In the heart of the historic French Quarter, Palais de Mahé in Pondicherry is a characterful, colonial retreat with a courtyard pool, sea-showcasing roof terrace and luxurious, lofty rooms. The Bussy Street setting is a (skimming) stone’s throw from the seafront and its picturesque promenade, with the Bay of Bengal ushering in welcome breezes come the heady high summer. Local art is displayed regularly and the food is fabulous: expect to eat innovative Indian dishes with European influences in another nod to the days of French rule.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm, also flexible.
Double rooms from £72.30 (INR6,800), including tax at 18 per cent.
Rates include breakfast.
Don’t rush through the entrance hall – it regularly plays host to exciting art exhibitions that are worth a wander around.
At the hotel
Reading lounge, terrace, pool deck and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: a flatscreen TV, minibar, free bottled water, local bath products, air-conditioning and tea- and coffee-making facilities.
Our favourite rooms
Each room within this heritage building – set along the colonnade, with a sitting area overlooking the pool – has its own character, but soaring ceilings, arched doorways and electric punkahs are a given. Rich, red-ochre floors contrast with the clean, whitewashed walls. For a stately stay, book one of the rooms that has a four-poster bed.
There’s an unheated, adults-only pool out in the central courtyard, with sunloungers arranged to admire the hotel’s yolk-yellow walls and white arches.
The spa is more of an Ayurveda Centre, with resident doctors available for consultations and medical advice, as well as the usual massage and facial menu.
Bring clothing made from loose, meditation-friendly linen; and an extra (empty) suitcase to fill with Pondicherry-procured treasure (some appliqué or pottery from one of the nearby communes).
The communal areas are accessible for wheelchair users and there are adapted rooms on the first floor that can be reached by a lift.
All ages are welcome, but the hotel is more suited to couples. Baby cots (free for under-6s) and extra beds are available (between INR2,000 and INR6,700 a night depending on the season and your board basis).
The hotel uses regional materials where possible, including for the crockery, bedlinen and uniforms. Energy-efficient lightbulbs are used and food is locally sourced and organic.
Up on the candlelit roof, as close to the edge as is safe, for the best views of the sea and the prime position to be cooled by the accompanying breeze.
Bright-white cottons and pure silks to assist with keeping cool in the heady city heat.
Les Alice mixes Indian flavours with European influences, serving dishes such as mutton curry, grilled prawns, stews and marinated fish alongside traditional tandoor grills. Sugar fans should save room for pudding, when drunken-orange brownies and peanut burfi (a dense, milk-based dessert, named after the Persian word for ‘snow’) are on offer. Breakfast is a selection of fruits, eggs to order and daily-changing pancake, waffle and toast options. Guests will also be able to enjoy an authentic South Indian morning meal.
The small, contemporary bar has modern furniture, pale walls and an interesting lighting scheme. It’s open all day for creative cocktails – and a selection of refreshing mocktails.
Breakfast is served between 7.30am and 10.15am. Lunch is available from 12.30pm to 2.45pm and dinner is between 7pm and 10.30pm. The Mahé Bar serves drinks from 11am until 11pm.
No.4, Rue Bussy Street, Lal Bahadur Shasthri Road,
The hotel is in Pondicherry’s leafy French Quarter, close to the city’s seafront.
There is a domestic airport in Pondicherry, but its routes aren’t very reliable (the most recent, to and from Bangalore, was cancelled in 2015). Chennai’s international airport (http://chennaiairport.com) is closest, three hours by car from the hotel; British Airways fly directfrom London Heathrow (www.ba.com). Transfers can be arranged for INR4,800 each way but must be booked at least a day in advance.
Most guests travel around India with a private driver, but if you do arrive by car, there’s free parking at the hotel – it’s a 10-minute journey from the centre of Pondicherry.
Worth getting out of bed for
At the hotel, top up your art collection with a browse through the entrance hall/exhibition space, perform a series of sun salutations, borrow a bike or book an ayurvedic massage. Further afield, clear your mind by hopping in a rickshaw and heading to Auroville for some silent contemplation at the Matrimandir viewpoint; or pack your bucket and spade and make for Paradise Beach. For life-enhancing yoga and meditation tips, visit the community living within the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in the French Quarter.
For a shining example of coastal Tamil cooking, visit the hotel’s sister restaurant Maison Perumal on Perumal Koil Street, where traditional dishes such as curried chicken with crispy balls of batter, and fish with fried curry leaves are served in an informal room that doubles up as a gallery space. It also has excellent options for vegetarians. Pull up an alfresco seat in Satsanga’s courtyard garden on La Bourdonnais Street for some fine French-influenced food.
Join the queues of people on a quest for the best croissants and baguettes this side of Paris at the Baker Street bakery, on the same street as the hotel.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this boutique hotel in India and unpacked their painted ceramic bowls and silk scarves, a full account of their city break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Palais de Mahé in Pondicherry…
Pâté, pâtisserie and Pondicherry: things given to us by the French. This South Indian city was governed by Gallic rule until 1954 and, today, it’s as stylish than ever, with bougainvillea-covered boulevards, mustard-coloured colonial mansions and a Bay of Bengal-facing promenade. The star of this Union Territory town is Palais de Mahé, a heritage hotel in the quiet French Quarter, perfectly placed for ticking off the major sights. For spiritual enlightenment and an insight into an alternative way of life, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a commune set up in 1926, is a short walk away. For those content with their current situation, pitch up by the Palais’ courtyard pool, admiring the surrounding sunshine-yellow walls, crenellated roof and palm trees. Up on the terrace, Les Alice offers both inventive Indian food (by way of France, of course) and a welcome ocean breeze. On the same street as the hotel, the Baker Street bakery sells all the croissants and baguettes fit for even the most discerning Francophile. Pondicherry is a tiny Paris-on-Sea – bon voyage.