I'VE dreamt of living in Paris ever since I went there for the first time on my honeymoon almost 16 years ago.

It was there that I came up with the idea for my debut novel, Paris Kiss - it comes out this week - about the love affair between the sculptor Auguste Rodin and his young protegee Camille Claudel.

But I've only ever lived in the City of Light in my imagination, during the five years I spent researching and writing the novel. Like a 19th-century virtual tourist, I explored Paris through the eyes of Camille's friend, the English sculptor Jessie Lipscomb. In Jessie and Camille's company, I stopped off at the infamous Le Chat Noir cafe in bohemian Montmartre for an aperitif before crossing the Seine by horse-drawn cab to visit one of the many artists' ateliers in the Latin Quarter.

Loading article content

My fantasy of life as a Parisian remained just that until recently when I had a taste of what it would be like to be a resident of the most romantic city in the world. I left Scotland behind and stayed in a typical apartment in Le Marais, the fashionable district on the Right Bank. When I was handed the keys, I felt quite at home in the elegant apartment on the Rue de Turenne with its inner courtyard, tiny, creaky lift and concierge.

Staying in a Paris apartment rather than a hotel is a different experience, according to Xavier Fouquerand of rental agency Parisaddress.com.

"Unlike London, Paris has very few serviced apartments so your neighbours will be Parisians rather than other tourists. This gives an authentic and personal experience and allows you the freedom to enjoy life as a local. For stays of a week and longer, it is also much cheaper to stay in an apartment than in a hotel, particularly if you come with friends or family."

Rather than "doing" the major tourist attractions, I wanted to spend the weekend as a Parisian would. So, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre were out of bounds. Instead I mingled with fashionable Parisians in the quirky shops, fashion houses and trendy cafes that line the bustling streets of Le Marais. I already knew it was de rigueur to call loudly and brightly, "Bonjour Madame/Monsieur" on entering an establishment and was rewarded with cheerful conversations about where I was from, and once, memorably, about the shopkeeper's favourite television drama, "Le Downtown Abbey". By speaking French and following their codes of politesse, I discovered that the Parisians' notoriety for rudeness is undeserved.

In the mornings, I picked up a pain traditional or croissants from the boulangerie on the corner. Stencilled on the window was a translation into French of Oscar Wilde's aphorism: "The only way to defeat temptation is to yield to it." Only in Paris, I thought, would the baker quote Wilde.

There were other idiosyncratic establishments that I only noticed because I was ambling sans guide book. Near the butcher's shop that specialised in horsemeat, I happened upon Le Bar Litteraire, La Belle Hortense, in rue Vieille du Temple - a small and charming bookshop that doubled as a bar, with bottles of wines displayed in the window next to rows of books so you can browse glass in hand.

There were also antique shops selling toys from the 1920s alongside pretty vintage bed linen, and on what seemed like every corner, a chocolatier where the macarons and hand-made chocolates were so exquisitely boxed it seemed a crime to eat them. After a short stroll over the Seine to the Left Bank, I chanced upon a shop that sold sculptures of hands,

All these are sights I would have missed if I'd been queuing at one of the big art galleries, nose in a map. Much as I hankered after another look at the Impressionists and Post-Impressionist collection at the Musee d'Orsay, I restricted myself instead to smaller museums in what had once been the homes of wealthy Parisians so I could catch a glimpse of what it must have been like to live in the aristocratic "hotels" in Le Marais and in the grands boulevards.

My favourite was the sumptuous Musee Jacquemart Andre in Boulevard Haussman in the 8th arrondissement, built as a party house and art gallery by its wealthy owners. The art collection ranged from Bellini to Watteau but it is the scale of the rooms and their opulence that takes the breath away. For particularly grand parties, one wall of the ballroom was designed to sink into the basement on hydraulics and another wall was on hinges like a stage set.

When it came to eating and drinking, I asked the apartment rental agent, who lived locally, for a recommendation, and he pointed me down a side street to the tiny Chez Janou Bistrot on a corner of rue Roger Verlomme, which smelled headily of the 80 types of Pastis on offer and of the hearty Provencal food on the menu, such as rabbit, guinea fowl and duck. Hung with French posters from the 1920s, it was crowded with young, fashionable Parisians, all dressed in understated neutrals and chattering away like a flock of sparrows.

It was at Chez Janou that I met up with a friend who really does live in the city and his Parisian companion, and I was gratified when they approved of my choice. But they frowned when they heard my restaurant choice for the following evening, plucked from a popular guide, and urged me to go to another establishment. Unfortunately, their recommendation was fully booked, and I went to the guidebook restaurant with a friend who had come over to meet me from London. It looked promising with twinkling lights and romantic views over the Seine, but we were in for a disappointment. They had "lost" our booking and we were rushed through an over-priced dinner of odd-tasting scallops that gave me an allergic reaction and a slab of indifferent steak. It may have been an off night, or perhaps we chose badly, but I won't be rushing back.

It was the only setback in a glorious weekend living as a Parisian, which gave me a special insight into this beautiful city and made me want to return - but next time it will be for longer. I haven't quite given up my dream.

Maggie Ritchie's debut novel, Paris Kiss, is published on Thursday by Saraband, £8.99. To obtain a £2 discount go to http://saraband.net/fiction-1/paris-kiss and look for the code HERALD.

TRAVEL NOTES

Maggie stayed at an apartment in Le Marais from Parisaddress. Prices for a studio apartment start at €600 for five nights. To book visit www.parisaddress.com or call 00 33 1 43 209 157 or email booking@parisaddress.com.

easyJet fly to Paris Charles de Gaulle from Edinburgh and Glasgow International airports with fares from £35.99 one way. easyJet also fly to Paris Charles de Gaulle from Belfast International, Bristol, Liverpool and London (Gatwick & Luton). To book flights visit www.easyJet.com