‘If you go to Paris, you have to be smart and I hate being smart.’ So said my six-year-old daughter, Olga, before we set off for the French capital. This struck an ominous note, since she and her brother Joe, five, were going to have to be extremely smart indeed – and very well-behaved.
For the offspring of French parents are legendarily polite. What would my children make of a place in which every child is immaculately dressed in a Bonpoint sailor suit, lisping ‘Oui, Maman’, ‘Non, Maman’ and ‘S’il vous plaît, Maman’? Perhaps the atmosphere of a swish five-star hotel might be enough to induce politeness.
So to the Mandarin Oriental, situated on the Rue Saint-Honoré. The bright lobby looks onto the courtyard with a shallow pond fringed with palm trees. The atmosphere inside is playful, and the concierge unexpectedly relaxed about taking two rather battered three-wheeled scooters under his protection. These scooters are, in fact, the secret of a successful city break.
The aforementioned scooters meant that on our first day in Paris we could walk through the Tuileries gardens, stopping in the playground (no sailor suits in view) and then cross over the river on to the Ile de la Cité.
We sat at one of the colourful outdoor tables at Ma Salle à Manger, a café on the Place Dauphine, where the children picked at vegetarian lasagne and George and I sipped rosé.
Then we were off again, the children swooping along on their scooters, to Notre Dame Cathedral, then across to the Saint Germain district on the Left Bank and the Jardin des Plantes, where the Mandarin Oriental had arranged tickets to the zoo.
On the way back to the centre of town, we stopped at the Boulevard Saint-Germain by the Maubert-Mutualité Metro Station, where there is a mind-boggling run of shops. We stocked up on supplies and jumped into a taxi back to the hotel.
Then we offered the children the biggest challenge of the weekend: Saturday lunch at the Hotel Plaza Athénée’s Le Relais Plaza restaurant. The room is a hub for social Paris and not the place to take badly behaved under-10s. But something about the magical atmosphere, classy service and delicious food combined to put us all on our best behaviour. While my husband and I devoured steak tartare, Olga and Joe ate hamburgers, and remembered all their mercis and au revoirs.
At the end of the day, after a baguette-making class in a shop in the 15th arrondissement, we scooted off to the Marais where Olga delighted me by ordering a dozen escargots, and heroically swallowing at least one. A true Parisian of the future.
On arrival, the hotel staff whisked us up to our interconnecting rooms, where the kids pounced on the colouring books left on their beds, gasped at the size of the flatscreen TV in their room and bounced on the luxurious bed. Then we washed and went down to Camélia, the hotel’s courtyard restaurant, where double-Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx offers a high tea groaning with macaroons, ice creams and other evil French delights.
Family programme: On our second day, the Mandarin really took control of our schedule. Family Twist – the company it employs to arrange itineraries for children – came into their own. First, Katia, a local, met us in front of Lamarck-Caulaincourt metro station for a child-friendly tour of the old artists’ quarter. A highlight was visiting the Musée de Montmartre, where Renoir used to live. He even painted his famous picture of a girl on a swing in its shady garden and, pleasingly, both garden and swing are still there to be enjoyed.
Getting there: Eurostar travels from London King’s Cross to Paris Gare du Nord; from £69 return for adults, from £49 return for children under 11.
Where to stay: The Mandarin Oriental Paris offers a family suite and adjoining guestroom from £1,702 per night. Its J’aime Paris en Famille package, which showcases the best of the French capital for children, costs £425 for two adults and two children.
Those on a tighter budget should book into Résidence Nell. Its 17 stylish apartments (which come in four sizes) are fitted with a kitchenette and living room with a sofa bed, and cost from £295 per night for a family of four. Parents can even organise babysitting through the concierge.
For tips on travelling to Paris with a baby, check out our recommendations.