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In Pondicherry -- Pondicherry is made for pedestrians, and there seems little point in basing yourself in a hotel in modern Pondi, no matter how popular (thinking of Hotel Atithi here), if it necessitates then having to drive into the French heart of Pondi. As such you'll probably want to base yourself in the more peaceful and very charming French Quarter, from where you can walk anywhere; as such all the recommended options are in the French Quarter, with the exception of the charming Maison Perumal, which is located in a beautifully restored Tamil home just below Mission Street (the main shopping drag). Despite having no sea views, this is currently our top pick in Pondi itself (Dune being the best out-of-Pondi choice), primarily because of the exceptional service levels: Part of the highly respected CHGroup, who specialize in unpretentious elegance, Maison Perumal is the latest in a line of boutique properties the group is opening in Tamil Nadu, a move that is helping to put Tamil Nadu as firmly on the map as their properties did for Kerala.

Other than those reviewed, it's also worth looking into the relatively new Richmond Hotel, which opened in late 2008 in the French Quarter at 12 Labourdannais St., 4 blocks back from the seafront (tel. 0413-2346363; www.theresidency.com; Rs 3,500-Rs 4,000 double). A narrow colonial-era building, the Richmond is a small property, with just 14 compact rooms boasting all modern conveniences; we certainly wouldn't mind ending up here if our recommendations were full. However, some rooms are a little on the dark side; request a room that overlooks the street or the back of the building, that is, a room with plenty of windows to let in natural light, such as 1210, 1212 or 1202. The hotel has no outside gardens, and the bland mod interiors don't reflect any sense of place. If this is important you may want to take a look at nearby Hotel de Pondichéry on 38 Rue Dumas (tel. 0413-2227409; www.hoteldepondichery.org; Rs 2,000-Rs 3,200 double). This heritage hotel, a block back from the seaside, in a gorgeous colonial villa with gardens that run into the Le Club group of restaurants (comprising Bistro, Indochine, and Le Club), was undergoing a much-needed renovation at research time -- given that this was once one of our favorites before it became increasingly dog-eared, damp and run-down, we are much heartened that steps have been taken to remedy the situation. However, as it was very much in progress, we cannot vouch for the end product as yet (furniture would need a similar investment) so final opinions are tempered (but do write and inform us of yours!). Right next door, at 36 Rue Dumas, is Dumas Guest House (tel. 0413-2225726; www.dumasguesthouse.com) another 17th-century colonial heritage building that has been converted into a simple guest house offering eight clean but spartan rooms, surrounded by nice gardens, and a deal at R 1,500 double. For spotlessly clean budget accommodations right on the sea, look no further than Sea Side Guest House (14 Goubert Ave.; tel. 0413/233-6494). It's basically a small hostel-like hotel, run by the Aurobindo Society, so service is either benign or indifferent, and there are no real amenities. But the combination of location and price is unbeatable: a double A/C room with sea view costs a mere Rs 775; sea-facing suites cost Rs 975 a day; extra mattress Rs 150. The only possible irritant is the fact that the gates are locked at 11:15pm, and no alcohol is allowed on the premises. It's understandably popular, so book well in advance.

Auroville -- If you'd like to stay in Auroville (the only way to get to know this fascinating community, and worth it if you wish to meet with the crafters and artists living here), there are more than 30 guesthouses spread throughout the community, rated between A (basic, with shared bathroom) through to C (en-suite with fan or A/C) and D (studios or apartments or cottages with own kitchen or kitchenette) -- for the full list along with informal photographs, take a look at www.aurovilleguesthouses.org. Depending on when you go, and the size of your accommodation, you're looking at around Rs 400 to Rs 1,400 per person with the upper reaches charged during high season (usually July-Aug and Dec-Mar).

Depending on your interest, we recommend the following: Afsanah, a cool, classy, Zen-style guest house with six double rooms and three "Japanese" cottages on the grounds, and an unpretentious focus on pottery, meditation, and horseback riding (tel. 2622048 or 9345400700; afsanah_gh@auroville.org.in). Those looking for a healing beach retreat would do well to book into one of the 13 double rooms at the aptly named Quiet Healing Centre, located within sight and sound of the ocean, and offering various therapies, classes and workshops to enhance well-being (tel. 2622329 or 2622646; quiet@auroville.org).

If you're looking for a thoroughly authentic Auroville experience, and prepared for the minimum 1-week stay, Verite Guest House is all about communal living, including shared (vegetarian) meals, organic gardening, sustainable technology and daily group meditation (tel. 2622045; verite@auroville.org.in). A double room with attached bathroom will cost Rs 960 to Rs1,100 per person per night; a "capsule," a thatch and bamboo hut suspended off the ground on a granite pillar, with common bathroom facilities, will cost Rs 395 to Rs 450 per person per night.

Perhaps the best introduction to Auroville, certainly if you just want to be in the center of things (such as walking distance to the Visitor Centre restaurant and matramandir), is the efficient Centre Guest House, oldest and largest (20 double rooms) in Auroville (tel. 2622155; centerguesthouse@auroville.org.in). Single rates are between Rs 400 and Rs 1,000; double occupancy rates range from Rs 800 to Rs 1,600; this includes three meals, laundry, bicycle, and guest contribution to Auroville.

Outskirts of Pondicherry -- There are two good beach resorts within easy striking distance, so if you prefer to do nothing but relax around a pool, meditate, practice yoga, and enjoy fabulous Ayurvedic massages and food, with the option of popping into Pondi for short shopping trips, Dune Village (below) is not only our first recommendation, but hands down one of the best beach resorts in all of India. Kailash Beach Resort (tel. 04132/619-700; www.kailashbeachhotel.in; from Rs 3,500 double), a 37-unit retreat situated about 20 minutes south of Pondi, and run by the well-traveled Raj, an ex-publisher, and his French wife, Elisabete, is another possibility. It's billed as a beach resort, but there are no sea views (the beach is a short stroll away), and you're more likely to find yourself by the massive 33m (108-ft.) pool than braving the pounding surf (in fact, the sea along the entire Coromandel coast is usually too rough to swim in, so don't do this alone). The sprawling pink buildings are apparently inspired by Sikkim architecture, with plenty of carved doorways and deep terraces with comfortable seating; rooms are cool and comfortable though positively bland when compared to the Dune Village.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.