Guest post by Glory Curtis Williams of GSC in Paris
Did I say 5 kids? Yes indeed. Last summer, we traveled from Los Angeles to Paris, France with 5 kids for a two-week trip. The trip itinerary included a few days in Paris at the beginning, a full week in the South of France and then a few days in Paris again to end the trip.
My first priority was to book a DIRECT flight. The thought of changing planes with five exhausted little ones was too much for me. But I have learned the best airline for flying to Europe on a budget is hands down Norwegian Airlines. I was even able to upgrade all seven of us to first class for the price of one business class ticket on a major airline such as Air France or Delta. The “first class” on Norwegian is more like a Business Class ticket on other major carriers. The other advantage is that we were able to sit in the business lounge. We were able to give the kids a snack and relax a bit before the flight, as they were quite nervous about such a long flight. The seats recline back but they aren’t lay flat. What’s nice is that all of the food and drinks are ordered from your seat, so the kids can order beverages and snacks on their own. The selection of entertainment was great with many kinds of movies for young and old.
The Stay in Paris:
I cannot recommend VRBO enough. We used VRBO for both the apartment in Paris and the large house in Provence. We found an apartment in Paris’ 4th arrondisement (my favorite neighborhood) with three bedrooms, a living room, a dining area and a nice sized kitchen for Paris. We were there during the men’s World Cup, when France was doing quite well, so one of the nights was a bit loud as Parisians celebrated in the streets. However, the neighborhood was quite safe and walkable, and the kids were able to go with one of us to buy fresh croissants every morning.
In and Around Paris
We basically did all of the major tourist destinations. We walked to the Centre Pompidou and enjoyed the fountain outside the museum. We saw the Notre Dame and lit a candle (thank goodness we saw it before the fire).
We took the metro up to see the Sacre Coeur and ate lunch in the artists’ square in Montmartre.
We had a great time on the Hop On Hop Off bus as the weather was beautiful and we were able to sit up on top. We walked from the Louvre all the way up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe.
While we didn’t climb the Eiffel Tower, we did go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, which allows for a fabulous view of the Eiffel Tower!
We did not go to Versailles as it would have taken a whole day and it is unbearably crowded in the summer. The one museum we did visit was the Invalides military museum. Invalides was the former military hospital and now is the location of Napoleon’s tomb. The museum is absolutely fascinating! It is full of knight’s armor from 1,000 years ago all the way through the history of WWII.
Eating in Paris
Parisian restaurants have a reputation of wait staff being quite unfriendly to children, but this wasn’t the case at all. In fact, we found that often the waiters would spontaneously speak to us and ask questions about where we were from and tell us how well behaved our children were! (A parent’s dream). We encouraged the children to order and say please and thank you in French. This went a long way to building good will with the staff. Additionally, any brasserie or restaurant usually has a good kid’s menu, with fun items for kids. Often the meals come in a “formule”, which means maybe they get “Plat + Boisson + Dessert” (Main course+ a Drink + Dessert). The price was very reasonable, and the portions were good.
To be sure, hopping on and off the metro with children made me nervous because I was worried about what would happen if the doors closed and someone was left behind so we made a plan: the person left behind should wait on the platform and the rest of us would change a the next stop, turn around and come back to get them. Luckily, we didn’t need to use this rule! Also, as exciting as the metro is for kids, you don’t get to see much so taking the city bus is much more fun. Additionally, one of the days we used the Hop on Hop off red bus and the weather was nice so we could sit on top. And of course, we walked a lot. And when we got tired, we would sit at a nice brasserie along the way and have a refreshing Orangina and maybe a crêpe with Nutella.
When to go? Because we have children, summer was the only choice for us. That being said, yes, it was crowded but it wasn’t stifling. We were usually able to find parking, sometimes paid, sometimes free. We didn’t have trouble being seated at restaurants and we were able to see attractions. July and August are definitely the high season: not just throngs of international tourists but much of France is on vacation during that time as well. The heat was extreme at times but that is what ice cream is for!
After a couple days in Paris, we headed to Gare du Nord to take the TGV from Paris to Avignon. The train was packed! But we had a great time and the kids loved going up to the food car to order lunch, while the train was traveling full speed. It was a bit hectic getting off the train as we weren’t sure how much time we had. It was a bit of a circus getting luggage for 7 people off the train! We made it, though, and headed over to the rental car location to pick up our car.
Getting around? A rental car is a must when visiting the South of France. Part of the magic is meandering through the vineyards and lavender fields along the small country roads. Even though we went in the height of the tourist season, we were generally able to find parking, although often it is paid parking. The one caveat was Avignon. Because of the Festival d’Avignon, it was virtually impossible to find a place to park, even far outside the city walls. If you plan on going to visit Avignon during the month of July, get there early or stay nearby!
