Paris - avec les enfants

DEBBIE NEILSON-HUNTER
Last updated 08:11 30/09/2013

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Paris and children. Mon dieu! French fries aside, a city renowned for haute couture and haute cuisine hardly seems the ideal place to test your kids' table manners or parade little Tommy, who's practically sewn into his Spiderman costume.

In fact, the opposite is true. Paris is surprisingly child-friendly. As we found, the city of love has opened its arms to children in every way possible - with plenty to engage the mini jetsetter.

Seriously! No one batted an eyelid when my two cherubs picked the olives off their pizza or when the garlic snail went in, then straight out (into her serviette, of course).

I'll admit, we had other tense moments. Summer there this year was hot and the ever-growing queues to get into the main attractions like the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Disneyland Paris or Chateau de Versailles on the city's outskirts really tested our patience. Breakdowns on the metro system (and some of the Disney park's rides) didn't help much either.

But if you want to avoid the big crowds at the hugely popular well- known tourist attractions and potential temper tantrums you can - and you don't have to miss out on a cultural adventure either.

"Many historic and artistic sites make fun playgrounds like the Palais Royale columns, Place Vendome, and Notre Dame which reveals wonderful city views when you climb to the top," Regina Ferreira says. She's a francophile fanatic and director of Petite Paris, an Australian online booking service for Paris B&B apartments.

Ferreira has spent the past six years travelling between Sydney and Paris, sourcing B&Bs to add to the website. Petite Paris features about 100 exclusive apartments.

In her spare time, she researches all aspects of the city to provide the most accurate and up-to-date travel tips to guests.

She says her family clientele is growing fast. Among her pick of child-friendly museums is the Cite des enfants (la Villette). Her tip proves spot on.

Housed in the Cite des sciences et de l'industrie (which also features a planetarium and the la Geode domed Imax theatre) the children's section is divided into age-appropriate exhibits. For €8, kids rotate through a series of themed interactive activities designed to stimulate senses and teach about the natural and hi-tech world. Each session lasts for about an 90 minutes. My daughters (aged five and seven) found it interesting and fun - particularly the hands-on water, wind and sound play and the little building site.

Another museum that kids will particularly enjoy, Ferreira says, is the Musee de la Magie displaying artefacts and equipment used for magical purposes, optical illusions and special effects. museedelamagie.com

The French doll museum Musee Poupee is another must-see. It's privately owned but entry is free. It's open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am to 6pm, on Rue Beaubourg. museedelapoupeeparis.com

And if you must see the Louvre, one well-travelled dad suggests it's worth the expense to book a private guided tour. This not only eases the wait in the queue but provides an expert to discuss the famous artworks at your child's comprehension level.

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Every year from mid-July to mid-August (since 2002) the beach comes to Paris. There are three "beaches" across the city but we found buckets and spades aplenty beside the Seine between the Louvre and Pont de Sully on the right Bank. Along the promenade is an elevated stretch of sand scattered with umbrellas and deck chairs (big enough for two) and wedged between are numerous ice-cream stalls, cafes and bars. Visitors are also entertained with games of boules, musicians - even an aerobics workout. Water sprinklers and a supervised kids' play area kept my youngsters happy.

Paris's many gardens also make perfect picnic spots and you can pick up a ready-made hamper from your local boulangerie. The two best in our view are the Tuileries (near the Louvre) and Jardin du Luxembourg with playgrounds, ponds (with ducks to feed), as well fairground attractions from pony rides to trampolines. The Tuileries even has a ferris wheel.

We arrived in Paris on the final day of the Tour de France bike race. The city's most famous icon and the skies above it were a blaze of festive colour. But special event or not, the Eiffel Tower sparkles every hour on the hour after nightfall.

A great spot to watch the light show, Ferreira says, is from a little hidden park below the tower, accessed from Avenue de Suffren - a small alley between Avenue Octave Greard and Quai Branly.

A boat ride along the river is a popular way to see the city but the pick of cruises for older kids is the one that explores a large underground section of the St Martin Canal. canauxrama.com.

Shopping and eating are favourite Parisian pastimes. Petite Paris suggests you check out Libellule et Coccinelle. It's a book boutique with children's workshops and tea parties on Rue Turgot. Also check Un Zebra Au Grenier, a charming little toy shop hidden in the 20th arrondissment, selling preloved to designer toys and clothes for newborns to eight years. unzebraaugrenier.fr

When you're hungry Cafe Grenadine (Avenue du Maine) supplies baby formula and toys and runs creative workshops. Children six to 13 can enjoy a light meal and afternoon story at Les Trois Arts (les3arts.free.fr) while Les 400 Coups (Rue de la Villette) has an indoor play area with child-sized tables and chairs.

The writer's accommodation was partly supported by Accor.

STAYING THERE We stayed as Accor's Adagio Aparthotel Tour Eiffel. Well-situated (we had tower views) accommodation, which offers facilities to cater for extended stays of four nights or more and families by combining apartment-style living (more room and kitchens) with all the services of a modern hotel. See accor.com.

If your dream is to live like a local, Petite Paris offers a wide range of affordable B&B apartment-style options that cater to children and babies. See petiteparis.com.au.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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