The Dune

Pondicherry, India Book from

Reviewed by Kristina Locke
A delightfully funky and eco-friendly beach resort with weird and wonderful architecture set in a 35-acre organic farm - ideal for chilling out
Tucked down a track 15km north of Pondicherry, this unique eco-getaway is a fun, funky playground for adults and children alike. And, with over 700m of sea frontage, it makes an ideal beach break. Set up by an enterprising young French man with a passion for nature and ecology, its 46 rooms - all different - are built using reclaimed materials from heritage houses. From sleek, stylish villas to ‘nature-cooled’ thatched huts nearer the beach, there's something for every budget and taste.

You're encouraged to explore the gardens and to move from room to restaurant to beach by bike. The food is famously fabulous - healthy fish and seafood, aromatic curries and organic vegetables from the garden. You can book a yoga session or an arts and crafts class, treat yourself to an Ayurvedic massage with the qualified doctor, or take a dip in the sleek suspended pool. Rebuilt after the tsunami, which hit just as it was about to open, this place is a labour of love, and a vibrant reflection of the owners' passion and determination.

Highs

  • This place has exceptional eco-credentials: solar heated water, reclaimed timbers, a waste water treatment plant, an organic farm and delectable food
  • It's family-friendly, with organised activities for kids so you can enjoy your yoga or swim without worrying
  • There are free bicycles for roaming around the 35-acre garden
  • The spa is excellent. We had a very good massage, and more alternative therapies such as Watsu are also on offer
  • It's the perfect place to relax by the pool or beach, within easy reach of Pondy

Lows

  • Some rooms are very basic and looking a bit worn; others might be too themed for your taste. Not all are air conditioned and the climate here is very hot for a lot of the year
  • It's spread out, so expect longish walks (or cycle rides) between room, restaurant and pool
  • Service can be slow, and the overall atmosphere is languid (think grown-up hippy with style; attention to detail is sometimes lacking)
  • Although dramatic, the beach is quite windy and the sea is not safe unless you are a very strong swimmer
  • It's an ever-evolving work in progress - be flexible and you'll love it!

Best time to go

The best months are December to March, when days are hot and sunny (25-35C) and the evenings are warm. April and May get hotter and more humid but are still quite bearable; May and June see plenty of local festivals. The summer monsoon brings rain in July and August, but it's very light in this part of India, with some moderate rainfall in the evening. September is usually dry, before the winter monsoon arrives in October and November.

It can be quiet here during the week and packed out during weekends and holidays - it's advisable to book early for peak periods. The most popular rooms get reserved months in advance.

Our top tips

Kick back here for anything from a few days to a couple of weeks. We'd recommend 5-7 days if you have the time. Longer stays of a month or so are actively encouraged with favourable rates, and many artists take advantage of these.

Great for...

Beach
Eco
Family
Foodie
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Beach Resort
  • 46
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Tennis Court
  • Bicycles Available
Room:

Rooms

The 46 villas and rooms are scattered generously among the 35-acre grounds. They have been individually decorated and designed, and every room is tantalisingly different. Some are modern villas with clean lines, others are air-cooled wooden shacks near the beach. Some cater for families and children, others are more suited to romancers. There's something for every budget and taste, and many people come back several times and try a different room.

The more basic rooms, with names like 'Baywatch' and 'Bamboo', are open to the elements and are described by the owners as ‘nature cooled’, i.e. calmed by the ocean breezes. Most have ceiling fans and walls of intertwined casuarina or betelnut branches, with roofs of palm thatch, and the overall feel is beach-cabana-chic.

The more contemporary air-conditioned houses and suites are filled with local art. Some have been decorated by French designers, imparting a continental-meets-colonial feel. These rooms also have DVD players and private gardens.

If you want to splash about, book one of the 2 ground-floor Artist's Studios, each of which has a 20-foot private pool, as well as designer furnishings and challenging artwork. The Penthouse Artists' Studio comes with a Jacuzzi and 360-degree views.

If you want to splash out, the Tower House combines designer furniture (including black leather easy chairs) with amazing views through louvred shutters of the coastline. It's surely the most romantic room in Tamil Nadu, but it's not for those with vertigo!

The lovely bathrooms offer open showers with plentiful quantities of toiletries from natural brand Biotique. There are now normal toilets in all the rooms, replacing the old compost ones.

Don't forget this is an eco-resort, not a 5-star hotel. In the open-plan houses you should be prepared for some creepy-crawlies, and wherever you stay there's a chance your hot water might run out.

Click here for details of all rooms and villas.

Features include:

  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Internet access
  • Terrace

Eating

The open-sided main restaurant, FUN (Food U Need), lays out exquisite buffet breakfasts. There are freshly squeezed juices, home-ground organic coffee, homemade croissants and fresh brioches if you’re hankering after a genuine French petit dejeuner, but the South Indian specialities (the lightest, crispest dosas, with homemade chutneys) are also scrumptious.

