It's not easy to escape to the Christmas markets alone so I devised a cunning plan to make a trip to Paris for the entire family. Ten year old Nicole loves shopping, hubby's new hobby is photography and football loving son Mark had said he'd love to see Paris St German play at home. So we set off on a low fare Ryanair flight to Paris Beauvais. Coach transfers from the airport to Port Maillot are not cheap at 34€ return, so we pre-booked a taxi online for convenience at an extra cost. Our hotel the Astotel Malte Opera was in a great location close to the Louvre and metros. The family room ticked all the boxes with two ensuites, a fabulous extra balcony room and two TVs. Soft drinks in the mini bar were free and it even had a random exercise bike. The breakfast included everything my crew enjoy including freshly squeezed orange juice with the bits left in.
Our first port of call was only minutes away where we paid our respects to the Mona Lisa. Nicole's appraisal of the priceless painting was, "It's much bigger than Charlotte said it was going to be!" We had beaten the queues by buying two museum passes. The Paris Pass includes transport so is a good investment too. The French love their culture and it's great to see that all museums and galleries are free for under 18s which makes it light on parents wallets. After snapping our photo at the famous glass pyramid outside, we jumped into a cab − a decadent treat with a €3 supplement for the fourth passenger but it is the quickest way to get to the Eiffel Tower. This is one landmark that's just as impressive in real life. We pre-booked lunch at 58et on stage one and this is a great way to avoid the long queues and save precious time entering by a special lift. Lunch was served via picnic baskets in ceramic dishes − a novelty for the kids. Our table looked out over the river seine with the imposing Trocedero backdrop. Dinner was delicious with mouth-watering mash and dessert consisted of a chocolate Eiffel Tower with Créme Anglais and proved a big hit.
Afterwards we strolled past the skateboarders and street entertainers that lined the steps of the Trocedero. Here the boys hopped on the metro in one direction to Parc des Princes and home of Paris St Germaine while Nicole and I went to the markets. The market on the Champs Elysées starts earlier than most of its European counterparts and runs until Jan 7th 2015. Starting a little later but lasting well into the New Year are the markets at Montmarte and Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
The entire boulevard from Place de la Concorde could have been designed with Christmas in mind. Every tree sparkled with tiny white and blue fairy lights and as the sun went down magic filled the air with the aromas of cinnamon and mulled wine. A glass set me back €4 but even cheap French wine is good. Small wooden huts painted white and covered with synthetic snow set Nicole's eyes alight. Filled with the usual array of hand crafted soaps and jewellery she broke open her purse to buy a bauble for the Christmas tree with a hand-painted Eiffel Tower. The pink food stalls were difficult to pass wafting yummy smells of candy floss, gaufres and churros. The atmosphere was magical but very busy so I had to hold Nicole's hand tightly. It isn't easy to get lost at the markets as it runs in straight lines but our legs were aching and just in perfect time we had chosen to meet up with the boys at the Disney store.
We pushed the kids to the limit by squeezing in one additional excursion after dinner. But as our metro stop was only a few metres from the Arc de Triomphe, we hiked the 284 steps and caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower sparkling − as it does for the first five minutes of every hour. The view down to the wheel of Paris with Christmas lights is possibly one of the best in Europe.
After a blissful night's sleep in our oasis of peace at the Malte Opera we woke refreshed and ready for more. The Musee d'Orsay houses a great selection of impressionist paintings and the chance to see Whistler's famous portrait of his mother that the kids recognised from Mr Bean The Movie.
It was lunch time and we had a treat in store. The Bateaux Parisiens is the most upmarket way to take in views on the River Seine. We sat at cloth covered tables and our hostess greeted us with glasses of wine with kir and warm nuts. We browsed the menu as our barge gently pulled away from the gaze of the Eiffel Tower. The kids devoured the roast chicken and gravy while the adults ate salmon and pork belly. Desserts were more-ish and all this while we were serenaded by a live rendition of La Vie en Rose. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds as we glided past Notre Dame and the Statue of Liberty. If Carlsberg did Sunday lunches then this would be it. We had a couple of hours to spare so returned to the markets en famille before the last flight out of Beauvais. With our bags crammed and heads full of amazing memories Paris was given the thumbs up by all.
For all information see Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Hotel Malte Opera can be booked through Astotel Paris with family rooms available.
The Paris Pass/museum pass adults: Paris Pass.
For a special tour of the Seine see Bateaux Parisiens. Sunday lunch €57 pp.
The Eiffel Tour restaurant 58et on premier etag. Picnic lunch from €21 with panoramic views of Paris.
Dublin to Paris Beauvais with Ryanair.