I confess that as the years go by, I’m becoming less and less enamoured with Montmartre. I used to be totally charmed by the district that was once a tiny village, surrounded by fields. I was always excited to tread in the footsteps of my beloved Toulouse-Lautrec and his Impressionist peers. Not so much anymore.
I am still charmed by its history, but sometimes I feel like Montmartre is being swallowed up by touristy artifice. The Place du Tertre, with its crowds and caricaturists, should be avoided at all costs. Any cafés or restaurants within view of a historic site (Sacré-Coeur, le Moulin Rouge, etc.) cannot be trusted. There is an excess of inauthentic ‘French-style’ bistros and cheap, unsavoury hotels. The Musée de Montmartre is lovely, but I find myself visiting the most famous parts of the eighteen arrondissement less and less often. But none of this criticism applies to the quiet stretch between the Lamarck Caulaincourt metro stop and the Cimetière de Montmartre.
Here, the tranquil, winding streets of the old town are still enchanting. Down the rue Caulaincourt lies one of the city’s best boulangeries, Gontran Cherrier, where you should recharge in one of the window seats with a café noisette and one of their famous classic croissants. Just off the rue Caulaincourt on the quiet end of the rue des Abbesses, you’ll find the bizarre boutique Tombées du Camion (“Fallen off the Back of a Truck”) full of old printing press letters, 1950s postcards, plastic jewels and miniature vintage toys. And between them both, tucked under a bridge, is the Cimetière de Montmartre.
Much smaller than the Cimetière Père-Lachaise and less polished than the Cimetière du Montparnasse, this cemetery tends to be overlooked by tourists. Le Cimetière de Montmartre is a serene, almost wild-looking place in which you can wander and soak up the atmosphere of Montmartre’s quieter corners. At the main entrance you will find a map with all the graves of famous inhabitants (an online version is available here). As a French cinema lover, I always make sure to pass by my old friend, François Truffaut, to brush away any leaves and thank him in a whisper. If you’re a literature fan, you may want to pay your respects to Alexandre Dumas or Stendhal. Art lovers can pass by Edgar Degas and Gustave Moreau.
If you’re already a fan of Montmartre, then the cemetery will show you another face of the district to love. But this spot is not only for converts. Even if you’re put off by Montmartre’s crowds, seedy corners and tourist traps, I urge you to try getting off the metro at Lamarck Caulaincourt instead of Abbesses, picking up a flakey, buttery croissant from Gontran Cherrier, and descending under the bridge at the end of rue Caulaincourt to the oasis of the Cimetière de Montmartre. You may just fall in love with Montmartre or, if you’re like me, rediscover a love you thought you had all but lost.