A Wheel and Away

Basilica du Sacre Coeur

Paris, France

This spectacular church set on top of the hill in the Montmartre area of Paris is the second most visited church in France for good reason.

First sight of it is really rather awe inspiring.  As you approach from the centre of Paris you join the crowds thronging a busy street filled with souvenir shops.  The street is steep and requires patience to navigate as tourists stand in large groups viewing replicas of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Eiffel Tower keyrings.  But persist, because it is worth it.  You emerge at the other end to a truly impressive site.  This nineteenth century church towers over the surrounding landscape and, if you are religious, makes you feel as though God certainly is watching over everything.

The Basilica du Sacre Coeur de Montmartre was consecrated in 1919, after taking forty years to build.  As mentioned, it affords a view over the whole of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower.  It is incredibly popular with tourists and there are always long queues of people waiting to go in.

For the wheelchair user, the second thought on seeing it is likely to be “How on earth am I going to get up there?!’  There are numerous flights of steps to reach the basilica and there is no obvious alternative route.  There is no denying it is a commitment to reach it but it is definitely possible, although manual wheelchair users and their helpers will need some significant arm power.

To reach the basilica it is necessary to divert around to the right and follow the side roads around to reach the top.  It will take a little time, especially if you need to stop for a rest on the way up, but it is definitely worth it.  Locals will happily point you in the right direction.

For the person with mobility difficulties who does not need a wheelchair there is a funicular to take you part of the way up.  Note that this is not accessible to wheelchair users however as there are a few steps to reach the cars.

Once you reach the summit, wheelchair access to the basilica is actually around the back, at 35, rue du Chevalier de la Barre.  Just follow the building around and you will see some metal gates with a sign to the guesthouse.  Ring on the bell and the receptionist will let you in and show you the alternative route in, via ramps and lifts.  It actually feels very exclusive as you go along a very quiet corridor flanked by big heavy wooden doors and then enter the basilica halfway round.

Inside is also very busy – visitors are funnelled in around a one-way circuit but there is plenty of time to pause and take in the spectacular stained glass windows and paintings.  Many of the windows were destroyed during WWII but were replaced shortly afterwards.  The inside is all accessible with level flooring and plenty of room to manoeuvre.  The only part which is not is the dome, which is 83m high and sits 213m above sea level, making it the second highest building in Paris after the Eiffel Tower.

Photography is strictly forbidden inside so you will need to visit to get a real sense of this beautiful building!