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Paris – Avec Les Enfants

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What is it? A week-long trip to the City of Light.

Where? We spent six nights at the Hotel Raspail Montparnasse, a three-star hotel on the edge of the Luxembourg Gardens.

Description: Paris is widely known as a romantic destination for adults. But what do you do there with kids? Delia Lloyd took her family there over the Easter holidays to find out… [paris.jpg]

To see what Paris had to offer for kids.

The Eiffel Tower is always a winner with kids (although it can be challenging for adults, particularly in the summer when there are long queues!). If you don’t want to stand in a long queue, take a journey up to Montmartre (a hill in Northern Paris that is 130 meters high) and enjoy the views from outside the glorious Sacre Coeur basilica. The hugely popular science and technology museum in La Villette has a terrific, hands-on exhibition center for children, with machines that show how scientific principles work. There’s also a smaller science museum with interactive exhibits – alongside a wonderful hat display – at the Palais de la Decouverte at the bottom of the Champs Elysees. In the winter, I’m told that the Cirque d’Hiver is quite nice. If the kids fancy some water-related activities, try the Paris Aquarium or the Aquaboulevard Water Park. Finally, the Galeries Layfayette on Blvd. Haussman near Metro Opera – plus the neighbouring department store, Au Printemps – have beautiful display windows, especially around Christmas. The Galeries Lafayette also has a spectacular dome with terrific “free” views of the city!

Paris is Paris so there is no shortage of things to do at night – only a shortage of time! One touristy but fun activity in any weather, day or night, is to book a ride on the famous bateaux mouches and explore Paris from the banks of the Seine. The famous Latin Quarter – still home to many artists and writers – really comes alive at night and has many casual but excellent restaurants, including Brasserie Balzar (featured in Adam Gopnik’s best-selling Paris To The Moon.) The Jewish quarter – Le Marais – is also quite fun to walk around at night. Closer to the hotel, we adored the restaurant Natacha (which was kind enough to accommodate our son’s extensive food allergies). If you’re able to book a sitter – and can afford it – try booking dinner at one of Paris’ many three-star restaurants. It will be expensive and long – but you will never forget it! If you really want to try out Parisian nightlife, head up to Montmartre and take in the nightclubs – this is the home of the Moulin Rouge cabaret!

Although we didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, the Hotel Raspail is happy to book a sitter for you.

The hotel does not have its own spa but can point you in the right direction.

Local activities: See above.

Wish we had known: That all of the exhibits in museums are in French. Even in the Louvre, there’s no English translation on paintings. So be sure to brush up on your French beforehand – or even better, bring a French/English dictionary!

Our top tip: Be sure to have change handy for metro tickets before you arrive in Paris. We spent nearly half an hour queuing for metro tickets at the Gare du Nord, only to discover that the machine didn’t accept bills. Then we had to queue again line to buy tickets from a ticket seller. Forewarned is forearmed!

Kids say: Isaac, nine: “La Coupole is the best cafe in Paris!” Allie, six: “No! It’s La Rotonde!”

Getting There: While you can fly from London to either of Paris’ airports, by far the most efficient way to get there is on the Eurostar from St. Pancras which takes you right into Gare de Lyon in the heart of the city. Book trains on the Eurostar website. Fares can vary tremendously depending on the dates you are traveling and how far in advance you book, but it can cost less than L100 return. A double standard room at the Hotel Raspail can be as low as 105 Euros per night (if you stay three nights minimum and book on-line), while a triple deluxe room starts at 155 Euros. Check the website for special offers.

