Family Weekend in Paris
Written by Rhonda Carrier
One-time Paris resident Rhonda Carrier, a frequent visitor to the French capital with her three young sons, shares with us her experiences of summer in the City of Lights.
Arriving in the midst of a canicule – a heatwave – we discover there’s so much more to Paris’s al-fresco scene than one might anticipate, and though many Parisians have decamped to the coast, as is customary in August, theres still
a fabulous buzz to the city.
At Paris Plage, a 3-km beach created on the banks of the Seine for the hottest four weeks of the year, my husband and I fling ourselves on loungers arrayed beneath a palm tree while our sons plunder the ice-cream stalls, play boules, and tackle the climbing wall. Only when they’ve worked up a real sweat do we steer them in the direction of the nearby Piscine Joséphine Baker, a floating swimming pool with a roof that retracts in summer, plus a paddling pool, a spa, and a hammam.
It’s tempting to spend our long weekend enjoying a Seine-side holiday, but the rest of Paris beckons. A visit to the Eiffel Tower has become a family ritual, but its a repeat visit I can stomach more easily now you can book tickets in advance, avoiding the hours-long queues. We head for the first level to grab one of the Gus quiz-trails that have the kids following yellow footprints to themed information boards. But there’s nothing to beat taking the second lift right to the top – for the views, naturally, but also for the schlocky waxwork tableau featuring Gustav Eiffel and for the world flags showing how far each country is from the tower and in which direction it lies. After we’ve worked out how far we are from home, we amuse ourselves by pointing out the sights we’re going to be visiting over the next few days.
One of those sights is the Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden offering so much family fun it’s almost a weekend break in itself. The boys always dash first to its Dodo Manège, a carousel with a parade of extinct and endangered animals to ride, from a triceratops to a Tasmanian wolf – as usual, the boys simply can’t decide and we end up spending a small fortune for them to ride just about every creature. When they’ve finally exhausted its charms, we ogle some real animals in the Jardin’s mini-zoo, founded in 1794 to rehouse the inhabitants from the royal menagerie at Versailles together with creatures rescued from street entertainers.
Together, these leave us little time to play in the Jardin’s sprinklers, tackle its maze, and explore the venues dotted around it that make up the mighty Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle. Our favourite among these is the splendid glass-roofed Grande Galerie de l’Evolution with its stuffed animals and interactive children’s gallery. Neighbouring buildings reveal to us skeletons, preserved organs, shells, and fossils (Galeries de Paléontologie et d’Anatomie Comparée) and sparkling giant crystals (Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie). Exhausted by this big day out, we seek sustenance in the nearby Grande Mosquée de Paris, one of the largest mosques in all France – its courtyard tea-room revives us with pastries, ice cream, and mint tea (there’s also a restaurant).
The boys, never sated when it comes to wildlife, are intrigued to learn that Paris had yet another menagerie, set up under Napoléon III in the Bois de Boulogne in the leafy far west of the city. Theyre even more fascinated to find out that it became a human zoo (from 1877 until 1912, known as l’Acclimatation Anthropologique), exhibiting African bushmen and other ethnological ‘curiosities’. All that remain to remind us of this history are another mini-zoo and farm, but theyre part of the bewitching Jardin d’Acclimatation, an old-fashioned amusement park where the boys delight in an enchanted river ride, a vast paddling pool with cooling mist machines, a puppet theatre, pony rides, and the Musée en Herbe childrens museum of art and science.
The following day sees more outdoor action, this time of an unplanned nature. The Louvre is great to visit (self-guided family tours help get the most out of it with kids), but the highlight for the boys turns out to be racing around its courtyard with its glinting glass pyramids, pools, and fountains, then playing hide-and-seek amidst the sculptures of the adjoining Jardin des Tuileries and riding its donkeys and carousel until they’re dizzy.
Paris seems inexhaustible in terms of what it offers families. We, on the other hand, fall asleep each night within seconds of our heads hitting the pillows, heads full of sunlight bouncing off water and glass, dreams populated by exotic animals and prancing puppets.
Special occasion eating
You couldn’t be anywhere but Paris within the belle époque gilded walls of Le Train Bleu. The fact that it’s inside a historic railway station makes it all the more atmospheric and glamorous (devotees have included Coco Chanel and Brigitte Bardot). The cuisine comprises fresh, modern takes on classic French, with a fixed-price menu for under-11s.
Gare de Lyon, 75012, Tel: +33 1 4343 0906
It’s not all about eating out in Paris: great places for a family stroll and culinary inspiration are food markets such as the Marché Couvert St-Quentin (boulevard Magenta, 75010), one of Paris’s very few surviving 19th-century cast-iron market buildings, and the Marché des Enfants Rouges (rue de Bretagne, 75003) with its communal tables for sampling everything from Moroccan tagines to Japanese noodles. Open Monday - Saturday, plus Sunday mornings.
When it comes to making kids feel like VIPs,
no one does it better than Claudia Caringi, Recreation Manager at the Four Seasons Hotel George V off the Champs-Elysées. Claudia, mum to two, loves to challenge the misconception that Paris is an adult city by showing families how ‘child-sized’ it can be, whether during an in-house pastry-making workshop or a trip to the ballet.
Four Seasons Hotel
31 avenue George V, 75008
Tel: +33 1 4952 7000
A world apart
The refreshing Coulée Verte or ‘Green Flow’, better known as the Promenade Plantée, is a disused train track transformed into an elevated walkway taking you from old brick railway arches filled with artisans workshops (don’t miss a peek at violin-restorer Roger Lanne at work) to the gates of the Bois de Vincennes, Pariss largest public park, with a château, a horse-racing track, a velodrome, lakes, gardens, and a zoo (reopening 2014).
Main entrance: avenue Daumesnil, 75012 (behind the Bastille opera house).
Distance: 4,980 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 15 minutes
Frequency: 3 flights a day