Pondicherry appears like a Pantone shade card of yellow – houses smothered in lemon-tart paint; canary tuk tuks; a buttery library and seriously sunny boys.
Stay with Suresh at Le Dupleix
Le Dupleix is one of the five boutique hotels that consistently come up as a recommendation from offline friends and online strangers. It is located in the photogenic French Quarter, and used to be the mayor’s home in the 18th century. Now a two floor hotel, it is stocked with forgotten furniture, a buzzy weekend bar and no pool, but they do allow you to use the unfortunately tacky swimming pool at their sister hotel, The Promenade. Le Dupleix is overseen by Suresh and his staff who say no to nothing, including a delayed check out; plus he hooks you up with cycles, taxis and the best croissants in town.
If swimming must be part of your holiday, La Villa is a better option, newer and keeper of a rooftop pool. The Neemrana property is looking pretty run-down, so give that one a miss. Away from the city but highly recommended is eco-resort Dune.
Le Dupliex, 5, Caserne Street, call 413-2226001, http://www.ledupleix.in/index.html; The Promenade Goubert Avenue, White Town, call 413-2227750, www.thepromenadepondicherry.com/index.html; La Villa, 11 rue Surcouf, call 413 2338555, http://www.lavillapondicherry.com; Dune, 70,ECR Road, Pudhukuppam, Keelputhupet, http://www.duneecogroup.com.
Go Antiquing with Vignesh & Kumar
Before you buy any furniture in the French Quarter, visit Kottakuppam, a neighbourhood on the road to the Auroville Ashram, just 20 minutes away. Here, you’ll find dusty antique shops including the Patanjali store, stocked with wooden busts, temple pillars, Ravi Varma prints and colonial-era cupboards. Kumar will let you take pictures and WhatsApp you prices even if you aren’t buying on the spot. At Geethanjali in the more snooty and less sooty French Quarter, store manager Vignesh is as amiable. He’ll tell you the history of each piece – see fountains that can be used as tables, floral tea sets and ancient rosewood chairs – and will eat the cost of shipping.
If you’re in Pondicherry on Sunday and have the patience of a priest, sift through the flea market at Nehru Street.
Patanjali, no 22, MG Road, Kottakuppam; Geethanjali, 20 Rue Bussy, French Quarter, call 413-4200392.
Sight See With Bela
Mr Bela with his blonde-tinted hair, don’t-be-blue rule and tuk tuk, will happily take you all over the city. The Auroville Ashram in Tamil Nadu is an obvious first stop. Know that the free visitor’s pass allows you limited access to the Matrimandir and a compound with hippie shops selling skirts, incense sticks, scarves and scented soaps, which can be skipped. The Ashram can be appreciated better if you are more involved (volunteering or doing a workshop) rather than walking through as a tourist. The magnificently mossy pond here, which looks like it was imagined by author Nadeem Aslam, was the best peace of the pie for us.
Evenings are nice for a stroll along the water at The Promenade. If it is the beach you crave, you can take a boat to Paradise Beach, a scenic island where government-run shacks provide expensive snacks and beer.
When you ditch Bela, cycle/stroll through the French Quarter and remember to take a picture outside the massive gates of the yellow library.
Call Bela on 08056399639. Auroville, Tamil Nadu, www.auroville.org; Paradise Beach, Chunnambar.
Drink With Surfer Boys
We didn’t ask for their names, but many cute surfer boys were hanging by the bar at Villa Shanti, which offers excellent Franco-Tamil tomato rasam soup. Get Chicken Chettinad with soft naans at The Courtyard and for a more local experience, go for a thali at Solitude Farm. Bay of Buddha does decent Tom Yum soup and excellent sea views. Monsieur Alan Phan of Baker Street puts out freshly baked baguettes and croissants, French cheese, eclairs, homemade ice cream and Galette Des Rois. Also, bring back organic chocolate from Mason & Co.
Villa Shanti, 14, Suffren Street, call 413-4200028, http://lavillashanti.com/index.html; The Courtyard at Le Dupleix, 5, Caserne Street, call 413-2226001; Solitude Farm, Auroville, Tamil Nadu, call 413-2622068; Bay of Buddha, The Promenade rooftop, Goubert Avenue, White Town, call 413-2227750; 123, Bussy Street, 09944850001; 123, Bussy Street, call 9944850001, www.baker-street.co.in; Mason & Co, Fraternity, Auroville, call 08940559024, www.masonchocolate.com.
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