real life

TRAVEL: Paris chic for children by Maggie Alderson

Paris is magical, obviously. For lovers, for gourmets, shoe shoppers, people watchers and art freaks – but what is less well known is that Paris is also magical for children.

Even the most accessible children’s activities there have that unique Gallic style. No plastic, no batteries required, definitely no logo. It all looks as if it has been set up by a lifestyle magazine.

But to make the most of the magic of being with a child in Paris, you will want your kid to look like the impossibly chic and adorable local ones.

Here’s how to achieve both within easy walking distance.

How to Play Like a Real Parisian Kid

On a Wednesday afternoon in the Jardin du Luxembourg, an elegant oasis just beyond St Sulpice in Saint Germain, my then two-year old daughter had her first ride in a pony and trap, along a sandy avenue between pollarded plane trees. This was quickly followed by a ride along the same route on a donkey called Gelt. Dear, gentle Gelt.

It was early October and shafts of sunshine cut through the orange leaves, the sound of hooves dulled by the still air. The general scene greatly enhanced by the marvellous Frenchness of the other little children; all cute haircuts, pouty lips and clothes in muted colours… But we’ll get to that later; first, the rest of the park.

After saying goodbye to Gelt, we headed for the tiny and ancient carousel, where the children sit straight-backed on exquisite little horses, holding javelins with which they spear brass rings held up by the fearless operator.

Then there was just time to let off some steam in the Poulet Vert (Green Chicken) playground, fabulously equipped with slides, swings and bouncy animals on springs, before catching the next show at the nearby puppet theatre. Puss in Boots retains its charm, we discovered, even if you don’t catch every word of the dialogue.

From there we headed for the round pond right behind the splendid white stone Palais du Luxembourg, which houses the French senate, where you can hire little wooden yachts to sail. Or, if you are a rather weary parent, you can flop on a handy metal chair and turn your face to the sun.

How to Look Like a Real Parisian Kid

Now for the shopping part. With that infallible Gallic logic, at the south west end of the Jardin du Luxembourg, an uncommonly pleasant statue-enhanced walk from the pond, is rue Vavin – a whole street of childrenswear shops.

It kicks off with a branch of Jacadi on the corner of rue d’Assas. This upscale kiddie chain is not as chic a proposition as Bonpoint or Tartin et Chocolat, but the price tags don’t make you spontaneously vomit, and you couldn’t find a better source of classic children’s clothes.

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After buying a perfect pink and white gingham party dress with a detachable stiff petticoat, or a little coat like the one Prince Charles used to wear, you may want to take a small detour down to 83 rue d’Assas , where you will find a branch of agnès b. enfant, to express your child’s more edgy urban side (although your gorge may also rise here at the prices).

Then back to rue Vavin and the best thing is just to look in every shop – there are too many to list here, all of them great in their own way for clothes and shoes – and of course the only underwear you can possibly put your child in, at Petit Bateau.

Also look out for the tights and socks by the brilliant French make Doré Doré, which come in wonderful colours with fully-fashioned heels and toes. You can get ribbed socks which are wool on the outside and cotton on the inside and don’t tourniquet the tiny leg, imagine that. (Jacadi have them, but if you miss them here you will also find them in department stores.)

But the real secret to getting your offspring that enfant Français look is a haircut – and the perfect place for this is Au Pays d’Oscar, right on rue Vavin, where they sit in little red castles to have their hair snipped into an adorable Madeline bob, or Tin Tin crop. For more information, the website is here.

Practicalities

Odèon is the easiest Metro for the Jardin du Luxembourg. If you want to shop then hit the park, go to Vavin and work back. They are on the same line.

The pony rides, carousel and puppet theatre are open on Wednesday afternoons and weekends, but remember: shops are closed on Sundays in Paris!

Monoprix

Finally, here is my real secret for achieving that chic French kid look, on the cheap: Monoprix. It’s a supermarket, but the childrenswear ranges are to die for.

On my last visit I picked up bundles of ribbed polo necks made of organic cotton, in the most heavenly muted shades of mauve and brown – which exactly matched ribbed Doré Doré tights I had already bought. These all worked back with velvet knickerbockers and corduroy butcher boy caps.

The clothes are great from babywear up and very reasonable, although it does depend what they have in on the day, as turnover is very quick on the good stuff.

For this reason, I usually hit Monoprix several times whenever I am in Paris and my favourite branch is on the corner of rue de Rennes and Boulevard Saint Germain.