific local knowledge.
Montmartre literally means ‘mountain of the martyr’; named to commemorate the martyrdom of Saint Denis, who was decapitated on the hill around 250 AD. It’s a great place to take a tour like this, steeped in ancient history as it is, but also because the area has developed a hip, vibrant restaurant and bar scene, is teeming with boutique shops and galleries, and has the best view of the city from anywhere, bar perhaps the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Headless Saint Denis
One of 3 remaining windmills in Paris
The last vineyard in Paris
Primarily known for the white-domed Basilica of the Sacré Cœur with it’s breathtaking views across the city, and the Moulin Rouge theatre, Montmartre also became the centre of artistic excellence, boasting some of the world’s greatest artists such as Dalí, Modigliani, Monet, Mondrian, Picasso and van Gogh. Several movies were filmed in this historic district, Amelie and La Vie En Rose perhaps being the most well known.
The approach to the Sacre Coeur
View from the Sacre Coeur
Visiting at this time of year carries the added bonus of the Christmas markets which line the square outside the Sacré Cœur and are the perfect place to stock up on cheese, meats and gifts, not to mention some warming mulled wine.
The walking tour lasts around 3 hours and is a brilliant way to spend a morning in a foreign city. Gabriela’s English was impeccable and her knowledge so thorough that I will definitely sign up for local walking tours in future.
After this enlightening walk in the crisp winter sun, we were more than ready for another three course meal, this time at Miroir Restaurant, 94 Rue des Martyrs. This hidden gem specializes in French food and wines and is rather more fine dining than the other restaurants we visited during the weekend. Rather conveniently Miroir has it’s own wine shop directly opposite the restaurant, so after a zesty starter of sea bream carpaccio, a delicious traditional lamb dish, followed by a very more-ish tarte aux pommes, Melissa and I nipped across the road to buy a few bottles of the fabulous Pouilly Fume that accompanied lunch to take back home.
Unaccustomed as we are these days to extremely late nights and boozy 3-course lunches, we meandered back through the streets of Montmartre, stopping for a spot of Christmas shopping en route to our apartment.
Paris is quite simply a foodie heaven
After a quick power nap and shower we headed out for our evening meal at another favourite haunt of Gail’s, Le Grand 8.
Situated a little further from the apartment at the bottom of the hill beneath the Sacré Cœur, Le Grand 8 is a casual little bistro frequented by locals, and serves hearty, rustic French specialities with yet more excellent wine. Highlights were the endive salad to start, followed by roasted lamb gigots with black rice, roasted fennel and celery puree, and the salted-butter caramel tart – possibly the best I’ve had of it’s kind yet. All I can say is that it’s a good thing I do not have access to local restaurants of this calibre at home, because I would be the size of a house.
Wandering back past the ghostly bleached bones of the Sacre Coeur down fairy-lit passages, full of food and merry with wine, we somehow made friends with another handsome young bar man en route, and the rest of the evening is a bit of a blur…
On Sunday, following a hearty breakfast omelette and several cafe au lait we ventured further afield on the Metro to the Place Concorde where they hold an enormous Christmas market and ice rink, and then onto Le Marais, a district which retains somewhat of a medieval feel with it’s impressive architecture, maze of cobbled alleys, historic museums and churches. It’s now uber-hip, reminiscent of Manhattan’s West Village, and bursting with chic design shops, stylish cafes and restaurants and a very interesting historic Jewish quarter on the rue des Rosiers.
With our return Eurostar to catch at 5pm, we were too short on time to make it to the historic Place des Vosges (where Victor Hugo lived while he wrote Les Miserables), but we did stumble upon the Carnavalet Museum (23 rue de Sevigne), which I strongly recommend you visit. It’s a marvellous collection of Parisian art, sculpture, history and oddities in a sprawling historic building and sculpted garden, and unlike most Parisian museums, is free entry.
Carnavalet Museum and it’s art works
Sadly, travellers could soon have the option to rent holiday apartments on either short or longer terms taken away from them. On December 17th, upon pressure from the powerful hotel lobby, the City of Paris will debate a potential law that will restrict private apartment rentals in the French capital and other cities of 200,000 inhabitants or more.
This new law could potentially result in numerous job losses, restrictions on the ability of everyday people to pay their mortgages and bills – and drive up the cost of a stay in Paris for tourists as local hotels increase their nightly rates. Whether you want to rent an apartment for a city break, come for an 8 month internship or even stay in Paris for 11 months for business or study, City Hall wants you to stay in a hotel instead of an apartment.
Although I can completely understand the need for more social housing in Paris (waiting lists are currently 9 years), it doesn’t seem at all likely that these short-term rental apartments will be absorbed back into the long-term rental market. The majority of them are owned by people who occasionally need to stay in them during the year, so if the law gets passed, they will likely sit empty for 6-9 months annually making it very difficult for their owners to keep them. After the wonderful weekend we experienced living like a local, supporting local businesses with our tourist pounds, I sincerely hope that the City of Paris wakes up to the folly of this potential new restrictive law. Vive la difference!
HouseTrip’s Abbesses Atelier apartment, sleeping up to six people, costs from £298/night and can be booked on http://www.housetrip.com/en/rentals/124034. And whilst the cost of booking an apartment may seem expensive at first glance, once you’ve added on the cost of 3 meals a day that one would spend in restaurants or cafe’s if you stayed in a city hotel, you quickly realise that having access to a fully equipped kitchen where you can stock your own fridge and cook your own meals actually saves you a small fortune, particularly if you’ve got children in tow or are staying for a few weeks or more.
For a complete range of Paris apartments, go to: www.housetrip.com/en/paris. Eurostar operates convenient non-stop service from London to Paris Gare du Nord with prices starting from £69 return (including taxes) in the month of January.