For decades now, Pondicherry and Auroville have been the go-to places for the people living in the urban city of Chennai and it’s only recently that the possibility of these two places as amazing remote working locations are being utilized. Pondicherry (also called as Puducherry) has long been synonymous with French cuisine, architecture, and beachy vibes. Auroville, less famous and deliberately low-key, is a bigger, greener, more spiritual, and eco-friendlier relative, situated at a distance of 150 kilometers south of Chennai (formerly known as Madras) and close to 10 kilometers north of Pondicherry.
For Chennai locals of course it’s just a road trip away on the smooth East Coast Road (ECR). Great connectivity, delectable food, and affordable accommodation, all make Pondicherry and Auroville ideal for digital nomads in India.
Auroville, in a nutshell, is a universal township established in 1968 by 5,000 people from 124 countries. A barren wasteland half a century ago, it is now a thriving, green, eco-sustainable community. Started as an idealistic experiment and a cashless society, Auroville currently houses residents from 60 countries, covering over 20 square kilometers of forested, semi-urban, and beach areas. For digital nomads, there is a huge network of guesthouses inside Auroville and many places where you can connect to WiFi to get some work done.
To live in Auroville is to live amidst and one with nature and the local residents. Previously with limited access, the township is now open to new possibilities. More people are investing in its real estate, setting up their weekend homes and farms. Most guesthouses have also upgraded to facilitate more visitors, which in turn helps with the revenue needed to run the township.
The East Coast
If you want to live within a few minutes of the beach, Aurorville’s East Coast is where your search ends. Most Auroville guesthouses and private accommodations lie on the town side, i.e. on the non-beach side of the highway cutting through. Still, some Aurovillians have purchased land along the shore and turned them into guesthouses. All these guesthouses are, in principle, resorts; While it may be pricier for a short period, you can talk to the owners and negotiate a long-term stay rate.
The Quiet Healing Center is built with earth-friendly architecture, offering many healing therapies. They have a limited number of rooms all of which enjoy the sea breeze and are fitted with AC units too. Meanwhile, Samarpan Guesthouse is a beachfront property next door, that’s more intimate and affordable than quiet. They have beachfront cabanas, as well as sea and garden view studios and conventional rooms, and function as a bed and breakfast. Tanto’s Beach Retreat is a sprawling property with a swimming pool that’s very popular with locals and visitors with several sea-facing garden rooms—but only some have internet.
As you enter the road that branches from the arterial East Coast Road, Kuyilapalayam, one of the villages that surrounds the universal township but somehow has become part of Auroville’s identity, will welcome you as the unofficial entry point into Auroville.
However, Auroville, as a manmade green paradise, hosts several dense forests inside it, which are out of the reception area for most cell service providers in India. Isai Ambalam (“Musical Revelation”) scores on that front. Offering both AC and non-AC rooms, it is within walking distance to Ganesh grocery store, the only supermarket inside Auroville; Naturellement cafe with its eclectic menu is just next door and also has WiFi.
Verite delivers quality WiFi with their single and double rooms with full board options. Like most other guesthouses in Auroville, they offer work-exchange arrangements for guests interested in a deeper Auroville experience, including integral learning, living, yoga, and other alternative therapies. Meanwhile, Gaia’s Garden offers spacious self-catering accommodation overlooking truly fantastic gardens that house some rare flora. They do have a curfew, as most guesthouses inside Auroville do.
Known for its beautiful ambiance and amazing food, Sharnga Guesthouse has chalet-like rooms and also offers equestrian classes and a modern yoga studio for its guests. Additionally, residential stays—which are rooms rented out by locals—are a low-budget alternative to guest houses.
As the capital of Puducherry Union Territory, Pondicherry may be a modern town but it has a rich heritage—it used to be the former French Colony, and you will see their signature in most streetscape and lifestyle of the locals. Pondi, as it is fondly known, has a different vibe from Auroville. On the one side, you have the elegant French Quarter—which will make you wonder if you are walking down a street in Paris—housing boutique hotels and homestays in colonial buildings that used to be French officers' bungalows during their reign. On the other side, you have quaint, traditional South Indian-style houses on nostalgic narrow streets.
The town enjoys top-of-the-line telecommunications; strong WiFi is a given almost everywhere, so where you want to stay entirely depends on your wish and your wallet.
Referred to by most locals as “White Town,” this is the area everyone wants to stay in when they visit Pondicherry, and for good reason: it’s impeccably preserved and boasts of a fine range of housing and restaurant options. The streetscape is arrayed with a mix of pastel- and sunny-colored buildings that tell the story of the past French colonization through the design, dialect, and daily lifestyle of the locals.
You have many accommodation options here, from the 100-year-old 19 Villa Mira, a heritage property that offers ensuite rooms fitted with AC, to the Mexican restaurant Margarita's and The Smoothie Bar. The boutique restaurant Maison Perumal (located in the plush Maison Perumal heritage hotel), just a few steps away, offers gourmet South Indian and Chettinad fare that would immensely please spice lovers.
Set 300 meters from Promenade Beach, the La Cedille - French Heritage House hosts a garden, a terrace, and a shared kitchen for guests. It is located on Dumas Street, which hosts several cafes and restaurants, including Les Saveurs, a popular European restaurant that also has a bar. The nearby Suffren Street brims with eateries and cafes, such as the Garden Cafe at Hotel de Petit, Le Jardin Suffren, and Le Suffren Cafe.
Villa Helena, Villa Montecarlo, and Villa Krish are all great options that offer AC rooms. For a sea view, Villa Anna with a 24-hour front desk is perfect. If your budget is bigger, don’t miss staying at the historic La Dupleix, charming Villa Shanti, and the beachfront Promenade. Most of these bed-and-breakfasts have their in-house restaurants serving delectable French and fusion cuisine that keeps patrons coming back.
The French Quarter can be expensive, but Pondicherry’s heritage quarter is not. Restored Tamil houses supply a nostalgic feel amid the urban landscapes, and there are many traditional eateries and cafes serving affordable and delicious food. Hotels such as Fab Express Santhi Inn, French Breeze Residency, and Treebo Red Lotus offer ensuite rooms with air-conditioning and breakfast for less than $15 USD a day. If you are looking for something more atmospheric, Maison Petite Singapore, The Bull Boutique Hotel, and Villa Ecotiva are picturesque stays that will cost you a bit more for the same amenities.
Located eight kilometers outside Pondicherry, Adi Shakthi is a sprawling theatre art and research lab with accommodation. You can get surfing lessons at the Kallialay Surf School or learn horse-riding at the Red Earth Riding School. If you want to get out and explore the region, the Blue Yonder designs responsible travel tours using storytelling, including to Chidambaram, Pitchavaram, Mahabalipuram, the Gingee Fortress, and the famous Vailankani Church.
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