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Once an outpost of the French in India, Pondicherry, renamed Puducherry, is an ancient seaside city that dates back to Roman times. Even after the British decisively defeated the French in India, Pondicherry and several other cities remained under French control; after independence, it was merged with the rest of India. Today, Pondicherry retains distinct pockets of French flavor, including wide boulevards, the cylindrical kepis worn by the police, excellent French cuisine, and well-preserved colonial buildings. This relaxing, atmospheric destination, one of the most pleasant in south India, gained further notice as the hometown of the protagonist in the recent award-winning novel and film Life of Pi.
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Start off a Pondicherry morning by experiencing the unique intersection of French and Tamil culture at a local patisserie, where you can chat with the owner about his upbringing in Pondicherry, and how he came to learn his craft.
Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Visit Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a religious hermitage founded by Sri Aurobindo, who came from a prominent Brahmin, or first-caste, family. While there is no present guru, an enormous amount of spiritual works have been bequeathed to the ashram.
Soldat Family Dinner
Have dinner in the home of a prominent Soldat family. Soldats were lndian veterans of the French military whose army pensions made them quite wealthy upon their return home. This is a great chance to learn about a little-known slice of East-meets-West history of the 20th century.
Shop in Pondicherry’s booming commercial district, including the shop of a famed silk designer who Skypes with her clients overseas to show them her newest creations. Her shop has many fine examples of her table and bed linens and sari silk from various parts of India that she personally sources and carries back to Pondicherry.
Embark on a comprehensive walking tour of the town, passing by its quaint French colonial buildings, churches, and the war memorial commemorating the loss of French soldiers' lives in World War I. Walk through Ville Blanche (white town) and Ville Noire (black town), so named because the former was where most of the French lived and the latter was the Tamil side.
Explore the Ganesh temple, which is usually bustling with locals wishing to get everything from their children to their motorbikes blessed by Lakshmi, a 19-year old female elephant that has been living in Pondicherry for nearly her entire life. Feed her some fruit and she'll tap you on your bowed head with her trunk!
Salle a Manger
Have drinks and dinner at Salle a Manger, the restaurant of The Calve, a property in black town and a former home of a prominent Chettinad family. It was built 150 years ago and restored with authentic materials such as Chettinad plaster and Atangudi tiles.
French School for the Far East
Visit Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient (EFEO), or the French School for the Far East, which was founded in 1900 in Hanoi but is now headquartered in Paris. Meet with students studying Asian societies, the focus of the EFEO, and have tea with professors who have dedicated their lives to this academic field.
Take in the best of South India’s culture on this 14-day luxury journey from Mumbai to Madurai. You’ll peruse bustling markets, explore UNESCO-listed ancient ruins in Hampi, and enjoy the colonial charms of Pondicherry as you feel like royalty sleeping in some of India’s most luxurious Taj hotels.
Hidden behind a discrete facade, this nineteenth century house is located in the old French town. After receiving a series of expansions and renovations, La Villa Shanti's redesign resulted in a hip, modern lodge that nonetheless celebrates its distinct, French heritage. The hotel itself comprises fifteen well-decorated and spacious rooms built around an inner courtyard; all its rooms feature bright, cheery spaces, plush, comfortable beds, modern, immaculate bathrooms, air-conditioning, cable television, in-room Wi-Fi, and a minibar. Dining options include a restaurant which serves fresh, organic produce and meats in a variety of preparations, and a casual, comfortable cafe bar. While La Villa Shanti does not have a gym or spa, its courtyard does feature a beautiful, verdant garden that matches its unique architecture.
Once the home of governor-general Joseph Francois Dupleix (1697-1763), this luxury boutique hotel in the heart of Pondicherry is a beautifully restored 18th-century mansion whose 14 rooms feature fabulous furnishings from the French colonial era. The restaurant Gourmet in Le Dupleix’s courtyard serves a range of Indian and Continental cuisine and French specialties, and you may also relax over a cocktail at the Governor’s Lounge Bar. Le Dupleix is approximately a three-hour drive from Chennai airport (MAA).