We rented a magnificent, old, charming typical Provençal “Mas”. It had 5 bedrooms. Two of the boys slept in a room that looked like a wine cave, with a rounded, low ceiling. It had a huge, French country kitchen, a comfy living room, a beautiful outdoor setup with twinkling lights strung across the long dining table.
We had a swimming pool which was a necessity. Most homes don’t have air conditioning. It was extremely hot while we were there, sometimes in the 100’s so the pool really came in handy. Plus, it occupied the children while my husband and I enjoyed a cold glass of rose on the lounge chairs.
Because of the jet lag, coming from Los Angeles, the kids tended to sleep in pretty late. Whoever got up first drove with my husband to get fresh croissants and baguettes. The house came with a Nespresso machine (I am hooked!) and we enjoyed typical French breakfast of yogurt, pastries, bread and butter on the patio. Then, we loaded up the car and headed out.
Pont du Gard
First on this list is the Pont du Gard, a magnificent example of ancient architecture and one of the most awe-inspiring Roman sites in the area (in perhaps all of France?). The Pont du Gard is an aqueduct built to transport water from a spring in nearby Uzès to serve the bustling Roman town of Nîmes, which in the 1st century A.D. had a population of 20,000. You can visit the site and view the ancient aqueduct from several angles, plus take in the beautiful view. There is a fee to enter the site and for an additional fee, you can walk across the top level of the aqueduct. The Pont du Gard crosses the Gardon river, and many people take the opportunity to picnic and swim right at the base. There is ample parking and the path to the bridge is wide and paved. We were with friends who have small children in strollers, and it was completely stroller friendly.
Nîmes (pronounced neem) is a true treasure for the architecture enthusiast where one can visit Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, 17th century and modern architecture all within a short radius. The Arènes is the best-preserved colosseum in Continental Europe. It seated 24,000 in its day and nowadays, concerts are held here year-round. A highlight of our trip was eating at one of the many restaurants surrounding the colosseum and listening to the concert taking place inside the arena!
At the end of the road through the Camargue is the little town of St-Maries-de-la-Mer. It is a very charming town right on the ocean and the white sand beach is beautiful. The calm and relatively shallow waters of the Mediterranean Sea made it perfect for swimming. There is a legend about three Marys arriving to shore (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer). The seafood we ate at dinner had been plucked right out of the ocean in front of us.
Gordes/ Abbaye Sénanque
The Abbaye Notre Dame de Sénanque, built in 1148, is a remarkably beautiful monastery, close to the hilltop town of Gordes. Arriving when the lavender fields are in bloom makes the hassle of summer crowds and heat worth it. With a history of thriving and in decline, the monastery is still active today. We arrived just in time for Vespers and even if you aren’t religious, it was a moving and spiritual experience. They have a large gift shop with everything from the history of the Abbey to Provencal recipe books and plenty of children’s activity books as well as small toys and special gifts.
Les Baux de Provence
While we sometimes think of « château » as a word for the wonderful fairy tale castles found in the Loire Valley and other parts of Europe, the Château des-Baux-de-Provence is a 12th century medieval fortress castle. The town of Les-Baux-de-Provence is full of charm, perched high up on top of a hill in the Alpilles. As you wind your way up through the narrow cobblestone streets, you reach the imposing and enormous castle, firmly built into the mountain.
A treat for visitors is that many aspects of medieval castle life have been recreated, so the children could witness leather working, metal working and even try out the stocks! The breathtaking views which overlook seemingly all of Provence highlight the castle’s impenetrable location, ideal for medieval times, with commanding fields of fire.
A lesser known stop (it wasn’t in any of our guide books: we stumbled upon it) but well worth the detour is the Musée de Bonbon Haribo in Uzès (the Haribo Candy Museum). An entire museum dedicated to Haribo candy is nothing less than pure joy. The museum’s architecture and design are delightful; adorned with clear, colorful signage which take you through the history of Haribo, candy, sugar and plenty of other interesting facts. The museum is very interactive with videos, games and of course candy dispensers. The end of the tour leads right into an enormous shop with every kind of candy one can dream of, packaged in a range of sizes from small individual packets to 5 lb. bags. Needless to say, we stocked up on gummy bears which we are still enjoying!
Overall, the trip was a success. For the most part, people were friendly and accommodating. The children were curious and interested in the sites we saw, and they have very fond memories of the wonderful time we had. If you have any questions about traveling with children to France, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Glory Curtis Williams of www.gscinparis.com
All photos copyright gscinparis, LLC