You probably met Paris for the first time as a backpacker. Young, broke and happily clueless, you hoped your inevitable return to the world’s most romantic city would include a special someone. It did, and during subsequent visits you wined, dined, and soaked up all the decadent aspects of Parisian life without worrying about maxing your parents’ credit card limit. Fast-forward a few years. Enter children. Do the fashionable and narrow cobblestoned streets of Paris even accommodate those too young to sip wine? Mais oui! You were just too busy locking eyes with your then lover to notice. Just ask Madeleine, Paris’ spunky storybook heroine — a child’s Paris is one of parks, picnics and patisseries. This time around, let yourself be guided by the travel philosophy that less is more. Cover less, but do it well. When in Paris, a picnic in the lovely Jardin du Luxembourg is a must for the jetlagged family. The city’s prettiest gardens are a whimsical delight and because all picnics require delectable treats, head first to La Grande Épicerie du Bon Marche, on Rue de Sevres, a short walk from the Jardin du Luxembourg. A place where fashion embraces the famished, you can drink water in Evian bottles designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier. Visit counters selling fresh baguettes, quiche, and pastries, but don’t leave without some French wine and cheese. As you approach the park, swing by Jean-Charles Rouchoux on Rue d’Assas for decadent French chocolates then find a park bench to devour your fantastic medley of Parisian eats. Parents, be warned: the playground at the Jardin du Luxembourg is quite a demanding experience! With ziplines, merry-go-rounds and seesaws operating at break neck speeds, you’re sure to grow dizzy just watching. For calmer entertainment, opt for a pony ride or marionette show, and be sure to take a spin on the vintage carousel adjacent to the playground. Each child is handed a joust, and as the carousel moves, children reach to collect rings from the carousel operator. After a day of frolicking at the Jardin du Luxembourg, you’ll look forward to lounging on the chaise back at your hotel. For a truly Parisian experience, check your family into the Hotel Plaza Athénée. Here, even the world’s youngest travelers enjoy their own elite status. The hotel has an over-the-top children’s concierge program called the VIC (Very Important Children) that will customize an amazing lineup of family-friendly activities, attractions, and dining options for your frequent-flying brood. Call it a night and put jetlagged and sleepy eyes to rest while reading Madeleine, complete with warm milk and cookies delivered to your room. In the evening, brave families can opt to indulge in the obligatory gourmet experience in Paris. Consider dining at Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée, and embrace the opportunity to introduce older children (and extremely civilized younger children) to the decorous ways of Emily Post. Alain Ducasse is everything you think it is: crystal chandeliers, stately columns, towering ceilings, mind-blowing authentic French cuisine and wallet-shattering prices to match. And they actually welcome children. It’s an experience you will remember for decades. For a less glamorous, but equally spectacular French dining experience, try the succulent chicken bresse at Allard in Saint-Germain. On your second day, head to le Jardin des Plantes. This lovely botanical garden is also home to the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, a collection of three galleries but the Grand Gallery of Evolution is a must-see with interactive exhibits for children ages 6-12 in English and French; There’s a safari-themed carousel, tucked in the center of the gardens and the zoo is also worth a quick visit. Night two: treat yourself to a more relaxed, but equally incredible dining experience at Al-Diwan, a local Lebanese gem within walking distance of the Plaza Athénée. Paris is home to some of the best Middle Eastern food in the western world, and kids will go gaga over the restaurant’s fresh chicken shawarma and falafel sandwiches. Top your order with hummus, pita, fries and baklava, and we promise you’ll never be able to eat NYC street meat again. While you’re at Al-Diwan, bear in mind that Ladurée, home to the world’s finest macaroons, is a few footsteps away on the Champs-Elysées. After you’ve packed away your aromatic Middle Eastern fare and gratuitous box of macaroons, head across the river to the Parc du Champs de Mars, just below the Eiffel Tower. When the little necks tire from looking up, treat them to one of the park’s three playgrounds, and gasp, yes — another carousel. If a view of Paris is what you crave, consider heading to the Arc de Triomphe, where the views are just as spectacular and the lines a lot shorter. Another option for evening fun is the Louvre. Visit the world’s largest museum on Wednesday and Friday evenings when its doors are open until 10p.m., and let the children be wowed by the Louvre’s glowing pyramidand the Egyptian collection, a much cooler experience by night. Two other museums worth a visit are the Musee d’Orsay and Centre Pompidou. Housed in an old train station, the Musee d’Orsay’s collection of Impressionist works is one of the most impressive in the world, and offers guided audio tours for children aged 5-10. The modern, architectural stunner, Centre Pompidou, features a skate-park-inspired educational centre called L’Atelier des Enfants, offering workshops for children aged 2-12. No trip to Paris is complete without a visit to the home of Quasimoto. The high-flying gargoyles of the gothic Cathedral de Notre Dame are sure to attract the wandering child’s eye. There is no better place to admire the cathedral than Le Montebello, a no-nonsense casual restaurant across the Seine. Great for lunch or an early dinner, children can savor pureed carrots and the most tender beef bourguignon while simultaneously digesting the striking views above. After dinner, take a leisurely stroll with the family to Ile de la Cité for Berthillon ice cream and sorbets, the best in Paris. Cap off your sojourn to the City of Light by sailing the Seine. Board a Bateaux Mouches tour boat at the Left Bank dock near the Plaza Athénée, and peacefully coast along the Seine as you glide underneath the city’s historic bridges. The entire family will enjoy triumphant views of Paris at sunset, while waving a final au revoir to a truly magnificent city.
Paris with Madeleine
October 20, 2010