Paris en famille

There’s much to amuse and en­tice ju­nior jet­set­ters in the French cap­i­tal

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - ME­LANIE MC­DON­AGH THE SPEC­TA­TOR

ALAMY PARIS for lovers, tick. Paris for gas­tronomes, tick. Paris for the fash­ion-con­scious, ob­vi­ously. But chil­dren?

Fun­nily enough, I find it one of the most child­friendly cities we go to. The pro­pri­etors of grand bou­tiques and restau­rants who cold-shoul­der grown-ups are all smiles when it comes to chil­dren. Prop­ping up a bar with my two on the Rue St-Honore on a damp Sun­day evening, the young man sit­ting next to us with his girl­friend chat­ted with my five-year-old daugh­ter, treated her and her brother to an orange juice, pre­sented her with

to buy a crois­sant and was rather hurt when I gave it back.

Not many peo­ple dish out cash to strangers’ chil­dren and I’m not say­ing it’ll hap­pen to you, but Parisians do treat chil­dren well — if they’re well­be­haved in turn. Af­ter one week­end, mine were beg­ging to go back.

The down­side is that you’ll prob­a­bly be made to go up the Eif­fel Tower. My ad­vice is just to say no. The view is all very well, but the black-hole hor­ror of the lifts up, the queues, the in­ter­minable de­scent when you avoid the lifts by go­ing down the stairs, and the long walk to the near­est sta­tion are so not worth it. If you do give in, book your tick­ets on­line in ad­vance.

But there are gen­uinely won­der­ful things to do with them that you wouldn’t do for your­self. The lit­tle Mu­seum of Magic in the Rue St-Paul, for in­stance, is worth a visit even if you’re not ac­com- panied by a child. It’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary col­lec­tion of old magic and mys­tery arte­facts in the way of dis­tort­ing mir­rors, ma­chines that roar and flash lights when you stick your hand in their mouths, and op­ti­cal il­lu­sions. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that con­tem­po­rary chil­dren would find this stuff old hat? Mine loved it.

Most Parisian chil­dren are hauled to the Jardin du Lux­em­bourg on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, and their min­ders know what they’re do­ing. It’s fab­u­lous. Not j ust for chil­dren, ob­vi­ously, but there are spe­cial treats — horses, a merry-gor­ound, a the­atre.

You have to pay for the play­ground but it’s worth it. And the beauty of be­ing with chil­dren is that you’ve got an ex­cuse to visit the pup­pet the­atre. It’s old-fash­ioned, slap­stick-funny, clever and de­light­ful. The cho­rus of singing frogs in the per­for­mance we went to has stayed with me since.

I can’t think of a child who wouldn’t fall for the Menagerie du Jardins des Plantes, a zoo that is charm­ing, com­pact and ec­cen­tric. It was set up for ex­otic an­i­mals or­phaned by the French Rev­o­lu­tion and some of the build­ings date from the early 19th cen­tury. The Snake House is sublime. It’s got vul­tures, sloths, crocodiles and mar­mosets in a cu­ri­ously ro­man­tic set­ting.

But when it comes to an­i­mals, the run­away suc­cess of my chil­dren’s trip was see­ing them stuffed. Dey­rolle, on the Rue du Bac, is the most won­der­ful shop in Paris, mas­querad­ing as a harm­less gar­den re­tailer on the ground floor but one floor up turn­ing into a nat­u­ral his­tory mu­seum. You know those cases with stuffed mam­mals, from hum­ming­birds to whales? Well, this shop is like that, only more ran­dom, and the ex­hibits are for sale.

The Palais Royal is an­other un­ex­pected hit with chil­dren: the black and white striped pil­lars by Daniel Buren are im­pos­si­ble to pass by with­out jump­ing on them and run­ning around. And while you’re there, make for the model sol­dier shop at the north end of the ar­cades, which has fab­u­lous bat­tle scenes, and the lit­tle mu­sic box shop next to it.

On the sub­ject of must-see shops, don’t miss Pain d’Epices, near the Opera, which has ev­ery­thing a chic doll’s house could pos­si­bly need, in­clud­ing the most cov­etable in­mates.

There are two ways to go when it comes to ac­com­mo­da­tion specif­i­cally for chil­dren. One is a smart ho­tel that has a chil­dren’s pack­age. The Hy­att Re­gency Paris-Madeleine has a very good for­mula, in­clud­ing a present for the chil­dren on ar­rival and a three-hour babysit­ting ser­vice for par­ents. The other is a self-cater­ing apart­ment, where the chil­dren can do their own­thing and you can make meals at leisure. We stayed in a lit­tle apart­ment in Les Halles, with a tiny kitchen and a com­mu­nal res­tau­rant in which the real hit was the waf­fle- mak­ing ma­chine at break­fast. Both op­tions work well.

Ac­tu­ally, when I say Paris is a child-friendly city, that ap­plies to chil­dren who can walk. Don’t even try ne­go­ti­at­ing the Paris Metro with a buggy.

Fun at the Palais Royal

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