About our stay: It goes without saying that Paris is one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the world. With its beautiful vistas, world-class cuisine and elegant shopping districts, it is particularly well-suited to grown-ups. But don’t be fooled. Paris is a terrific holiday option for families as well. We stayed at the Hotel Raspail Montparnasse in the 14th arrondissement. While predominantly intended for business travelers, this hotel is also quite congenial for families. We booked adjoining suites, one with a double bed and one with two single beds for the kids. This was a fantastic option as it gave my husband and I that crucial combination of privacy and oversight. If you’re traveling alone with children or have only one child, you can also book a triple deluxe room which holds three. All of the rooms in this fully renovated 1920s building are tastefully decorated in period style with arched-bay-windows, art-deco motifs and ceiling fans. Each room also honours an individual artist – Dali, Chagall, Gauguin, to name a few – by displaying his work. This gives the hotel a highly personal, individual feel which is a welcome respite from large, commercial hotel chains. But what really makes this hotel – and why we’ve returned to it with our children more than once – is its hospitality. I’ll never forget a New Year’s Eve we spent in Paris a few years back when my husband and I were unable to go out because of the children. The hotel’s owner graciously hosted a small champagne cocktail for all the guests in the early evening so that we could at least celebrate a small bit! Other highlights include the Hotel’s close proximity to the Luxembourg Gardens (see below) as well as to the mythical brasseries La Coupole and La Rotonde, which are an absolute must for a leisurely French breakfast and people-watching. (The hotel also has a small cafe in its basement but I would strongly recommend going out for the whole Parisian cafe experience). [rotonde.jpg] All visits to Paris should include a stroll through the sumptuous Luxembourg gardens, which are handily located a stone’s throw from the Hotel Raspail. At the entrance closest to the Hotel, you will quickly encounter the Garden’s playground, which is suitable for children of all ages. During the week we stayed there, we frequently dropped by this playground to let the kids blow off some steam. In addition to the beautifully sculpted gardens, children will also enjoy the Marionette puppet shows which are held throughout the week at scheduled times (shows are in French but easy to follow!). From there, cross the Gardens and you’ll arrive at the famous Latin Quarter. It’s lots of fun just to wander around this storied neighborhood and explore its many book shops and historical sites (Pantheon, Sorbonne, St. Germain des Pres). Plan on spending at least a half a day there. Children will particularly enjoy the Cluny Museum, which provides a historical overview of medieval life through the arts, manuscripts, tapestries and everyday objects of the time. The Unicorn tapestries were a real winner with my kids. [isaac.jpg] From the Latin Quarter, cross a bridge to the Ile de la Cite, most famous for the Notre Dame Cathedral, but worth a stroll in its own right. While the children will probably wish to endure the long queues to make the climb to the top of the cathedral, don’t miss the interior of the Church either. It is truly beautiful and the queues to get inside move very quickly. Be sure to have lunch at the quintessentially Alsatian Taverne Henri VI right by the Pont du Neuf. (We make a point of eating there every time we visit!). If you like museums, there are loads to choose from in Paris and they are all superb. In terms of children, however, I would prioritize the following: Invalides has a spectacular (if large!) collection of military uniforms and weaponry which will appeal to young boys especially. We couldn’t pry our son out of there! The Louvre has a “children’s trail” which introduces young visitors to some of that museum’s most famous treasures (be warned: it’s in French!). The Tuileries (which showcase Monet’s watercolours) are also nice because the galleries are colourful (and small!). And though we never made it there, I am determined to take in the Musee des Egouts on our next trip – a museum of the Paris sewers! Another nice outing – one which combines both nature and art – is to go to the Botanical Gardens (Jardin des Plantes) in the 5th arrondissement. The gardens themselves make for a nice walk and there is a small, eighteenth century zoo inside which is quite charming and do-able. Afterwards, walk over to the Museum of Natural History with the usual display of animal heads and fossils. Finally, it’s also easy to do day trips from Paris to places like the Jardin d’Acclimation (an amusement park in the Bois de Boulogne) and Chartres. If you are going to do this, I’d highly recommend that you take the short journey to Versailles, whose spectacular Hall of Mirrors has been remodeled in the last few years. You can catch a train from the Montparnasse train station (a short 10-minute walk from the Hotel Raspail) and will be there in under an hour. There will be a long queue to get inside – even in winter! – but this is one of the most breath-taking palaces on earth and children of all ages will be fascinated by the sheer opulence on display (not to mention the surrounding gardens with their many fountains). Delia Lloyd is a writer/journalist based in London. She is a regular contributor to PoliticsDaily.com and has written for The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, and The Financial Times. She blogs at www.realdelia.com.

Created: 2010-06-23 13:58:57.900

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