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Pondicherry, India Travel Guide – Where to Stay, Eat & Visit (houseandgarden.co.uk)

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Chris Caldicott experiences the French-Indian city’s
cultural mash-up with baguette breakfasts, Tamil curries and
ancient vedic therapies



Chris Caldicott

The lap pool at the
centre of the Palais de Mahé.

Hotel:  Palais de Mahé



Chris Caldicott

The hotel’s lobby
area.

A tree-lined seafront promenade along the Coromandel Coast
gives Pondicherry the atmosphere of a hotter and spicier version of
Provence. In the heart of the town’s old French quarter – a quirky
enclave of elegant, leafy avenues, chic boutiques and cafés
serving coq au vin and steak au poivre – stands Palais
de Mahé
, a beautifully restored colonial mansion. The
hotel’s 18 light and airy suites, with whirring ceiling fans and
large shuttered windows, open out onto a cloistered colonnade where
tangerine-coloured walls and deep verandas with lofty white pillars
surround a central lap pool.



Chris Caldicott

Artwork on a wall
in the French quarter of Pondicherry.

Palais de Mahé celebrates Pondicherry’s dual Indian and French
identity by offering breakfasts of fresh baguettes and croissants
with homemade jam alongside South Indian-style dishes such as
masala dosa pancakes with aromatic coconut chutney and spicy sambal
sauce. In the evening, the rooftop restaurant serves unusually
successful fusion cuisine, such as wine-soaked Coromandel king
prawns with garlic poppadom and spicy couscous, or cauliflower and
broccoli gratin with chilli, lime and pea crostini. There is
absolutely nothing fusion, however, about the hotel’s Ayurvedic
spa. Here, it is hardcore therapies using oils infused with
3,000-year-old Vedic herbs and spices, which may not be everybody’s
idea of a relaxing spa treatment, but after a session of shirodhara
– warm, medicated herbal oil poured over the forehead for an hour
followed by a siro abhyangam head massage – you feel like you’re
walking on air. All the chic boutiques and cafés of the French
quarter are within walking distance, and for guests who want to
venture over the canal into the Tamil quarter, the hotel has
complimentary bikes. Double rooms from about £172, B&B; cghearth.com/palaisdemahe 

Restaurant: Maison Perumal



Chris Caldicott

Maison Perumal
restaurant.

Beyond the neat occidental geometry of the seafront lies
the Tamil quarter of Pondicherry, with its tuk-tuk-crowded lanes,
riotously colourful Grand Bazaar and Hindu temples
such as Manakula Vinayagar, which has a resident
elephant called Laxmi. Just round the corner, at 44 Perumal Koil
Street, is Maison Perumal, a former Tamil
merchant’s mansion of teak pillars, blue-stained glass and cool red
limestone floors with a palm-filled court – yard restaurant serving
excellent traditional Tamil seafood and vegetarian
cuisine.

While ingredients are super fresh and locally sourced, all
the dishes are cooked to order, so take some time to arrive.

Vatha kuzhambu, a tangy dried-berry curry served
with a
poriyal (stir-fry) of green beans
and grated coconut, poppadom and homemade mango pickle;

karuveppilai era, prawns cooked with curry
leaves and mustard seeds and served with tamarind rice; and a
divine coconut soufflé (a French twist creeping in here) – these
dishes are all well worth the wait.

The chefs also run daily early-evening cooking
demonstrations. If you feel the need to have a refreshing dip in
the ocean after lunch, the restaurant rents out vintage Royal
Enfield motorbikes, making the wild beaches of the Bay of Bengal,
just out of town, only minutes away.

A three-course meal for two costs around £20; cghearth.com/maison-perumal 

Don’t miss:



Chris Caldicott

A cow’s head artwork
from Domus.

The utterly enchanting Cluny Embroidery
Centre
(opposite Hotel de l’Orient on rue Romain
Rolland) is a women’s not-for-profit collective selling hand-sewn,
exquisitely embroidered bed linen and tablecloths in a serene
eighteenth-century mansion. And for cool interior-design fabrics
and furniture, vintage enamel, art and couture, head to Domus at 56
rue Suffren. On the same street, at number 10, pop into Café des
Arts, a bohemian, vintage-style boutique and restaurant, which
serves light meals and delicious organic coffee. 



Chris Caldicott

Women working at
Cluny Embroidery Centre

Areas to explore:



Chris Caldicott

The seafront promenade
in the French quarter.

 

The World Heritage Site of Mahabalipuram,
an hour and a half’s drive north of Pondicherry, makes a perfect
day trip. Grab an early start to catch the sunrise over the
magnificent seventh-century Pallava dynasty Shore Temple, then head
to Arjuna’s Penance – a giant boulder with
elaborate reliefs depicting Hindu legends – and the impressive
carved monoliths collectively known as the Five Rathas. After a
typical South Indian lunch in a seaside café, stop off at
Serenity Beach on the way back to
Pondy. 



Chris Caldicott

The Five Rathas at
Mahabalipuram.

Ways and means:

Chris Caldicott travelled as a guest of The Ultimate Travel Company, which offers a
five-day trip to Pondicherry staying at the Palais de Mahé,
B&B, from £1,185 per person, including flights with British Airways and private
transfers.

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