France has always been one of my favorite places to travel. My husband and I spent a champagne and cheese fueled honeymoon driving through France at winter time, staying in the Relais and Chateau properties. Needless to say, by the end of the trip, I was in stretchy pants and couldn’t have been happier. Fast forward to our daughter being born, and France is where we found ourselves once again. Being a first-time parent and having the extreme anxiety that goes with it, I wanted my first overseas trip with her to be familiar and safe yet discover places untrodden by us. So I’ve put together some of the highlights of our trip. Where we stayed, what we enjoyed and what I recommend. Traveling with a ten month old wasn’t easy, but I can honestly say this was one of my favorite trips of all time.
Our two week journey through France began in Paris during August. Going in the summer and being school holidays, our favorite hotel, The Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome was fully booked. Don’t be like us and if you know your plans for the summer book at least four months ahead! We heard about Hotel du Louvre and decided to stay there for three nights. It was a very quaint, historic hotel with incredibly helpful and friendly staff. A little secret? Ask to see the rooftop. With breath taking views of the city, you’ll feel like you’re in a romance novel. You’re not permitted alone, but if you ask nicely someone might escort you to the top.
I always recommend when you fly into a new place to spend a few days familiarizing yourself with your surroundings, especially if you have kids. That way you can situate yourself for the activities ahead and even repack your bags if you are going on a road trip, having your necessities accessible.
We spent one of my favorite days meandering around the city. There were so many stunning things to see by foot. When you have a young child, Paris can be such an enchanting place. We stumbled upon a little thing called the Eiffel Tower and a Parisian man was sitting there blowing bubbles for the kids. My daughter was overwhelmed with joy. We listened to the street musicians and danced, feeling like a child ourselves. Even though the Eiffel Tower and its surrounding areas can seem like a tourist trap, it truly is one of the most breathtaking places to be. I wouldn’t rush it. The energy is palpable and I would spend at least half a day walking the neighboring areas.
A little rooftop romance on the top of Hotel du Louvre at sunset.
We then made our way to the Le Marais district, home to trendy restaurants, hip art galleries and great fashion stores. It is one of the must do’s of Paris. Less touristy, more historical with real Parisian natives. Some of the main features of the neighbourhood include; Musee Picasso, the Musee Carnavalet, the house of Nicolas Flamel, and Cafe Charlot.
We ate, drank wine, people watched and shopped for the rest of our day. Phoenix tasted her first French creme and the transformation to becoming a true Parisienne began. ; )
We celebrated my birthday in Paris on the 19th of August in such a charming, relaxing fashion. Sometimes, with a young child, you take the path of least resistance. We decided to have a picnic in Parc Andre Citroen. There are boulangeries (bakeries) and fromageries (cheese shops) on just about every street corner close by to wherever you decide to picnic. Marche Aligre is probably the least expensive food market and you can pick up anything from ready made pasta to great slabs of camembert. The Bon Marche department store is a great place to pick up food treasures as well. From mousse to stuffed crab, dips and quiches, you can’t go wrong.
Here are some of my hidden gem picnic spots:
- 1. Place de Dauphine
- 2. Ponts des Arts
- 3. 17th-century Place des Vosges
- 4. The Ile St. Louis
- 5. Palais de Chaillot to the Seine River (best views of the Eiffel Tower)
- 6. Luxembourg Gardens
View of Sacre-Coeur from inside the Musee d Orsay clock tower.
After our picnic, we wandered to one of my favorite museums in Paris; the Musee de Orsay. I’ve been here multiple times throughout my life but it seemed to have a little added magic getting to experience my love of European art with my beautiful daughter. The museum is open from 9.30am-6pm with late night hours on Thursday nights.
