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Paris in the (almost) Springtime

I last visited Paris for a holiday when I first met my husband in 1997.  He whisked me onto a coach that picked us and a large jolly contingent all approximately fifty years older than us, from Embankment station, that took longer to reach Paris than the time we spent there. ( In hindsight whisked is overstating it).  I remember little of this trip,  apart from a box of cheese and crackers that saw us through the many, many hours it took to get there (Forever remembered as the 'civilised box'- clearly to be eating warm cheese on a coach to Paris aged twenty one was dizzyingly grown up); a trench coat and beret I remember as my style du jour but could definitely have been drafted in for the trip; and the most amazing velvety red roses he bought me that have never been beaten.   

Fast forward 25 years plus three teen/tween children later and Paris is picked as the destination of choice for a half term jaunt.  I’d like to say chosen for the romance of reviving the red roses in a nostalgic valentine's gesture  but actually it comes down to the football schedule:  We book Paris Saint Germain tickets (multitasking a 16th birthday and a 50th birthday year- verdict: excellent) and plan a mini break for afterwards.   I don’t realise until we arrive that my kids think the rest of our trip will be spent in bath robes within the confines of our hotel, using the facilities  and eating our body weight in Nutella pancakes. This is vetoed. Shouting is involved. Here’s how we actually spend our five days.

The only way to style up in Paris: A beret and trench coat

To Stay.  My choice:  A quintessentially Gallic apartment similar to Emma's in the latest adaptation of One Day.  My reality: a swimming pool/gym/buffet breakfast scenario.  I’m not unhappy about it however: We stay at the Pullman Bercy, a handful of stops outside the centre, with the joys of interconnecting rooms, and design by Tom Dixon that ticks my aesthetics box.  Add ping pong, table football, excellent fluffy robes and a spa, and the family mini break cup overfloweth.  Of course there are a wealth of ‘One Day’ worthy central Paris pads to be found via airbnb,  and my finger hovers over booking The Drawing House boutique hotel – but for a family of five the Pullman at less than £300 per night wins out. Side note: The hotel is set in 'Bercy Village' a series of old warehouses that have been renovated to include multiple restaurants, a Sephora and a climbing wall. Maybe not the Parisian dream but at times helpful for balancing out all the culture.

To Do  Our usual city break regime of forcing our children to pound the streets for  8 hour days  is curtailed by a child on crutches so we take Paris at a more leisurely pace than we may do usually:  read total bliss.  A Seine river trip in the sunshine; a low level wander around museums Louvre ( to glimpse the Mona Lisa followed by a well placed Starbucks) and Picasso (the kids sit on a bench outside- sacrilege but I choose my battles);  the lift option up the Eiffel tower; a National Lampoon -esque duck in to the Sacre Coeur, and mini walks with many crepes and ice cream stops around the chic Marais district, the quirky Latin Quarter, arty Montmartre and edgy Pigalle (The home of Soho House and Moulin Rouge )  On our final morning we leave the kids gym-ing and take a walk to a local flea market at Place de Aligre where thousand pound antique art mixes with second hand crepe makers, escargot platters and  rails of vintage trench coats (this is Paris after all).   


To eat.  I’m slightly obsessive about restaurant recommendations ( if something isn’t recommended by a friend, Conde Nast traveller, or anyone on Instagram I'm out) but my husband convinces me to go off-road with authentic French bistros. Best decision EVER.  We eat escargot at authentic Petit Bouillon Pharamond walking distance from the Louvre, with its spiral cast iron staircase and red check tablecloths; next level fondue at the teeny and fabulous Le Vieux Bistrot in the Latin Quarter, and french onion soup and steak tartare on the backstreets of the Marais.  A friend in the know directs us to croque monsieurs at Buvette in Pigalle where everything is achingly effortless and we feel like five lumbering oafs. Immediate need to redorate house with wooden tables, tea towels for napkins and thimble sized wine glasses.   On returning home I have become a croque monsieur pusher ( for those interested cooked on the electric crepe pan) fairly certainly raising the entire families cholesterol to concerning levels. 

To shop.  I try to avoid any shops I can find in London when I mini break: I can do that at home. Also my kids resistance to shopping is high.    I do however have a love for tourist tat, as part of my obsessive need to gather things around myself that tell  a story’ but that also don’t blow my holiday budget.  I buy an I heart Paris tee from underneath the Eiffel tower, an excellent local 'Panier des Sans orange blossom' cologne from the Louvre shop along with museum exhibition posters that i like to buy whenever i visit an exhibition abroad. I miss my opportunity on a tourist stand beret which I am still thinking about a week later. And the rack of fleamarket trench coats?  Of course I bring one home:  a 1970’s Galerie Lafayette tartan lined delight I snap up for thirty euros.    PS I also   break my ‘affordable holiday purchase’ rules at an A.P.C surplus store behind the Sacre Coeur ( an APC surplus store! Be still my heart) which has the red half moon bag I have been stalking for years at a relative snip. ( I kindly buy it for myself for valentines so Andy doesn’t have to hunt down those roses). Serious shoppers might flock to Chanel and the uber brands of the St Honore area, but if shopping were on the menu the Marais is more my thing: I force myself to keep walking past Ganni, Frankie Shop, Dover Street Parfums Market and vintage boutiques that surround the bijoux and lovely Picasso Museum.   

To Wear.  And finally in terms of what to wear on a five day Paris mini break with the kids? I take 10 pieces:   3 bottoms (jeans and my trusty Ganni leopard trousers, and a denim maxi skirt) 5 tops ( my Cos men's cable knit, a Kenzo sweatshirt,  a denim shirt a frilly blouse and a band t-shirt ) 1 knit dress and 2 shoe options ( converse and ganni ballet pumps)  all of which I mix and match with my Wyse London wool coat, my trench and and a blazer plus a beret, sunglasses and a leopard scarf for outdoors. ( side note i find there is something satisfying about being forced to mix and match on holiday with pieces you might not usually)  Point to note- don’t forget your tights- I have a fruitless search ending in buying Uniqlo leggings as a stand in: The Parisians are clearly WAY too chic for the humble black opaque. 

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