Catherine Forth is the Editor of Have Kids Will Travel, inspired by her belief that parenthood needn’t curb your wanderlust. She has lived in 9 countries (so far) and currently resides in Barbados with her husband and two children. To fend off island fever, they spend most school holidays globetrotting elsewhere – most recently a summer stint in Paris.
Most people think of Paris as an ideal city for a romantic weekend, a quick gastronomic getaway or a ten day cultural odyssey. It’s not a destination that particularly screams “6 week family vacation”. However, last summer my husband, 4 and 6 year old daughters and I had the enviable opportunity to park it in Paris for most of July and August. We exchanged homes with a French family and got to live like locals in a chi chi Parisian apartment on a quiet street a short stroll from the hustle and bustle of the Champs Elysées.
When you go anywhere for more than 2 or 3 weeks – especially with children in tow – it ceases to be a typical fleeting holiday escape. We felt like residents rather than visitors. With the luxury of ample time on hand, we got to settle in, slow down, explore at a civilized pace and let the city gradually unfold it’s secrets to us rather than us rushing around to squeeze in a check-list of tourist attractions. We got to strategically balance busy excursions with low key activities and kid’s pleasures with more grown-up pursuits, which helped keep everyone’s temperaments on an even keel.
Yes, we managed to pack in all the big sights in our six weeks in Paris – the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, Musée d’Orsay and Sacré-Coeur – are not to be missed at any age.
But my family’s favorite memories of Paris were the smaller, simpler, often unplanned things that we’d blissfully stumble onto in between expeditions to the major must-dos. Things like:
– Chilling on deck chairs at the beachy Paris-Plage, Berthillon ice cream from the Île St.- Louis in hand, the kids waving as the bateaux mouches passed by along the Seine.
– Treating the girls (okay, me too) to a daily macaron from bakeries like Ladurée and La Nôtre, sampling all the different colors and flavors of these heavenly meringues.
– The kids climbing Henri de Miller’s modern sculpture L’ecoute outside St. Eustache near Les Halles. Who needs a playground when you’ve got a big stone head to climb?
– Picnicking in Parc Monceau, our local green space where we would play, peramble and people-watch after an active day. This pretty park is not on the tourist radar, but was an essential part of our authentic Parisian experience and the kids made friends despite the language barrier.
– A day at the Jardin d’Acclimitation in the Bois du Bologne – a closer, cheaper, gentler counterpoint to Paris Disneyland. Built in 1860, this old fashioned amusement park kept my girls enchanted for hours with it’s classic dragon roller coaster, train ride, splash park and Guignol puppet theater.
– Traipsing through Marie Antoinette’s farming hamlet at the far end of the gardens of Versailles, where the young queen used to go to play shepherdess and escape royal life. Most tourists allot one overwhelming day to the colossal Château Versailles and never make it here, but we made several visits and got to explore the Petit Trianon, gardens, bike paths and canals at leisure.
– Poking the classic wooden sailboats at the Luxembourg and Tuileries gardens, as generations of Parisian children have done before us. The responsibility of guiding these petites bateaux along with the wind engaged my girls’ focus more than any battery-operated toy could.
– Spending the morning at the Claude Monet Foundation in Giverny (75km north of Paris) painting water lilies in his garden. We had loved his 360-degree pictures in the Musée de l’Orangerie, so we brought art supplies to his inspirational lily pond to create our ownmini-masterpieces.
– Indulging in a cup of impossibly thick, rich, molten chocolat at Angelina’s on the rue de Rivoli. We split one pot between the four of us and consumed enough calories to sustain us through winter.
– Strolling aimlessly around distinctive districts like le Marais, theLatin Quarter and the Canal Saint-Martin. While not particularly kid-friendly, we were never too far from a creperie, ice cream stand, play park or piggyback ride if the girls got antsy. Frankly, they seemed to enjoy soaking in the urban vibe as much as I did (a real contrast to our island life).
While I am eternally grateful I got to embrace the pleasures of Paris with my family, the more time we spent savoring city the more time we craved. Six weeks was not enough for these greedy francophiles.
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