France With Teens Requires Letting Go - My Family Travels

When teens are along for the ride on your family travels, sometimes you just have to let them choose the route and steer for all of you.

In all of our travels my wife had never visited the French capital. Last spring she decided that a week-long visit would be the perfect way for the three of us to spend my son Josh’s spring vacation. To be honest I was not that enthusiastic. I did not relish the prospect of hitting the city’s top tourist spots in quick succession during a holiday. And, I knew that my 14-year-old son prefers golden arches to the Arc de Triomphe and that he is firm in his “ABM” – anything but museums – mantra.

Driving Away from Paris

For our spring vacation in France, instead of idling in Paris, Josh managed to get us to the renowned Bugatti collection at the world-famous Schlumpf National Automobile Museum of France in Alsace.

Josh has been a car fanatic since his ride home from the maternity hospital. I’ve been to car shows in Baltimore, New York, and Washington, DC, visited showrooms from Montreal to London (the Bentley one in Mayfair is not to be missed), and traipsed around more dealerships selling more kinds of cars than I care to remember. So when we discovered that the foremost collection of the venerable Bugatti line of motorcars was in France, an alteration to our itinerary was decided.

The Alsatian market town of Mulhouse (pronounced Mulooze) is closer to Basel than to Paris, a fact that may have influenced our air travel arrangements had we planned more expertly. But, life is seldom so tidy.  Like all good travelers we looked at the five-hour drive from Paris to Mulhouse as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. Our concierge booked us a car at Europecar.

Cité de l’Automobile & Mulhouse, France

The Cité de l’Automobile Museum and town of Mulhouse alike were gems. Fritz Schlumpf established his fabulous collection of 437 cars belonging to 97 different brands in what was once a wool mill that went bust in the mid-seventies. The structure itself, an imposing 19th century brick monument with grand interior spaces, provides a spacious and comfortable setting for row upon row of cars that span over a century of the grand history of the European automobile.

Two Bugatti Royales, including the famous Coupé Napoléon, highlight the collection of more than 150 Bugatti, Hispano?Suiza, Ferrari, Renault, Rolls?Royce, Maserati, Maybach, Mercedes models, to name but a few of the better known nameplates on display.

The Cité de l’Automobile sees itself as being to cars what the Louvre is to art. For Josh it was no contest. The museum is car heaven and I must admit that both my wife and I were not bored for a minute of the five hours we spent listening to the recorded descriptions of almost every car on the showroom floor. After spending the night, we dropped by the Cité du Train as well. What Schlumpf had done for car lovers, the French government has done for railroad fans.

For Josh, Paris was merely the prelude to the main event. He tolerated the cafes and museums and the metro, but his expectations were focused on that trip to Mulhouse. However, we did contend with three days in Paris.

Paris with Different Children

When I asked Josh recently what he remembered most fondly about our short visit to the French capital he had a ready response – the car dealerships,  particularly the Mercedes one along the Champs Elysees – and the grand Musee de l’Armee (01 44 42 37 70; 129 Rue de Grenelle).

True, the crowds at the Eiffel Tower were daunting, so we contented ourselves with a stroll around the base before crossing the Seine and walking back to our comfortable hotel room at the Hilton.

At the Louvre, we made a lightening visit to the Mona Lisa that would have made Chevy Chase proud. After too long a wait to enter, we strolled through the tranquil gardens of the Rodin Museum (00 33 (0) 1 44 18 61 10; 79, rue de Varenne in the 7eme arondissement), walking among the pigeons and the master’s oeuvre. This small museum is not to be missed. A well stocked cafeteria with tables overlooking the garden and its works began to capture what I like most about the city.

One of my best and most memorable trips was a visit to Paris with my then 10-year-old daughter Morgan. She was still young enough to be “daddy’s girl” but old enough to spend hours walking about and gladly hold my hand as we strolled the city. She marveled at the Mona Lisa and enjoyed the café at the end of the gallery even more. It was heaven.

Just as night follows day, little girls grow up. Our most recent trip together was when I met Morgan, now 19, and her older sister Eve in India’s Kerala province for a week-long stay in a wonderful ayurveyda resort. It was great fun even though there was no hand holding. But that’s another story.

Some children require more flexibility from their parents. This was the first time I had stayed in a big name hotel like Hilton. Aside from the view and location on the rue de Courcelles, the real advantage of our choice was the knowledgeable concierge service available to guests. From the hotel, we obtained tickets to the Louvre, sparing us the wait at the museum itself. And when a friend failed to show at the museum, we were able to return his ticket to the hotel. This kind of service can make planning much more flexible, and parenting – in the face of the high Euro — much more relaxing.

Details, Details

Our decision to drive to the Schlumpf National Automobile Museum of France in Mulhouse, Alsace, rather than take the train, was based primarily on price. The drive was certainly longer and in the end, when fuel, food, and tolls were factored in there was little or no cost advantage. On route, we stopped for lunch in the hilltop, fortified village of Langres. The view of the surrounding countryside from the city walls was magnificent, as was the village’s Cathedral St. Mammes. Next time however, we’ll take the train!  In Mulhouse, we stayed at the comfortable Resid Hotel but the Office de Tourisme de Mulhouse et sa region has many other lodging suggestions as well.

In Paris, we stayed at the Hilton Arc de Triomphe (01 58 36 67 00) where, after being shut out of the Eiffel Tower tour by the crowds, we thankfully enjoyed a great, unobstructed view of the well-lit tower from our verandah.

Josh’s favorite places were the Musee de l’Armee at the Hotel National des Invalides and the Boutique Mercedes-Benz dealership (01 44 05 78 63; 80 rue de Longchamps 75116 Paris). My wife and I definitely recommend the Musée Rodin. 

A good source of information for visiting families who may be in need of making last-minute, alternate plans is Familiscope, a magazine that contains the best activities and upcoming events for families.

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