When I was a young student living in Paris, the traditional way to look at the city was to divide it into the Left Bank where I hung out, teeming with hip, arty students and affordable, hole-in-the-wall eateries, and the Right Bank, home of designer boutiques, expensive restaurants and upscale hotels where our parents stayed when they came to visit.
But those distinctions have been eroding for years.
When Ralph Lauren was looking for a location for his eponymous restaurant in 2010, he chose the Left Bank’s Latin Quarter rather than the Right Bank’s Champs Elysee, and, conversely, few areas of Paris today are hipper than the Right Bank’s Marais.
These blurred lines are making upscale travel with families a little easier to plan, especially for parents traveling with teens and young adults. No longer do guests who prefer a five-star hotel experience have to settle for budget digs in the traditional student areas to please the kids, thanks to a trickle of glamorous boutique properties, like the Hotel Montalembert and the Hotel Esprit Saint Germain, making inroads in the Left Bank.
Similarly, some of the most glamorous hotels on the Right Bank are reinventing themselves to attract a younger, trendier luxury clientele.
On a recent family trip to Paris, we tested the latter option, sampling three posh Right Bank hotels that not only didn’t bore our 20-something children stiff, but actually enticed them with a blend of intriguing and, in some cases, edgy features I didn’t expect.
The appeal of our first stop, the Pavillon de la Reine, is in large part its wow-factor location. The 54-room property is situated smack in the middle of ultra-trendy Place des Vosges, a beautiful square in the Marais where young people sprawl on the grass on sunny days and where small, one-of-a-kind shops, art galleries and restaurants line the tiny streets.
Once guests walk under the covered archway into the private hotel courtyard, however, the bustle of the city immediately dies away. Here, the property manages to blend its historic facade with a vibe that is both upscale and relaxing. Temporary art installations — a bright red Buddha from an adjacent art gallery squatted in the courtyard during our visit — adorn the grounds, and twin parlors off the lobby offer a mix of traditional tables and chairs and comfy couches for the breakfast service, which combines a small but elegant buffet and an a la carte menu.
As to the accommodations, we stayed in the apartment-like Family Suite, which offers two bathrooms, one with a bath and one with shower; a sitting room with sofa bed; and two bedrooms facing a lush, flowering garden. Other family-friendly guestroom options include the Suite de la Reine and the Victor Hugo Suite, which can accommodate up to a family of four.
We also liked that the Spa de la Reine allows children 16 and younger to enjoy treatments and use the fitness center and Jacuzzi, as long as a parent accompanies them.
The concierge was solicitous and helpful about offering tips on youth-friendly activities and eateries, without exuding any of the stuffy formality sometimes associated with these kinds of historical properties.
Guests can also take advantage of a Fingertip Concierge service, designed for sister hotel Pavillon des Lettres and also available to guests of Pavillon de la Reine. The way it works is that guests can download the free app and navigate to the section dedicated to children. Suggested activities, such as storytelling at the Grevin Museum and puppet shows, are always updated with current and seasonal events and attractions.
Room rates start at about $525 a night.
Our next stop was the Shangri-La Hotel, Paris. While located in the more traditionally upscale 16th arrondissement, it’s making a play for younger guests with its Shangri Lounge parties, launched last November.
Every week, the lounge off the main lobby is transformed from elegant drawing room to a champagne bar with a DJ and multicolored light projections on the walls, ceilings and mirrored overhead balls. This is a five-star hotel, so don’t expect beer with your music. The bartender whips up weekly drink specials, using such ingredients as Moet & Chandon Imperial and Grand Vintage Champagne, accompanied by a dim sum snack menu.
The 101-room property, originally the private home of Prince Roland Bonaparte, grand-nephew of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, boasts a number of other family-friendly touches, most notably the spacious, indoor swimming pool, among the finest in the city and open to children as well as adults.
As to dining, the on-property restaurants are loaded with Michelin stars: two for L’Abeille, which services French cuisine, and — most unusual for Paris — one for Shang Palace, which serves an all-Chinese-food menu.
Nearly half of the hotel’s guestrooms offer direct views of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower, and our balcony was huge enough that we were not only able to dine on the terrace one night, we could have hosted a small party there.
New this season is the opening of La 8 Iena, a seasonal summer terrace located in front of the hotel. In addition to a menu of lighter fare by executive chef Philippe Labbe, La 8 Iena will feature an ice cream trolley with homemade ice cream and sorbet.
Families with younger children can take advantage of a two-night Your Family in Paris package, available until Sept. 30, that includes accommodations for two adults, a 50% discount on a second room, daily American breakfast for two adults and two children under 12 and welcome goodies for children.
The package is priced from about $1,430 per night.
Our last stop, Le Bristol Paris on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, arguably the city’s toniest street, is so well known that its past guest list reads like a who’s who of celebrities and politicians. The pleasant surprise is the way the hotel also rolls out the welcome mat for mere mortals and their kids.
Faraon, the house cat, immediately broke the ice on arrival by nonchalantly strolling the lobby while we were checking in, and before we even got to our rooms, the kids were drawn to the private French garden, where guests can enjoy breakfast or afternoon tea or just hang out in fine weather.
Other enticements include a glassed-in swimming pool with panoramic city views, the sunny fitness center and the treatments at Spa le Bristol.
Younger kids even have a dedicated play space called Les Amis d'Hippolyte — named for the hotel’s bunny mascot — where they can enjoy supervised play while their parents are at the spa or the three-Michelin star L’Epicure restaurant. Hipppolyte-themed toys and games, including a plush rabbit gift on arrival, are present throughout the property and in the guestrooms.
Despite its reputation, the hotel isn’t resting on its laurels. A property-wide renovation has been underway in phases for the last few years. In 2009, they added a new wing, and in 2011 they renovated the restaurant, spa and added two new suites. The most recent upgrades include the opening of Le Bar du Bristol and renovations to the garden.
A Le Bristol family package includes half-off a second room, two free breakfasts for kids 12 and younger with the purchase of two adult American breakfasts, welcome gifts featuring Hippolyte toys and treats and a treasure hunt for kids.
The package, good to Dec. 28, is priced from about $2,345 for two nights.
Tips for Paris with older kids
The concierge at Pavillon de la Reine steers families to Jim Morrison’s tomb at the Pere Lachaise cemetery, to the newly reopened Zoo de Vincennes and to tours in a vintage Citroen 2CV car.
Fat Tire Bike Tours offers kid-friendly sightseeing with young guides and day and evening versions to choose from.
The Paris Tourism Office suggests a Paris Museum Pass, which we used at the Museum of the Cinema in Paris. The museum pays homage not just to French film but also such American greats as Hitchcock and Chaplin, with posters, videos and artifacts. Plus the building itself was designed by Frank Gehry.