When my husband and I were thinking about starting a family, we agreed that kids wouldn’t dictate our lives and that travel would continue to be part of our lifestyle. So, as soon as our sweet Noelle was born, we booked our flights to France, taking advantage of the discount flights for children under two. France proved to be a family friendly and baby adoring country.
Sharing highlights and memorable moments in Lyon, Beaune, Annecy, and Chamonix with our ten month old daughter.
The flight from Phoenix to London Heathrow thankfully wasn’t eventful accept when the lap child sitting next to us decided to grab and pull Noelle’s hair the moment the plane took off. Noelle let out a blood curdling scream — sighs and groans followed and I could read the minds of the passengers thinking, “…and the crying begins.” Noelle quickly got over it and slept the rest of the way in her bassinet, allowing us freedom to sleep and watch the airline entertainment.
The French epicenter for gastronomy is in Lyon, the 3rd largest city in France. Lyon also boasts the birthplace of film, a vibrant silk trade and excavated Roman ruins that is still in use today. It is also the gateway to the Burgundy wine region and the Alps. We spent 4 nights in Lyon, enjoying the shoulder season of summer in September. We could have easily packed 2 more days into this beautiful city.
Tip: LYS airport is about 30 minutes from the city center. We dragged our luggage to the train station which was not easy to find. The stops don’t come close to the city center and we had to walk 1 hour from our stop to the hotel. I recommend paying the price of a taxi or ride share.
Ice Cream at Rene Nardone
The best homemade ice cream is at Rene Nardone. The flavors are unique, the texture is creamy and the atmosphere rivals the café scene in Paris. It was a perfect break from strolling through the cobbled streets of Vieux Lyon where we spent our time seeking out the hidden passages, called “traboules” that were originally used to transfer silk.
This indoor market offers the world of culinary diversity under one roof. With 48 vendors, it is the perfect place to try different foods and French specialties with a child. Miles and I ate lunch at Passionnement Truffes. I ordered the roast chicken glazed in a truffle cream sauce. On our way out, we ordered a few mini cakes and tartes from Maison Sève
As soon as I walked through the regal gates to this massive urban park, I could hear “Morning Mood” by Edvard Grieg ringing through my ears. This park is magical! There are rose gardens, lakes, exotic animals, trains, ponies, bikes, swings, etc. There is a whimsical 1930’s carousel that was playing Frozen’s “Let it go” in French that Noelle was too young to ride but it was just as thrilling watching it go ‘round. We enjoyed a perfect afternoon sun bathing in the grass in the rose garden and indulged in boissons et glaces.
Happy Hour at Volle Petrole
After an exhausting day of walking through the city, we came across a barge that was converted into a hip bar on Rhône River. They have an impressive selection of Belgian beer. The drinks were refreshing and we relaxed with the locals as the sunset on a perfect day in Lyon. Tip: The trails along the Rhone are well paved and shaded. There are bike rentals, repair shops, food stands and parks along the way. Highly recommend on a sunny day.
Noelle teething on her elephant “lovie” while we enjoyed a refreshing Belgian beer
Hiring a babysitter for the night
I will admit, hiring a complete stranger to watch our daughter terrified me. However, we were comforted with the fact that our hotel provided the service and the nanny worked full time, in her words, at a “children’s garden.” Luckily, Noelle slept the entire time and the nanny was in constant communication with us and would frequently send pictures of her snug in her crib. Miles and I got to enjoy a romantic dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant on Fourvière Hill that overlooks the Ancient Roman Theatre and the twinkling lights of the city.
Ancient Theatre of Fourvière
Walking to Ancient Theatre of Fourvière with breathtaking views of Lyon
Day trip to Beaune
We spent a half day in Beaune, a charming village in the Burgundy wine region. It was an eventful 1 hour train ride when I did the diaper “smell check” which resulted in snorting poop up my nose from a diaper blow out. Miles will never live down the face I made when I realized what had happened. Luckily we had plenty of wipes, sanitizer, diapers and a puppy pee pad to clean up the crime scene.
Where we stayed in Lyon: Hotel Carlton
The champagne bar at our hotel in Lyon
Nicknamed the “Venice of the Alps,” Annecy’s glittering crystal clear lake grounds the majestic Alps. The canals weave through the charming old town like veins pumping life into the city and capturing my heart. We stayed 2 nights in Annecy to slow down and wander — in pace with the placidity of the lake.
Just after sunrise, we rented a small boat off the docks of Lake Annecy. We took it out to the middle of the lake and picnicked, munching on the baguette, olives, comte cheese, nougat and cassis marmalade we collected from market day.
Canal side dinner at Le Chalet
We dined al fresco along the canal, draped with flowers boxes. The elegant table setting layered with gray linen, presented our delicate modern crystal glasses just begging to be swirled with a bottle of Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes for our palates to enjoy. The cheerful server helped us pick from the local and seasonal menu. The crunchy and fresh zucchini carpaccio was my favorite.
