On a recent trip to Paris, we stayed in the Montmartre area. Montmartre is located on a large hill in the northern part of Paris and as I walked around, I became curious about the windmills I saw there. Windmills aren’t what I would usually associate with Paris, but in this area, there were many references to them as well as a few real ones.
At one time Montmartre was a rural area just outside Paris’ city walls. Its high altitude made it a good place to catch the breeze, and it was teeming with those twirly towers. Today only two of the original structures remain but their influence is still felt.
Probably the most famous windmill in Montmartre is the iconic Moulin Rouge. In French moulin means “mill,” or in this case “windmill,” and rouge is “red.” But the Moulin Rouge was never a real windmill. It was built in 1889 as a “mill of amusement” and has never ground any flour. However, putting a big, red whirligig on top of this place of entertainment was actually in keeping with the history of the locale.
As this rural area built up and became part of Paris, some of the disused windmills were turned into places to eat, drink, and dance. So when the Moulin Rouge was designed as a place for people to come and enjoy themselves, it seemed only natural to put a big windmill on the top as a nod to the area’s history.
Café des Deux Moulins
Another reference to Montmartre’s historic windmills can be seen in the name of a nearby café, Café des Deux Moulins (Café of the Two Windmills). If you are a fan of the movie, Amélie (like I am) you will want to visit the Café des Deux Moulins. In the film, Audrey Tautou plays a charming and naïve young woman called Amélie Poulain who works at this café. It’s located at 15 rue Lepic, just around the corner from the Moulin Rouge.
The owners have taken advantage of the publicity from the film and you’ll find Amélie memorabilia everywhere. If you are feeling a bit peckish, you might choose Le Gouter d’Amélie (Amélie’s snack) consisting of a hot drink and crème brulée. Feel free to crack the top with your spoon like Amelie did. I passed on the crème brulée and had a chocolate crepe washed down with a cup of hot chocolate – Yum!
(Amélie fans can also spot the Collignon fruit and veggie stand where Lucien (Jamel Debbouze) worked. It’s not far from here at 56 rue des Trois Frères… but that has nothing to do with windmills.)
The Café des Deux Moulins opened in the early 1900s and was named after the two surviving windmills of Montmartre.
The Two Real Windmills
Of the thirty or so windmills that once dotted Montmartre, only two remain: the Moulin Radet and the Blute-fin. Both are early 18thcentury working mills that have been preserved. They are the only remaining glimpse of what Montmartre once looked like.
Today, however, neither of them are operating. They’ve both been incorporated into a restaurant called Le Moulin de la Galette. You can see the entrance to the restaurant and one of the windmills at 83 rue Lepic. The other is nearby and you can get a peek at it from 75 rue Lepic if you look up.
Montmartre hasn’t forgotten its windy, working past. The windmills of old live on in their namesakes: the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret, the Moulin de la Galette restaurant, and the café where Amélie worked and ate her crème brulée, the Café des Deux Moulins.
Addresses of sites mentioned:
- Moulin Rouge – 82 Boulevard de Clichy
- Café des deux moulins: 15 Rue Lepic
- Au Marché de la Butte: 56 Rue des Trois Frères
- Moulin de la Galette Restaurant and Moulin Radet – 83 rue Lepic
- Moulin Blute-fin – 75-77 rue Lepic
*More about France – You can read more about the Moulin Rouge in my book Berets, Baguettes, and Beyond.
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