One of my all-time favourite movies is Amélie, the exquisite 2001 French film that made the actress Audrey Tatou famous.
The original longer French movie title Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (“The fabulous destiny of Amélie Poulain”) describes the movie in a nutshell: it is the beautiful story of a young woman’s life in Montmartre, Paris – her unique perspective of the world, her happiness in helping others, and falling in love.
I love everything about the movie: the beautiful soundtrack (which is playing in my head as I am writing this – I even have the piano sheet music!), the wonderful cinematography, and the pure magic that we experience through Amélie’s eyes.
Magic through the young Amélie’s eyes
So, when I had to create a poster of myself as the lead character in a movie for a final Photoshop project a few years ago, it was a given! Little did I know that my future self would use my hard work as the profile pic on my blog one day.
Paris happens to be one of my favourite travel destinations – who could not love such a beautiful city with so much romance, history and culture?
Amélie’s Montmartre is a wonderful place to visit. Even before seeing the movie, I have always loved to explore this charming neighbourhood. Located on a hilltop in the north of Paris (in the 18th arrondissement/district), its beautiful tree-lined cobblestone streets, quaint cafés, music halls, cabarets, squares and pretty parks will mesmerise you. There is even a small vineyard that still produces about 500 litres of wine each year. All of this is crowned by the imposing Sacré-Coeur Basilica on top of the hill from where you get the best views of Paris.
In the 19th century, when Montmartre was still an independent village and the Parisian laws and taxes didn’t apply, everything (including wine) was much cheaper there and it quickly became a haven for bohemian students, writers, artists and composers, including Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Renoir, Dali, Monet, Satie and Picasso. This was the centre of wine, women and song, and many famous scenes have been immortalised in famous paintings. Many of these artists are buried at the Montmartre and Saint-Vincent cemeteries.
Montmartre has become a tourist hotspot, but you can still enjoy its charm by taking a slow and picturesque walk up Montmartre Hill, starting at Place Blanche (Metro stop: Blanche), instead of taking the mainstream tourist shortcut to the Sacré-Coeur via Abbesses metro and funicular railway.
Place Blanche is the square where the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret is located – you’ll see it immediately as you come out of the metro.
After taking a quick pic of the Moulin Rouge and its windmill (there are only two windmills left of the original 13 in Montmartre), walk towards Rue Lepic. Moulin Rouge is located near the corner of Rue Lepic and Boulevard de Clichy (the main road that runs between Place Blanche and the Moulin Rouge).
Amélie’s Café des 2 Moulins
Walk a few minutes up the Rue Lepic and you will find the café where Amélie worked (and many of the movie scenes were filmed) on your left-hand side, at number 15.
The café is called Café des 2 Moulins (the “Two Windmills Café”). It happens to be one of the best cafés in the area, serving great food and drinks in a wonderful atmosphere – not much has changed since the movie was filmed there. The owners put up one or two Amélie posters and memorabilia to please tourists such as myself, but it is also frequented by locals and always busy.
A waiter told me that the whole restaurant was closed for two weeks during filming and that Audrey Tatou was as eccentric as her character Amélie! (Maybe she was just really living her role 24 hours a day? Or the waiter made up a story to please tourists? Either way, if she is anything like her character Amélie, I would really like her.)
Once you enjoyed your Amélie café stop, stroll further up the hill and explore all the side streets and their wonderful hidden treasures along the way.
Au Marché de la Butte
Be on the lookout for the grocery store of the movie’s nasty grocer Collignon. The shop is called Au Marché de la Butte (“Market at the Butte/Hill”) and can be found at 56, Rue de Trois-Frères. (It is near Place Émile-Goudeau, a square where many early 20th century artists used to meet at a building called Le Bateau-Lavoir – “The Boat Wash-House”.)
It is at this grocery shop that Amelié put the nasty Collignon (who was always ridiculing his assistant) in his place by telling him the following:
“At least you’ll never be a vegetable. Even artichokes have hearts.”
Many more wonderful places are to be found if you take the time to wander off into the side streets. One such example is the unusual statue of a man walking through a wall at Place Marcel Aymé (a square north of Place Émile Goudeau). The statue is based on a short story written by the author Marcel Aymé, which is titled Le Passe-Muraille, or “The Walker-Through-Walls”.
Gradually make your way towards Place du Tertre and finally the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. Don’t waste too much time or money at Place du Tertre, the famous square where artists used to work and live. Today it is crowded with tourists competing for a seat at a café table or being conned into buying an overpriced painting. If you want to experience the square’s true atmosphere, rather go early in the morning.
The highlight of your walking tour of Montmartre is the imposing Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart) Basilica which is literally situated at the highest point of Montmartre Hill.
Though some purists scoff at the church’s design, saying that it’s over-the-top and kitsch (it was built at the height of the romantic era – from 1875 to 1914 – and is a very free, romanticised interpretation of the Roman-Byzantine architectural style), I think it is lovely.
Its location on the hill is very impressive. There is a very special atmosphere and the views are incredible – these views get even better if you climb the stairs to the dome of the basilica.
The Sacré-Coeur is where Amélie would often contemplate the world while taking in the views over Paris. This is also the famous scene in the movie where her love interest Nino rushes up the steps as she watches from above.
Montmartre is full of magic. Make sure you spend at least a full day in this wonderful neighbourhood. And, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, watch it before you travel to Paris. You’ll thank me later.
Have you visited Montmartre in Paris yet? Have you seen the movie Amélie?