Paris with Kids: Inspiring Wee Francophiles
Amy Tara Koch is the author of Bump It Up: Transform Your Pregnancy into the Ultimate Style Statement. You can read more of her work on Bumpitupstyle.com.
I got the idea over the summer. Yes, it was expensive. Perhaps over the top. But, a mother/daughter trip to Paris to celebrate my kid’s tenth birthday would be a gift that would keep on giving long after our five-day croissant and chocolat chaud-filled jaunt had come to a close. So I started plotting.
ORGANIZING THE TRIP
First, I signed her up for French at Language Stars to supplement what was taught in school. She demurred. But, when I explained that there was a baguette-crusted light at the end of the tunnel, the protests over Saturday afternoon classes quelled quickly. Then, I put my editorial hunting and gathering skills to work. International flights are quirky. One day they are exorbitant. The next, there may be a promotion offering dirt cheap two-for-one seats. My persistence paid off. Though Frankfurt was not a glamorous layover, Lufthansa was offering a “twofer” deal which would get us to Paris over Isabella’s spring break. We would arrive on a Saturday and have five full days to explore the city. There was only one rule: She could go to bed late. She could eat as much sugar as her belly could tolerate. But, she had to try every food that was presented. NO exceptions.
KID FRIENDLY SHOPPING
I've traveled to Paris dozens of times. I've done the monuments, visited most museums and mastered the high art of avoiding tourist traps. The challenge? Creating an itinerary that would engage and enlighten my daughter and allow me to indulge in my favorite Parisian pastime: shopping. So, I organized activities that catered to her interest and attention span. By (strategic) happenstance, many ended in arrondissements with my favorite shops. A rule of thumb is to plan one spotlight activity per morning and allow for meandering each afternoon. Don’t over schedule. In Paris, spontaneous discoveries are often highlights of the trip.
At home, my girls love walking through a cloud of my perfume. So, since France is known for fine fragrance, I wanted to give my daughter her first bottle. After a pick-me–up at Laduree, we cruised past the literati at Café De Flore on the Boulevard St Germain des Pres and entered the synagogue of scent: Fragonard. Here, the single note toilette waters are so fresh and clean that they are appropriate for young girls. After much deliberating, a spring-like violet was selected.
The Bon Marche is one of the most glamorous department stores in the world. Clothes are artfully laid out like sculpture in the Musée d'Orsay. Plus, the areas are thoughtfully peppered with sofas and arm chairs for reluctant shopping companions like my daughter. There was no way that I was leaving Paris without a fashion find so I made a deal. In exchange for 45 interrupted minutes of shopping, she could head up to the leather papeterie and select a gorgeous journal and pens to document her trip. We both scored.
METRO, BATOBUS, RICKSHAW
Though super touristy, one of the most fun ways to get around on wide Parisian boulevards is the two-seater bicycle rickshaw. A beefy biker will weave through crazy traffic and pull you to your destination. We traveled from the Place de la Concorde up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe laughing the entire trip. The next day, we picked up the rickshaw at the gates of the Tuilleries Garden and sped along the Seine into the Carrousel du Louvre. For visiting monuments, the Batobus (water taxi) is fun and cheap. For 7 euros, you can get on and off the taxi all day and hit sightseeing musts like the Louvre, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, and Musée d'Orsay. Taxis in Paris are exorbitant. Make a game out of taking the far less expensive Metro. To kids, it's an adventure to map out the route and meander through the city’s underground tunnels. You never know what you might see: a chamber orchestra, a juggler, or kids with their maman mirroring your life a la Francaise.
Though there are many fabulous family walking tours to be had in Paris (Context Travel is one of the best!), we only really had time for one. So, we chose chocolate. World class authority Chloe Doutre-Roussel of Chloe Chocolat organized tastings at five of the top chocolatiers; (Pierre Herme, Jean-Paul Hevin, Marcolini, La Mason du Chocolat, Patrick Roger) At each shop, we analyzed aromas and flavor profiles, discussed personal style and discovered how discerning presentation and quality control has kept chocolate at the forefront of the French luxury market. Our favorite? Patrick Roger (aka the Willy Wonka of Paris) whose sleek storefront housed zanily chic concoctions that paired whimsy and delectability in that inimitable French way. I may never eat “commercial” again!
Food is one of the many pleasures of Paris. For kids, the standout experiences are, of course, sweets. Waffle stands abound serving up crunchy, sweet treats that are dusted with sugar or coated in milk chocolate. Macarons are to Paris what cupcakes are to the USA. The most fabulous place to experience them for the first time is at Ladurée. There are many locations in Paris, but I favor the elegant Chinoiserie style tearoom at the Rue Bonaparte. The melt-in-your mouth pastries and superb mint tea (a fistful of mint stuffed into a glamorous teapot full of hot water) is the perfect way to say “Bonjour, Paris.”
After a busy day, there is no better way to revive oneself than tea and a pastry “gouter” at The Hotel Plaza Athenee. Seated in splendor of the Galerie des Gobelins, mom can select a crisp bubbly from the chic champagne trolley while kids enjoy a classic French boisson: chocolat chaud. A far cry from the powdery mix back home-this hot chocolate is pure melted Valrhona chocolate served from a silver teapot with a pitcher of steamed milk. The wildly creative desserts of world renowned pastry God Christophe Michalak are the stuff of sugar spun fantasies. Other hot spots: world famous artisinal ice cream at Berthillon in Ile St-Louis, Crepes at Café Breizh in the Marais and éclairs from Angelinas near Place de la Concorde.
Eating out every night is cost prohibitive. Solution: Make a picnic in your hotel with goodies from La Grande Epicerie at the Bon Marche. Hands down, this is the best food court you will ever visit. Grab quiche, roast duck, assorted salads and an éclair. Voila.
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