Secrets to having the best-ever family vacation in Paris
Tips for multi-generational travelers from a Canadian expatriate.
In 2011, Canada-born Genevieve Spicer moved to Paris for a 5-year sabbatical to join her then 78-year-old father, who is a 20-year resident. After immersing herself in her new city, she launched the travel website Paris for Seniors to help travelers of all ages get the most out of their travels. In addition to creating customized tours for clients, the site also offers “Gentle Guides” for travelers with mobility issues, and spotlights some of Paris’s lesser known charms while also providing practical advice and information for visitors, from how to interact with waiters to how to prevent from getting pickpocketed. Travel + Leisure spoke with Spicer to get her insights on how families traveling with seniors can get the most out of a trip to the City of Lights.
What is the most surprising thing you learned after moving to Paris?
It’s beauty, food and spirit is for everyone. But the heartache of the city is it’s not necessarily accessible to everyone, especially if you have mobility issues. There are ancient staircases, cobblestone streets, and buildings not retrofit for wheelchairs. But I learned there is always a way to see and embrace Paris if you just take the time to really look into what’s available. We were contacted immediately by people of all ages. There were a lot of bucket list requests from those who wanted to make their parents’ dreams come true, empty nesters, and single women. We create highly customized itineraries based on detailed questionnaires so that we can cater to their interests but also take into account any mobility issues. Our service Mon Ami in Paris provides a stable of drivers and bilingual guides who help remove any anxieties.
What are some of the kinds of trips you’ve put together?
We had a request from a woman who wanted help for her 86-year-old uncle and his 82-year-old girlfriend — both in wheelchairs — who wanted to visit the Musée d'Orsay to see the Monets. We also had an 88-year-old woman tell us she used to sit by the Seine and paint when she was a student at the Sorbonne and it was her dream to come back and paint and we made that happen. We also had a woman with advanced multiple sclerosis who wanted to take her daughter to Paris as a high school graduation present. We created an itinerary that would be totally accessible — including researching restaurants where the washrooms were on the first floor. We also created a trip to entertain a man’s 72-year-old mother and her sister while he was attending a conference. They wanted to see Chantilly and we hired a golf cart so they could get around the grounds.
What types of activities can be enjoyed by kids as well as seniors?
It’s amazing how multi-generationally friendly Paris is. My father and my 14-year old daughter Gracie chronicle their adventures with their blog G&G (Grandpa & Gracie) on the site, giving their different perspectives. In one, they discovered that you could enjoy free pipe organ concerts at one of the city’s 234 churches. The city has beautifully manicured parks and many of them have gorgeous 19th century merry-go-rounds. The Luxembourg Gardens are elegant but there’s a lot to do for kids, they can picnic, sail boats, or ride ponies while their parents or grandparents play Bocchi or sit in a café.
What are some of the off-the-beaten path places you've discovered?
There are sing-a-longs and dancing on Sundays at the bottom of La Rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement where musicians play the violin and accordion and pass out music sheets. Bercy Village in Cour Saint-Émilion in the 12th arrondissement is lovely. During the 19th century wine was shipped down the Seine and stored in its warehouses that are now filled with lovely shops and cafes. Another little-known place is the Arènes de Lutèce, in the 5th arrondissement. It’s an ancient Roman amphitheater from the 1st Century that was discovered while they were digging up the Metro. The Abbey Bookshop is a great English-language bookstore. Run by a Canadian ex-pat, it was built inside the 18th century Hotel Dubuisson in the Latin Quarter and has a huge selection (35,000) of new and used books and also hosts book launches.
What one piece of advice do you have for Paris newbies?
Paris is full of hidden gems. There’s something to discover everyday just by walking around. One of the greatest pleasures of visiting is to just take in the city — sitting in a café and watching the morning ballet unfold, watching to the shops open while the shopkeepers talk and argue with each other, and the smell of bread baking. It’s very unique.
This interview was edited and condensed.