Family-Friendly Paris: A Very Special Trip

Last autumn, my little girl and I did something very special: we went to Paris together.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Paris. I’ve been with my mum, with girlfriends, and – before we had children – my husband and I used to go twice a year (usually in the Spring and then before Christmas. Yes, we led a fine old life, thanks very much.) But I’d never been with my little girl. I’d never done a solo trip with her at all – and was inspired by Alex’s hotel adventure with her eldest. What’s more, she’d recently become obsessed with the beautiful book, Kiki and Coco in Paris, and she’d survived the first half of that gruelling first term in Year 1. (You know, when they abruptly transition from ‘learning through play’ and bringing home “craft projects” (which mostly leave you calculating how long they can stay on the side before being recycled. Just me?), to a highly structured day and toting homework in their bookbags . The timing was perfect.

So was the hotel. I fear I have pretty much ruined her for life by taking her to Hotel Le Bristol. It is properly, gloriously elegant and luxurious (“Mummy, the carpets are all soft and feet-sinking-into.”) with a hefty helping of old fashioned charm. The grande dame of Parisian hotels perched loftily amidst its chicest boutiques just steps from the Elysée Palace. This redefines the notion of ‘special treat’.

There’s a sweeping lobby, complete with pianist, to greet you. Classic rooms with balconies and views over Paris, which aren’t flashy, but reassuringly, quietly expensive. Baths the size of beds. Bathrooms the size of London flats. Slender black-clad women elegantly perched at the bar.  But from a child’s perspective there are three winning factors: the epic roof-top (covered) swimming pool which feels like something on the Titanic (pre-sinking); two haughty resident cats, and the most charming staff imaginable. Whoever said that the French don’t like children has never stayed in Le Bristol. They will take them by the hand to hunt for the cats. Tell you where to find the best ice cream. Take their orders with genuine courtesy (and then provide the sweetest colouring book and pencils to keep them occupied whilst they wait).

Now, here’s what I usually do when in Paris: galleries (the Musee D’Orsay is one of my favourite museums in the world), walk for miles (I adore the Left Bank and the Marais) dipping into boutiques (when in the motherland of Maje, Sandro and Isabel Marant? It would be rude not to…), and making regular stops for coffee, food, and wine. Dress up and dine out, preferably somewhere dark where candles flicker and the menu is only in French. Perch on a bar stool. Walk back to the hotel through cobbled streets.

Here’s what I discovered about visiting Paris with your young daughter: do your level best to abandon preconceptions of what you usually do in Paris. Especially when it rains. Particularly when all she wants to do is hang out in the swimming pool. Our first day looked like this: I lure her out with promises of chocolate crepes and merry-go-rounds in the Tuilerie Gardens. She’s tired and cold and increasingly damp – and thinking of that pool. I talk about the cafe in the Musee D’Orsay – you can eat behind a clock! There are gorgeous paintings and an epic sculpture hall!

Then I realise that this trip isn’t about me imposing ‘my’ Paris upon her, that she has plenty of time to discover this magical city for herself. What does she want to do? And so we retire to the hotel pool and swim and laugh and play (fate even delivers us a playmate – a delightful, bilingual girl of the same age and her delightful mother) until we are shriveled like prunes. We wallow in giant bubble baths (did I mention that Hotel Le Bristol provides little ones with their own toiletries? And a very French cuddly bunny (Yvette) who is perched on their bed to greet them.) and dress for dinner in the hotel’s Cafe Antonia. We push the beds together and read our books – then she holds my hand as she falls asleep. I watch her sleep, hand in mine, and my heart aches with love.

By the second day we were in our stride. A whole pot of chocolat chaud to yourself for breakfast? Merci very much. We hopped on the Metro (the gates utterly terrified the smaller of us) and went to the Jardin du Luxembourg – stopping en route in a boutique calculated to appeal to us both. I’ve always loved this garden – and wander its wide, tree-lined paths whenever in Paris – but had never before discovered the joy of watching the toy sailboats race around the pond, or tried to catch falling leaves – and there’s an excellent playground (with a small charge so it never gets too busy).

And then we walked all the way back to the hotel, stopping on bridges, peeking into shops, pausing for lunch (mademoiselle ordered her own omelette and jus de pomme by herself, in French), pretending we were going to buy flowers for our Paris flat, buying the tiniest, prettiest patisserie to eat on the Eurostar home, and talking, talking, talking all the while.

She is terrific company – and it’s lovely (and blissfully simple) to focus entirely on her. My attention is invariably torn between her/her brother/work/what’s-for-supper/we-need-to-get-to-school etc – and we both love that it’s just about us. The “girls’ trip” has been (minus the dastardly Metro gates) an unqualified success. Now where to go next?….

What to do with children in Paris…

Before we visited the city, I asked my friend Anna, who lived in Paris with a toddler and a baby, for her top tips…

Musée d’Orsay is great for kids – especially the cafe with its dramatic decor with views up to the Sacré-Cœur.

A trip down the river is a nice way to see the main sights without too much walking and you can get off and have a crepe on the Île de la Cité. (Or – I might add – an ice cream from the legendary Berthillon.)

The big wheel at the end of the Jardin des Tuileries – whilst you’re there, hop on the carousel and bounce on the trampolines.

Sainte-Chapelle on Île de la Cité is stunning: a little church with the most amazing stained glass windows (and there’s usually no queue).

Jardin du Luxembourg is excellent for children – and is near Le Bon Marché if you fancy a spot of retail therapy…

I would also addthe Musee Rodin and its lovely garden, and macaroons in the Ladurée tea rooms.


We visited Paris courtesy of Hotel Le Bristol and travelled via Eurostar.









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