Pondicherry allures travellers not just for its year-round sunshine and welcoming beaches, but for its well-preserved Indo-French culture. The city’s neighbourhoods (known locally as quarters) are divided into distinct French and Indian locales, each reflecting French, Tamil and Creole architecture and history. Founder of The Stylish Dish, Nirja Raju provides a guide to this relaxed, bohemian coastal city.
In the French Quarter, you’ll find a range of Tamil and French accommodation, from shab-chic homestays to luxurious, pastel-hued French villas. For solo travellers, artists or those seeking a quiet retreat, The Gratitude guest house is a storied mustard mansion of only nine rooms and a peaceful garden sanctuary. There are strict house rules: phone use is to be kept to a minimum and there is not a single television set on the property. Bliss.
Originally a colonial French building, boutique Dune De L’Orient sports individually designed rooms simply furnished with four-poster beds, antiques and French windows peering over the courtyard garden.The Tamil Quarter hosts a revived Chettiar mansion called Maison Perumal, with wooden pillars, stained-glass and antique-inspired decor. The muted grey walls of Villa Shanti are accented by pops of colour and greenery, adding an eclectic touch to traditional decor.
Most of Pondicherry’s restaurants and cafes have a relaxed, alfresco vibe with simple decor and garden settings. Café Des Arts is a tiny nook with whimsical wall art; it serves the flakiest croissants. Villa Shanti has a superb selection of Indian seafood while Chez Francis at Hotel Dune L’Orient is where you can taste French and Creole-inspired cuisine. For pretty, garden ambiance make your way to Café De Flore, part of the Alliance Français (which is a mere skip from the beach). Le Club (38, Dumas Street) is a lush courtyard by the seaside for chilled beers and Med, Indian and South-East Asian food.
Discover indie boutiques aplenty as you stroll the French Quarter; if you’re coveting handwoven Indian threads, visit Fabindia for beautiful, artisan-made sarees, scarves and jewellery.
Domus is an exceptional interior design store with vintage-inspired creations, fabrics and knick-knacks curated and created by designer Claude Dalmais who splits his time between France and Pondicherry. For an one-of-a-kind experience visit the artists at Cluny Embroidery Centre (Romain Rolland St), who hand-stitch delicate embroidery before your eyes in an 18th-century mansion.
Pondicherry has many an Instagrammable lane, with buildings festooned with blush-pink bougainvillaea – you can stroll around snapping for hours. Better yet, let the folks at Pondy Cycle Tour show you around the markets and quarters on vintage bicycles.
The city is famously home to one of the biggest ashrams in the world; visit Sri Aurobindo to explore questions of the self. An extension of ashram, Auroville’s school, halls and residential complexes have been designed by architects from all over the world, using sustainable practices. This is the go-to for organic food markets, pop-up boutiques and events. Shop the main store Auromode with their fair-trade goodies, from organic coconut lotion to soft dresses made of bamboo fabric.