My father always said that if you owned a painter’s studio in Montmartre (preferably one with a view of the city) you have made it as a Frenchman. After a relative slump in the French property market, prices in Paris are on the rise again, making my dad’s retirement dream an even greater fantasy. In fact, while some of the narrow streets of this famous neighbourhood retain their well-preserved village feel, prospective buyers should make their bids quickly, as demand for historic houses is becoming higher than supply. While the 18th arrondissement remains comparatively affordable in Paris according to Notaires de France, it also means the best properties are changing hands quickly.
Joie de vivre is on the rise
This autumn, the French economy is allegedly growing again. Shortly after the presidential election in the spring, a customary boost in national optimism was reported by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, thought to be at its highest in 10 years. This has meant that property demand is significantly on the rise. According to a study published last summer in L’Express, the French newspaper, the median house sale price in Paris is €8,900 per square metre, registering 7.5 per cent growth over the past year. While this means that many residents are being priced out of the city centre, prices for Montmartre alone have risen 6 per cent between February and August, and would-be buyers are encouraged to move quickly.
A house in the city
Montmartre was built on a hill. It is, admittedly, not the ideal home for Parisians with reduced mobility, but back in the 19th century, this meant that rents dropped the higher up the hill a house was located. In part for this reason, there is an unusual number of detached houses in Montmartre compared with the rest of the city. Some of the houses near Place des Abbesses have a surprisingly provincial look for Paris, which is echoed in the patch of vineyard on the slope behind the Sacré-Coeur church. The Clos Montmartre vineyard celebrates its harvest every year in October, a fete des vendanges that is attended by 350,000 people every year. “It is not the best wine in France,” admits Jean-Paul Rouve, the French actor who is a Montmartre resident. “But it’s a symbolic one!”
A bohemian lifestyle ... the chic way
Creative types have always been drawn to the village on top of the hill. Back when rents were significantly cheaper than in the rest of Paris, Montmartre attracted France’s most noteworthy artists and was once home to Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, among others. In the early 20th century, another crew of artists gathered at the Bateau Lavoir, a building turned commune where Picasso painted his scandalous “Demoiselles d’Avignon”.
While the top of the hill has long been gentrified, the more modest surroundings of the Butte, such as Pigalle and Barbes, have more recently undergone a transformation led by a municipal urban-renewal initiative. Over the past 10 years, these renovations have succeeded in attracting a new class of well-to-do art-lovers: the “bobos”, or “bourgeois-bohemians” of the city. There’s enough culture in Montmartre to keep this particular crowd happy, including a small but active independent cinema, Studio 28, near Place des Abbesses, famous in the capital for its original interior design by Jean Cocteau.
Flea markets and food halls
On Sundays, if you stray further from Montmartre, you might end up browsing the flea market of Paris St Ouen at the ancient city’s limits, near Porte de la Chapelle and Porte de Clignancourt. Selling a huge variety of objects, from period furniture to artisanal curios from Maghreb and Africa, this cluster of 15 flea markets is spread over nine hectares and calls itself the “world’s largest garage sale”. And because the 18th arrondissement is vast and distinctively multicultural, many locals do their grocery shopping at the nearby Marché de l’Olive, a food hall established in 1847 whose original structure is a listed historical monument. Following its style, the commercial Halle Pajol opened in 2008 in a converted warehouse that once belonged to SNCF, the French train company. Similarly, this covered market gathers a wealth of tastes and influences, from world street food to an American-style bakery. Because Parisian hipsters dig everything that’s not typically French.
Rue des Martyrs
Stretching across the 9th and 18th arrondissements, Rue des Martyrs is one of the longest streets in Paris. New York Times journalist Elaine Sciolino has affectionately dubbed it “the only street in Paris”, due to the “intimate, human side” of the city she allegedly found there as an expat for several years. The phrase became the title of a lifestyle book published last year, in which she boasts of the neighbourhood’s simplicity and authentic feel. Municipal regulation may have contributed to this feeling: along with 60 other streets in Paris, Rue des Martyrs is protected by a “no-zoning” law forbidding any chain stores. As a result, a plethora of specialist shops and artisanal businesses continue to thrive on this particular street, from chichi boutiques to wine bars by way of shops entirely dedicated to one product: craft beer, organic jam, olive oil or honey.
Photographs: Augustin Lazaroiu/Getty Images; Mina Carson/Dreamstime; Jack Garofalo/Getty Images; Peter Horree/Alamy; Hemis/Alamy; Ludwig Troller/Alamy