Magazine article The Spectator

PARIS - En Famille

Magazine article The Spectator

PARIS - En Famille

Article excerpt

The French capital is much friendlier if you're a child, says Melanie McDonagh

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 child-friendly 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 the brother to an orange juice, presented her with ?10 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 well-behaved 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 mile-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 which 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 unaccompanied 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 just for children, obviously, but for them there are special treats: horses, merry-go-round, 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. …

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