Paris for kids: something for everyone in the city of love
The City of Light – and of love – isn’t just for couples – it’s for all the family
Dash McCarthy in front of the Eiffel Tower
The outdoor swimming pool at the Hotel Molitor is heated to 28 degrees year round
The only time my eight-year-old son has ever fallen down the stairs was when he was a baby and my wife had left us home alone for the first time to go to Paris for work. He survived that loud thunk on the landing but since then neither of us have gotten over being left behind in Dublin several times a year as Christine sashays off to the City of Light on yet another work trip. Token boxes of coloured croissants from Fauchon proffered on her return each time only cement the injustice of being left behind, so for Dash’s eight birthday we finally put the hard done-by kid out of his misery and booked flights for the French capital.
It’s amazing how something as mundane as a metro trip becomes a huge adventure when you have a wide-eyed eight-year-old in tow and the trip from Charles de Gaulle to our hotel near the Bois de Boulogne was as much a highlight as everything else we had planned for our three days in the city.
Hotel Molitor is home to the most famous swimming pool in Paris, a giant outdoor gem heated to 28 degrees all year round. The modern bikini was launched here in 1946 and Johnny Weissmuller spent a summer as the pool’s lifeguard before his reincarnation as Tarzan. The place has form.
Our plans for a late-night dip were scuppered, however, when Dash spotted a foosball table in the lobby and we would happily have spent the rest of our holiday right there until half-time refreshments were called for and we ran off to the adjoining bar for mocktails (as you do when you’re eight).
The next morning a snaking queue for the Eiffel Tower allowed us ample time to graze on all the croissants and pastries we had pocketed at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. We hadn’t been organised enough to book online but the wait was worth it and all three of us ran giddily around the viewing deck at the top, picking out Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur from the glinting city below.
A miniature Eiffel Tower bought from an African teenager on the street introduced Dash to the joys of haggling and he carried this new treasure proudly through the upmarket streets of St Germain-des-Prés as we searched for Debauve et Gallais, one of the city’s oldest chocolate shops where everyone from Marie Antoinette to Balzac once queued for truffles and croquamandes. A white-gloved sales assistant wasn’t altogether impressed by our meagre purchase of three pistoles and was less impressed again when the coveted 70 per cent cocoa discs didn’t even make it outside the shop.
Fuelled by expensive sugar, Dash spent a happy hour ascending vertiginous rope pyramids and falling off zip lines at the excellent playground in the nearby Luxembourg Gardens.
A walk along the Seine didn’t disappoint. Paris lit by the afternoon sun took on the feel of a movie set with front-row seats for the Louvre, Île de la Cité and Notre Dame, where to my shame Google needed to be consulted to remind me of the hunchback’s fate. Victor Hugo must have been turning in his grave.
Plans for a scavenger hunt Louvre tour organised by Paris Muse were jettisoned when our eight-year-old decided he couldn’t walk anymore and an hour of noughts and crosses in a classic French café on the quays soon had us back on our feet again. The apple juice and Beaujolais may have helped too.
Bonton in the north Marais was the next stop on our kid-friendly itinerary. Spread across three floors this mini department store for kids stocks everything from furniture to toys to books and best of all has a photo booth on the ground floor replete with a huge dress-up basket of wigs, hats and sunglasses for the ultimate family selfie. Bonton even has an in-house barber so Dash was packed off for a haircut while I nervously shadowed Christine and failed to discourage her attempts to buy up half the store.
At this stage in the day we’d normally hit Hotel du Nord, our favourite bar overlooking Canal Saint Martin but given the company we opted instead for the best hot chocolate in the city at the Four Seasons Georges V. This comes at a price but was worth it for the chance to spy on how the one per cent hold their teacups.
Tiers of extraordinary delicacies concocted from crab and gold-leaf adorned confections arrived and were promptly demolished, but we all decided that gold-leaf doesn’t really taste of anything. The hot chocolate, however, was in a different league. Accompanied by a tray of mini marshmallows, vanilla cream and chocolate balls, it set the bar high.
Night had hit by the time we managed to extract ourselves from our brief taste of the good life. We stumbled up Avenue Georges V towards the spectacularly lit Champs Élysée where we almost got talked into taking a gleaming Lamborghini for a €200 test drive. Sense prevailed and a swim at our hotel’s outdoor pool was the extent of the fun that night.
While father and son were checking out the hammam and enjoying having the pool to themselves, Christine spent a happy hour in the aisles of the Carrefour across the street. France does supermarkets like Ireland does pubs and Christine returned with freshly made sushi and €4.50 bottles of prosecco. No room service needed.
Hotel Molitor seems to attract a lot of urbane, alarmingly well-dressed business people and breakfast the next morning was a sea of man bags and MacBooks. Dash was more interested in the brushed steel trolley piled high with pains au chocolat and croissants.
A day at Disneyland Paris beckoned. En route to the metro we stocked up on baguettes and more pastries at a bakery so good that all three of us briefly entertained the idea of a sudden move to France. Whatever preconceptions we had about Disneyland were immediately shattered the second we walked through the gates. Even though some Disney classic is being pumped loudly on the park sound system what you really hear is Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka singing “Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination”.
For several hours you become Charlie Bucket gaping in awe at a chocolate factory or in this case a truly mind-blowing theme park. Both of us really wanted to bring Dash here while he was still young enough to appreciate it; however, when we caught ourselves waving maniacally at Mickey and Minnie and several other cast members with perfect teeth on a passing float we realised that you’re never too old for Disneyland.
The obligatory spin on the teacups and a quick explore of the Sleeping Beauty Castle started off proceedings followed by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which contained the bare minimum of scary downhill action but enough to dampen my enthusiasm for the white-knuckle stuff coming our way. I can’t say I was too disappointed then when it transpired that Dash didn’t meet the minimum height regulations for the Indiana Jones ride and we had to opt instead for a sedate flight over London to Peter Pan’s Neverland.
The Ratatouille ride in the adjoining Walt Disney Studios Park turned us all into pint-sized mice and whooshed us above, beneath and under the kitchens from the eponymous movie delivering a perfectly choreographed mouse-eye view of the world.
There was lots more mouse-eyed choreography at the closing parade back in the main park as every Disney character from old-school Goofy to a small battalion of perfectly recreated toy soldiers from Toy Story lip-synched their way down Main Street USA on a series of floats unlike anything you have ever seen on St Patrick’s Day.
Rather reluctantly we dragged ourselves back on the train towards the city for a final round of foosball at the hotel and a last swim in our new favourite pool. Flicking through the channels back at our room we came across The Devil Wears Prada dubbed in French. Watching the scenes with Anne Hathaway falling hook, line and sinker for Paris mirrored exactly how all three of us on the bed felt about this incredibly beautiful city.
Fergal and family stayed at the Hotel Molitor (8 Avenue de la Porte Molitor, 75016 Paris, www.mltr.fr/en/) which has 124 rooms and suites, two pools, a spa and restaurant.