India’s little slice of France is gearing up for tourism as a clutch of heritage hotels are opening their doors.

Blink in Pondicherry and you might just think you’re on the Cote d’Azure. The tiny French colony in India’s remote southern state of Tamil Nadu brims with provincial style mansions splayed with hot pink bougainvillea, croissant shops, bicycles and an esplanade wrapped by the lapping sea. Shadowed by nearby Auroville- a hippy commune founded by French philosopher Mirra Alfassa in 1968 as an experiment in global relations- Pondicherry is now emerging as a destination in its own right. A few short years after the former mayors house was transformed into the quaint 14-roomed Le Dupleix hotel, a string of entrepreneurs have been following suit. Hotel du Parc has ten rooms with French doors clustered around a burnt yellow courtyard and hundred year old mango tree. In the town’s little-explored Tamil Quarter, CGH Earth is putting the finishing touches on ten- roomed Maison Perumal. The courtyard wooden house has been painstakingly restored to its original condition, with fluted plaster, arched windows and cosy verandahs overlooking Perumal Koil Street, one of the best preserved in the Tamil Quarter. Take a walk to Cre’Art, a cooperative stocking the best of Auroville’s designer goodies. The upstairs shop is packed with must-have totes, vintage-style lamps and cheeky toilet bags donning images of 60’s Indian movie stars. Go now- despite the falling dollar, Pondicherry (which is officially known as Puducherry, or usually just Pondy) has managed to escape much of India’s booming tourist trail- but with its charming architecture, tasty Creole food and unruffled nature, chances are it won’t be long until the rest of the world arrives.

Le Dupleix 5 Rue de la Caserne; +91 4132226999; double rooms from $130

Hotel du Parc 5 Rue Jawaharlal Nehru; +91 4132226591; www.hotelduparc.co.in; double rooms from $70

Maison Perumal 44 Perumal Koil Street; +91 4843011711; www.cghearth.com; introductory rates of $185 for a double room are available until Nov 1

Cre’Art 53 Rue Suffren; +91 4134200258

This article appeared in a early 2008 issue of Travel + Leisure Australia.