A Few Days In

1 Mom + 2 Daughters + 3 Agendas = 1 Great Girls' Getaway to Paris

by Erica Firpo
Vamping at Le Fouquet's. All photos by Erica Firpo.

One mother, two teenage daughters, three different vacation agendas. Will this family survive their trip to Paris? Oui, and they will do so with flying colors.

PARIS - For the past two years, our daughters have been dreaming of a girls' trip to Paris. Who hasn’t, right? (Emily in Paris, you were good for one thing...) But for us, it easily attainable because we live in Rome, and most of Europe a two-hour flight away.

Our timing was perfect — no airline strikes, exams, or rain. We flew direct from Rome’s Fiumicino to Charles De Gaulle, and the moment that inimitable Hausmann architecture came into view, we began debating the Rome v. Paris rivalry.

Which city is more beautiful? Greener? Which has better museums? Better coffee?

Raising two Romans means I’m always a bit biased toward the hometown, but there’s something about Paris. 

Family snaps at the Eiffel Tower.

The real burning question for our long weekend was what are we going to do? In my experience, there is no trick to creating the perfect girls’ weekend because it all comes down to strategy of players, personalities, and moods. Let me detail our players:

Xanthe, 13 years old: loves mythology, the Good Girl's Guide to Murder books, and macarons. Avoids being told what to do and boring museums. Needs to be fed every two hours.

Emilia, 19 years old: knows way more than everyone else, especially where to get the best Instagram shots. Loves doing her own thing and finding the best vegan restaurants.

Both are foodies. Xanthe loves to stay up late; Emilia likes to wake up early. Only one of us likes to visit a lot of museums. (Mom.)

Let me detail the negotiated plan: We agreed that we would try to walk or metro everywhere and make only two reservations: a midday Louvre entry and an early morning Eiffel Tower visit.

Hijinks in Palais Royal.
Posing in Palais Royal.

After three days and about 100 kilometers of walking with and without purpose, what we loved best was finding Rome in Paris. Some background: Classical Rome was the inspiration behind the amazing architecture feats and follies that helped Napoleon transform Paris into an imperial metropolis. Or, as my archaeologist husband puts it, “he ripped off everything from Augustus, Trajan, and Constantine.” Walking around Paris, we kept bumping into Roman details: looming statues atop Corinthian columns and decorative stucco at the Louvre, as well as epic sites like the Pantheon, Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, and, well, pretty much every monument from the Napoleonic era.

My Italian passport is about to be revoked as I write this, but I found Paris to be a slightly better version of Rome. If only because I prefer the gorgeous greeneries of the Tuileries and Jardins du Luxembourg to Villa Pamphilj and Villa Borghese.

Back to my agenda. I wanted to infuse our trip with art without overwhelming the girls, but it’s hard to tone down my enthusiasm and remember that they want to just walk around. We got lost in the Roman antiquities at the Louvre and reenacted a few Bey and Jay Z’s shots from their Apeshit video. I tried to give a few art history lessons, but was immediately put on mute.

Doing their best Bey and Jay at the Louvre.
Street scenes in Le Marais.

I did manage subtle artsy commentary at the Palais Royal, where they were captivated with Daniel Buren’s stripes, and lured them into Bourse de Commerce, Pinault’s stunning newest art museum in the former commerce exchange.

Emilia art-directed our best selfies at Trocadero and discovered a full range of vegan street food in the Marais and Latin Quarter, where the favorite food discovery was Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches. She met up with a friend and went vintage shopping in the Marais, most happily at Kilo and Free’p’star, closets of clutter and thrift.

Across town and down the road from Montparnasse, Xanthe and I explored Les Catacombs. She’d wanted to see them ever since she read Victoria Schwab’s Tunnel of Bones, where protagonist and ghost hunter Cass takes a family trip to Paris and winds up in the city’s underground ossuaries. Thirty meters down, we didn’t come across any ghosts, but we were amazed in the incredible maze of bones and history. These ghouly catacombs beat Rome’s any day of the week for the creepy factor.

Xanthe in the Catacombs. Note the skulls stacked high.
The view from Sacre Coeur.

Our favorite neighborhood was the Marais. The narrow streets, old architecture, and cute boutiques made us feel so at home we all decided we could easily live in here — if only we could find decent coffee.

The girls loved Chez Marianne, a charming Middle Eastern restaurant with hummus and falafel worth the wait. While standing in line, we counted more than 35 pairs of Veja sneakers walking past. It turns out the flagship shop of the French eco-sustainable brand was around the corner. Thus Emilia scored a pair of all-vegan tennis shoes, her only mission in Paris.

Of course we had arguments like whether or not we needed to eat falafel twice in one day. (Yes.) Should we really queue to see the Mona Lisa? (Yes.) Did we all want to go thrift shopping and see catacombs? (No.) The hiccups were best resolved by going our separate ways. There’s nothing a little free time and a metro ticket can’t fix — especially if you’re 19 years old.

Mom’s Artsy Paris Checklist

This wasn’t my trip to Paris, which would have taken a few different turns for shopping, eclair, and museums. Had this art lover been in charge, these would have been the stops on our Paris art tour:

The girls enjoy the view from Hotel Barrière Le Fouquet.

Where to Stay

We stayed at Hotel Barrière Le Fouquet’s Paris, a tony address on Champs-Élysées a stone’s throw from Arc de Triomphe. We arrived just as they were taking down Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, a project that took five decades to put together and lasted about 16 days. Our room on the fourth floor gave us a peek into the removal of the project, as well as the prettiest sunrises every morning when pinks and golds light up Champs-Élysées. On our next trip, we might have to book the Harcourt Suite on the top floor, which comes tricked out for everything a photo shoot could need: lights, backdrops, a hair-and-makeup primping room, a small gym to work up that pre-shoot glow, and inspiring black-and-white photos shot at Studio Harcourt.

Location was pivotal for our adventures. The hotel is a nice walk to the Tuileries and the Eiffel Tower, and an easy metro ride to everything else. (Many trains stop at Arc de Triomphe.) We all relaxed in Spa Diane Barrière, which was designed to feel like a living room, and in the indoor pool, before going out at night. For the local snacks, Ladurée is a five-minute walk down the road, essential for Xanthe's macaron addiction.

The hotel is also home to Le Joy, a seasonal restaurant lined with walls of art books adjoining an outdoor garden, and Fouquet's Paris, an iconic and eponymous bistro that thrilled the film buff in me. Champs-Élysées was, and to some degree still is, HQ for Paris cinema, and the restaurant remains a canteen for silver screen denizens, annually hosting the gala dinner after the César awards. Brass plaques with the names of the glitterati and gorgeous celebrity photos set the scene. My favorite detail are the silver napkin holders inscribed with the names of such illustrious guests as (my favorites) Jean Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, and Claudia Cardinale — three other Italians and Italophiles who also loved the many charms of Paris.

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