Noelle slept our entire dinner which was a well needed adult time
Cozy lunch at Quai Numero 10
Our last morning in Annecy called for rain. We ducked into a small creperie for lunch, warming our wet bodies with a ham and cheese galette that we washed down with a crisp sparkling cider. We were in food coma just in time for the train to carry our lazy bodies off to Chamonix.
Where we stayed in Annecy: Hotel du Palais de l’isl
Situated at the base of the Alps, Chamonix is one of the oldest ski resorts in France — famous for hosting the first winter Olympics in 1924. We stayed 2 nights which was the perfect amount of time to view Mont Blanc and explore the glaciers.
Charming covered wooden bridge over the river l’Arve in the center of Chamonix
Raclette at La Caleche
After an exhausting day of traveling and rolling our traveling circus 1 mile through the cobbled streets in the rain, we were soaked to the bone. For dinner we cozied up to a crackling fire at La Caleche and appropriately ate ooy gooey raclette and other Savoyard cuisine. The interior is blanketed with rich handcrafted pine and a feminine touch of red chairs and checkered tablecloths. The décor is a collection of antique copper pots, cowbells and alpine memorabilia. If Gaston and Belle opened a restaurant, I imagine this would be it.
Our server at Le Caleche asked if we wanted a family picture
Mer de Glace
We took a cute cog-wheel train to the oldest glacier in France. We hiked a gazillion – about a half mile — stomach fluttering steps down to the carved out cave in the glacier and marveled at the glistening ice sculptures showcased in blue lights.
Tip: Strollers are not permitted. I recommend using a baby carrier.
View of Mont Blanc
We learned that Noelle was too young and was forbidden to ride the gondolas due to the high elevation. Although we were disappointment, we made the most of the situation by trading off to ride the gondola while the other watched Noelle at a nearby cafe. It’s about a 30 minute ride and the views of Mont Blanc are rewarding. I watched the brave paragliders jumping off the edge of the mountain and gracefully zig-zag their way down to the valley. If we had more time, we would have taken advantage of the restaurant at the top.
Tip: I recommend waiting until a child is at least 3 years old before visiting Chamonix. The Aiguille du Midi gondola is a bucket list opportunity that will take you to the Italian border and at 12,605 feet offers a 360 degree view of all the French, Swiss and Italian Alps. Expect a 3 hour journey.
Mountain farmhouse dinner at La Maison Carrier
Our hotel was conveniently located next door to the five star Hotel Albert. We took advantage of their spa and splurged at their traditional restaurant, La Maison Carrier on our last night in France. We hiked our way through the gardens and took one last look at Mont Blanc as the sunset behind the majestic mountain. The interior is warm and inviting. Juicy chickens are roasting on the open fire, bread is revealed out of the historic oven and a carousel of desserts shine like a beacon in the middle of the restaurant. Miles and I toasted to a rewarding vacation with a bright and fruity glass of Côte de Nuits. We capped the night off pilling our plates with pastries, peach cobbler and chocolate torte.
The impressive garden at Hotel Albert
Where we stayed in Chamonix: Auberge du Manoir
Our hotel in Chamonix Auberge du Manoir
Logistics and Packing Tips
We had to be strategic traveling with a baby and we managed without checking any bags. I will tell you how we did it:
Miles rolled our 2 carry-on suitcases, carried his backpack and used a bungie cord to wrap Noelle’s duffel bag around one of the suitcases. I carried my backpack and strolled Noelle in a stroller that reclines perfectly to sit a car seat and almost lays flat when it’s time for baby to sleep. We also packed a baby carrier and had no need for a pack and play since we confirmed with the hotels we stayed at that they would provide. French pack and plays have longer dimensions than our standards.
We packed enough diapers and formula for a couple days because the pharmacies were well stocked when we ran out. The french diapers seemed thinner but just as absorbent and Noelle was a big fan of their formula.
We made sure to have enough clips to keep pacifiers and toys secure to her or the stroller.
Most places in France do not have diaper changing tables in bathrooms and we had a few blow-outs that required immediate clean up. Puppy pads came in handy. They are cushy and large, keeping Noelle clean and comfortable when we had to change her on cold, hard, dirty floors.
French baguettes, croissants, creamy sauces and ice cream were abundant on our trip. Noelle was at the perfect age to try new foods and flavors. The free crusty, chewy bread kept her busy and was the best teething toy.
We chose restaurants where we could sit outside, or during the times she slept. We didn’t have any issues with a crying baby and the restaurant staff were always accommodating and friendly towards to us. We also were surprised that every restaurant — including the fancy one’s, had high chairs available and even offered toys and stuffed animals!
Don’t stop exploring!
Noelle slept most of the way home on the airplane