My absolute must see artworks are:
Pierre August Renior: Bal du Moulin de la Galette and Edward Manet: Olympia
Vincent Van Gogh: Self Portrait and Edward Manet: Luncheon on the Grass
We couldn’t go on a ‘Paris by night’ tour or walk it by foot at night (which I highly recommend) due to our 10 month old’s early bedtime, but what we did do is get in a cab and pay the driver to tour us around. We stopped at certain monuments that were blazing with lights and took photos (like the above). We even had our driver guide us to places we’d never thought of. Parisians are very proud of their city. Let them show it off. Paris in the evening is dazzling, alluring and elegant and must be seen at night.
One of my favorite places in the world (and I’ve travelled to over 24 countries) is the champagne region in France. It consists of five wine producing districts within the administrative province: Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne. The towns of Reims and Épernay are the commercial centers of the area. We hopped in a taxi to the airport and hired a budget rental car. I highly highly recommend getting a GPS system. Some roads are labeled in French and can be quite confusing. We leisurely drove the charming country roads awash in hues of green.
We stayed at the Royal Champagne a Relais and Chateau property in CHAMPION. We love staying in these properties as they give us the taste of what it would be like living in a historical time. Lunch was spent at the famous Les Crayeres in Reims. The champagne you order is out of this world. Not your typical menu of overpriced Moet and Verve but an extensive list of small production champagneries. Bottles are $20 and up. Get out of your comfort zone and ask the sommelier for recommendations of champagnes offered from nearby areas.
The wide open green spaces are perfect for kids to run and play.
Les Crayeres in Reims.
I didn’t speak much French, they didn’t speak much English, but this tiny champagnerie off the beaten path has become one of my most cherished memories. We communicated by taste instead of words. If you are traveling to this area with kids and you want to go to some of the tasting rooms bring some activities with you so they are also entertained.
Our family decided to drive the long road from the countryside to Cannes in the south of France. We divided the journey on the way back which absolutely made it more comfortable, but with limited time, we wanted to get to the water as soon as possible. There are many ways to arrive at the seaside. Air and rail are also other great options. Our family has a history of long road trips and stumbling on unexpected treasures along the way. This has always been our desired way to travel.
Cannes along the French Rivera is primarily a resort town. Its Boulevard de la Croisette, curving along the coast, is lined with sandy beaches, upmarket boutiques and palatial hotels. Cannes is most well known around the world for it’s glamorous film festival. I find Cannes to be quite overpriced and touristy, but it’s a good base from where to explore. My favorite spots were small coves and tiny beaches along the water’s edge.
We ate outside our hotel, the famous Cannes Martinez Hotel, on the beach.
The magic of Cannes at nighttime.
This map profiles many of the beaches along the coast. I’d advise driving along the water and stopping at a place that tickles your fancy. Forgot to bring umbrellas or beach toys? Don’t you worry! There are one too many shops littered around each corner that cater to every vacationer’s needs. The below images were taken at a small beach that we stumbled upon while exploring the coastline. Many of our memories we had in this way.
St-Paul-de-Vence is in the hills and is a great place to explore when you want to escape the heat and crowds of the beaches. It is part cozy, small town and part appealingly artsy shopping mall. It does get swamped at noon with tourists arriving by the busload. Beat the crowds by showing up at breakfast time or experience St-Paul-de-Vence for dinner when the the village is at it’s tranquil best.
When our trip was sadly over, we decided to amble back home, stopping and staying mid-way in a castle. There are some of the most incredible historical hotels you can stay in if you get the chance. Try not to rush through the middle parts of your driving journey. We stayed in the Château de Codignat. One of my most treasured memories was eating in a Michelin star restaurant in our castle hotel then walking upstairs to our room in the attic. While the fire was burning away, I bathed my daughter with the sound of the rain pelting our windowsill. Some one say magic??
I hope this gives you some inspiration on where to go in France, quells your fears about traveling with a young child and maybe nudges you to book that ticket. Travel teaches us so much about the world around us. It enriches and makes us take a look at ourselves. You’ll never regret it so don’t keep putting it off. Life is short. In the words of NIKE “JUST DO IT”.