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A Traveller's Guide To Staying in Pondicherry

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

What is it about reaching a destination that offers duality? Quaint promenades blocked for strolling in the evenings, the allure of old white town all separated by mere miles from the parallel world of kolams on streets, steaming idlis, and coffee in brass cups. Pondicherry could be called a gazillion things to bring this out, but for anyone who visits and experiences it first hand the duality is accepted even in the name -- Puthu Cheri (new town) and the British renaming of ‘Puducherry’ or ‘Pondicherry’.

For those staying in Chennai, Pondicherry is a day’s trip accessible oh so very easily at any time of the year for leisure and a quick getaway. If you’re coming from somewhere else though, it’s something worth spending 3-4 days in, a week if you can spare. I’ve done a couple trips to Pondicherry and here’s all you need to know before you visit. What’s the deal with Pondicherry? Surrounded by the waters of the Bay of Bengal, this is one of the most famous union territories for tourists and is fondly called the French Riviera of the East. Cue bougainvilleas, mustard yellow walls, neatly planned roads and stately structures. The influence for the colonial rapture comes with the town being in constant rule between the French, Danish, and Portuguese for the treasures that it could offer to the courts of the West in the 1600s. Fun Fact: Karaikal, Mahe, Yanam also technically fall under ‘Pondicherry’ but are scattered in the different states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. Since then, the harsh waves have caused corrosion and hence breakwater measures are taken almost every year to curb the damage. Smaller villages and cities along the coast have been already erased in the bygone years -- today, going to the ‘beach’ just means a 2 km walk in Boulevard Town along the seawall. There is still a small patch that I like to visit in the mornings at Promenade Beach near the seawalk that juts into the Bay. Around 6am, the Promenade is still bustling with locals executing their morning routines and fewer tourists. It’s also great to see the government working hard to revive reefs in the region and certify this beach as a ‘Blue Flag Beach’. Where to stay in Pondicherry? It’s all about which side of the canal. There’s a clear divide between the confluence of architecture, culture, and avenues when you cross over the canal. On one side you have the neat lanes with their French names all opening towards the dead end of the stunning sea backdrop on Goubert Avenue. On the other hand you suddenly have bustling streets with a strong influence of Tamil culture, temples, cheaper accommodation, and local aromas from the street food carts. I have always stayed in the Heritage Town when visiting Pondicherry. It’s just the easiest swap of an environment to feel like you’re in a completely different place. My list of places to stay is long and during each trip I try to tick one off the list. Here are my favorites below. a) CGH EARTH - They have two properties in Pondicherry - The Palais De Mahe right in the heart of the French Colony, and Maison Perumal - the renovated bungalow on the other side of the canal. My stays at Palais De Mahe are days I can revisit during hectic workdays in the congested city for its warm staff, spot on colonial style, and access to everything I love about the old town. b) THE PROMENADE - If you’re looking for a premium stay that lets you wake up, open the curtains and take in a sprawling view of the Bay of Bengal, then this is it. I would slot it as a 3-4 star hotel only because it lacks the colonial charm that so many other places in the neighborhood have to offer. c) Boutique Stays around RUE SUFFREN - Here’s an odd little thing I like to do whenever I’m in town. I rent a cycle (which is by the way the best way to commute around the boulevard) and ride along Rue Suffren or Romain Rolland St. a dozen times. Each of the buildings there, many converted into boutique hotels, carry the signature Pondicherry look and is perfect to stroll around and take pictures. Villa Shanti, Les Hibiscus, Coloniale Heritage are all gorgeous stays with courtyards that come priced a little on the heavier side. I prefer to visit these for a quick coffee instead rather than book my stay. d) A La VILLA CREOLE - One of my earliest stays at Pondicherry was in this quaint, small, family run homestay in White Town. The rooms are smaller compared to the palatial promises of the boutique hotels, but it’s relatively pocket friendly and has access to a terrace that you can go to and stargaze. While there, they can help you rent out a bicycle or a scooter like most places but at a more affordable rate. e) VILLA DU OCEAN - If you find yourself in Pondicherry for a milestone event and want to make it memorable, this is a great option. What’s special about the property is that the terrace pool and restaurant overlooks the Notre Dame Des Agnes Church, offering a lovely iconic Pondicherry backdrop to your special moments. The rooms are spacious and done up with exquisite tiles and poster beds that just seal the deal for me. f) AUROBINDO ASHRAMS - If you’re looking for a non-touristy, no frills accommodation in White Town this would be my pick. Women solo travelers do tend to opt for this as it is a safe, well located guesthouse with ample security. These are located in close proximity to the main complex for mediation and other community events, but require an advance booking as the slots are few. They serve home-style vegetarian food that you can avail via coupons and also the option to rent bicycles and scooters. There are so many undiscovered gems in this place every time I visit that I’ve always chosen to stay and try out a different experience in White Town. Just pick yourself a place that you can access by walking or by renting a bicycle and explore away. Need your go-to list of places to eat and things to do, here you go!


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