The à la carte evening menu features delectable South Indian curries, given a healthy twist with fresh organic produce from the garden, with 'hypotoxic' (cleansing) options on offer too. Nothing is hugely spicy, which will relieve western palates, and there's a French-Creole flavour to many of the dishes. Fresh fish is delivered daily, and there's an excellent wine list, including a decent selection of Indian wine. The only complaint might be that, if you're staying a week or more, you might find the fare a bit repetitive.

The poolside seafood bar also serves lunch and occasional BBQs in the evening, using its Tandoor oven. It's a funky, laid-back place for tucking into salads, sandwiches and snacks, but bear in mind that - as often in India - service can be on the slow side.

If you want to get away from other guests, you can order a private dinner in the grounds of your house, or elsewhere, with a menu of your choice.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Children meals
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Swim in the long, suspended pool or, in calm conditions, bathe in the sea off the 700m beach

  • Relax with a treatment at the Ayurvedic spa (the head massages come highly recommended), join one of the free daily yoga or meditation lessons, or book the steam room

  • Explore the 35-acre grounds. Bicycles are provided and there's a 2km jogging track too

  • Visit the resort's own organic farm, where you'll find watermelons, pineapples and all kinds of animals

  • There's also a putting lawn, a tennis court, beach volleyball and, if you still have the energy, a gym and workout space under a thatched roof

  • Horse riding can be arranged nearby, as can fishing trips with the locals on traditional double-hulled wooden crafts (if you don't mind getting up at dawn)

  • For wet days, there are pottery lessons (you can take your own plates and mugs home with you), a huge DVD library (some rooms have DVD players) and lots of board games like chess and Scrabble

  • If you're lucky, you might coincide with a music performance in the outdoor arena (this place attracts musical types, and there are always artists in residence)

  • You're only 15km from Pondy, as it's known, so schedule in a day to explore this charming city, which was once the largest French colony in India. It still feels distinctly Gallic, with broad boulevards, whitewashed houses, petanque courts, Med-style restaurants, bakeries and chic boutiques selling fabrics, leather, clothes and handmade paper

  • Join the New Age travellers and Indian pilgrims paying their respects at the ashram of Sri Aurobindo on the edge of town

  • If you want to engage in more serious introspection, head 10km outside town to the experimental Utopian community of Auroville. It has no money and no laws, just 2,000 people living in apparent harmony, planting trees, farming, researching alternative energy and meditating in the great golden dome of Matri Mandir

  • Head north to Gingee (Jinji) Fort, the most spectacular fort in Tamil Nadu and one of the most impregnable in India. Its ancient walls enclose dramatic slopes topped by a clifftop citadel and linked by raised paths; you'll also find crumbling temples, irrigation channels, a mosque and a stone granary, with a patchwork of banana and paddy fields below

  • With good transport, you can take (longish) day tours to 3 great Chola temples at Chidambaram, Gangakondacholapuram and Dharasuram, where you'll find pyramidal towers filled with carved elephants, phallic statues and figurines of astonishing, unfamiliar gods (including a triple-breasted, fish-eyed goddess)

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Art classes
  • Boat trips
  • Cycling
  • Fishing
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Pottery classes
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Traditional cultures
  • Well being
  • Yoga

Kids

With so much to do and explore, this is a great place for children of all ages. There’s a large playground and a toddler pool right next to the seafood bar, so parents can have a relaxed lunch whilst keeping an eye on the kids. There are also animals to visit on the organic farm, and classes for children, such as pottery, are run every day. Staff are extremely kind and accommodating to parents (though you do feel obliged to tip quite liberally) and babysitting can be arranged. The property and its grounds are pushchair friendly. Under 5s stay free.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

The Garden rooms are spacious for 1-2 children plus parents (add extra beds) and have a bath. For larger families, Family rooms are priced based on 4 people sharing. Read the descriptions in Rooms carefully - there's plenty to choose from - and note the pool villas aren't ideal for younger kids.

Babysitting:

Babysitting is available by arrangement. See Rates.

Baby equipment:

  • Baby cot
  • Baby bedding

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

A children's menu is available in the restaurant. A small gripe would be that breakfast can be a little sluggish in getting going - not ideal when small tummies need feeding. You can book a chef for your villa if you don't want to cook. The Family House has a well-equipped kitchen for self-catering.

Kids Activities on site:

  • Swimming pool
  • Separate kids pool
  • Classes and activities including balloon shooting, animal feeding, cow milking, kids yoga and pottery
  • Bikes
  • Playground
  • Farm animals
  • Playroom and games room
  • Children's books and DVDs
  • Farm animals

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Beaches
  • Temples
  • Playgrounds
  • Horse riding
  • Daytrips to Pondicherry and other nearby towns

Families Should Know:

The sea is too rough for children to swim in, and not all the rooms are appropriate for children - some have drops or are near open water. You can buy nappies, toys, baby food and other sundries nearby.

Distances:

  • Airport 2.5 hours
  • Hospital: 10 minutes
  • Doctor: 10 minutes
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

7/
Rooms
9/
Food
10/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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