Tackling the City of Light is Child’s Play
Paris might be for lovers, but is also ideal for young families
The Evening Standard
April 18, 2007
By Clive Aslet
“COOL LIFT", said the boys, as they burst into the Hotel Bristol, off the Champs- Elysees in Paris. The arrival of the Aslet family with three energetic children under 11 puts any hotel through its paces. We thought we would up the stakes by choosing one of the swankiest, with, as it happens, a glass lift behind an Edwardian grille.
The Bristol has as many stars as an American general, and its row of tricolours puts President Chirac's neighbouring Elysée Palace to shame.
French tradition and children are supposed not to mix, at least not on equal terms. A recipe for disaster, then? Far from it. Paris, in our experience, is a great destination for a young family.
The Bristol has just reopened after a three-month refurbishment. We were ushered up to rooms on the sixth floor, thoughtfully chosen to be next to the swimming pool and gym. The swimming pool is kitted out like an Edwardian yacht, sailing over the rooftops of Paris the domes of Sacre Coeur bubble on the horizon. It was a magnet for the boys.
Back in the room, a delivery of toy rabbits dressed in gardening aprons (the Bristol has a garden) is backed up with bonbons. Since the hotel has a two-star Michelin restaurant, these are bonbons of quality. Most of the palace hotels, which you might think would be ultra-stuffy, are making a big effort with children their future clients.
Paris is a more densely planned city than London. Because there is less running-around space, what there is tends to be well utilised. Take the Tuileries Gardens, next to the Louvre: all dust and statues. Even this desiccated embodiment of the French classical garden has an area of trampolines. Most parks have playgrounds.
A friend who has been living in Paris said that her six-year-old would happily spend the day playing in the Luxembourg Gardens, not least because the climbing frames focused on a mast hung with rigging are considerably more dangerous than the London equivalent.
The Luxembourg Gardens are childcentral in Paris: nearby streets specialise in the kind of children's clothes shops that allow velvet-coated French progeny to resemble mini Marcel Prousts. Parisian children are almost universally better dressed than their London counterparts.
We gave up on the Eiffel Tower: the queues were worse than the London Eye. But the Arc de Triomphe, where you can get out on the top, makes a handsome substitute, with avenues shooting out in every direction.
Alternatively, the escalators at the Pompidou Centre provide a similar experience; on the last flight you rise up above the rigidly controlled roof line of central Paris, over a city that God could balance a tea tray on, if He were so minded. We had thought that the Musee de l'Armee in Les Invalides would be worth seeing. Alas, it is closed on Mondays (perhaps just as well; William, our eldest, swore he would spit on Napoleon's tomb).
Even starchy museums, such as the Jacquemart-Andre (Paris's equivalent of the Wallace Collection) have children's programmes. The spectacularly funky Quai Branly a new museum of ethnography near the Seine is a must. One day we'll visit the CineAqua, near the Trocadero, a giant aquarium recommended in the Bristol's Paris des Enfants guide. This time we didn't make it. Instead we sat in a smart pavement cafe and watched the street sweepers.
First they swish the cigarette butts from the base of trees into the gutter; then the water comes on; and while the stream performs its priest-like task of pure ablution, the street sweepers prop their brooms and go into the cafe for a drink.
We've never taken our children to Disney, and they've never complained about it. But they are begging to return to Paris. The next time I can afford the Bristol, I'll take them.
WAY TO GO Eurostar (08705 186 186), www.eurostar.com) run daily services from Waterloo and Ashford to Paris with return fares from Pounds 59. Hotel Bristol (020 7235 3245, www.lebristolparis.com) has a Family Program from 71,120 per night in two connecting rooms, buffet breakfast for four at the restaurant and a surprise for the children.
RECOMMENDED TREATS FOR CHILDREN - AND THEIR PARENTS:
BRUNCH AT LE CRILLON SAVE UP for Sunday brunch at Le Crillon. This hotel occupies one of the neo-Classical palaces on the Place de la Concorde, built in the 1750s. Its Belle- Epoque restaurant, Les Ambassadeurs, drips gilding onto walls of different coloured marble. It was the first of the very grand hotels to introduce Sunday brunch, and is a good way to introduce children to the pleasures of high life. There are breakfasty parts, such as the oeuf en cocotte that is brought first. After I had eaten my hazelnut sponge, topped with a fleck of gold leaf, I could hardly believe that the waiter was laying another set of cutlery; it was now time for dessert what I had just consumed, I was informed gravely, was the pre-dessert. The menu starts from 766.
JARDIN D'ACCLIMATATION, BOIS DE BOULOGNE www.jardindacclimatation.fr Parts of Paris have never quite escaped the 1950s. The enchanting Jardin d'Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne belongs to the world of the Madeleine books. You half expect to find children wearing sailor-suits, and Papa twirling a walking cane. You take a little train through the Bois de Boulogne (leaves from the Porte Maillot).
The mazes, canals, playground, aviary, farm animals, mini motorbikes, merry-go-rounds entranced our computer-savvy children.On previous visits to Paris, we have pedalled around the Parc Floral at Vincennes, on family quadricycles: mum and dad sitting side by side, children facing backwards. Try it; it's sweet.
BRASSERIE TERMINUS NORD 23, rue de Dunkerque, Paris. 01 42 85 05 15 Like most other decent brasseries in Paris, this opposite the Gare du Nord is owned by the Flo Brasseries. Eating there is a good way to start or end your holiday. The Terminus Nord remains what only a French railway restaurant can be: bustling, efficient, bright, unchanging. I either have the choucroute Alsacienne or a plateau de fruits de mer. Children love the spectacle of hurrying waiters in long aprons, carrying towers of plates.