A new heritage hotel in Puducherry offers tranquil spaces, antique furniture and plenty of room to relax, for a quick weekend getaway
With the former French colony dotted with heritage homes, many over a century old, it’s always a delight to learn that another of them has joined the hospitality map. I find myself packing my bag and rolling my bike out to pay a visit to the latest, Esparan Heritage by Purpletree Hotels. The year-old ‘hotel brand and management company’ is behind serviced apartments like Grand Tiara and Velacity in Chennai. Esparan is their first venture in the heritage segment. Located on Perumalkovil Street, the almost 120-year-old building opens straight on to the road, as is usually the case with these properties. Thankfully, Purpletree has leased out parking space just a street away.
Books and board games
Shafee Ahmed, MD and CEO of Purpletree, shares that the property was restored and extended by about 30 per cent. This involves replicating the style of the original structure, including the plastering mixture. The entrance leads to a small central courtyard, typical of old homes, with a holy basil plant basking in the sunlight. To its right is a cozy arrangement of chairs and teapoys that we later learn are part of a bigger plan. Every corner of this section has racks bearing novels from different genres — but mostly Michael Crichton, Louis L’Amour and Clive Cussler — from Ahmed’s personal collection. “People come to a heritage hotel to relax, so we decided to offer them books and some board games too. We’ll be coming up with a small library cum cafe,” he later tells us.
Old meets new
The corridors are dotted with original Tanjore paintings and pictures of Pondicherry back in the early 19th century, with vintage wooden cupboards (to house more books, perhaps) and plenty of chairs. What takes us by surprise is the central elevator (for the convenience of elderly guests) that seems at home here, with a flight of stairs winding around it. As is the case with heritage properties, no two rooms are the same. We find that a lot of effort has been taken to ensure minimal need for artificial lighting, with large windows in all the rooms. But fear not, all the rooms are fitted with split air conditioning and LCD televisions and the bathrooms have all the modern necessities. We love their sturdy cots, most of which are at least three feet off the ground with an additional foot of bedding so you literally hop on and off. Of course, there are stepping stools for the careful traveller. Wooden cupboards and clothes stands form part of the accessories and we learn that most of the furniture was procured and restored from antique dealers.
Stop and stare
The hotel houses a small restaurant on the third floor, serving home style South Indian food. It takes not more than a quick walk (with the Madras roofing following you everywhere) to explore the entire property and we soon discover another courtyard flanked by Chettinad pillars and potted plants on either side. A merry group of middle-aged people playing a game of cards there makes the most happening zone in the hotel. As for me, I choose a spot beside the elevator, where a rather elaborately carved dressing table makes for much contemplation.
— Ryan Peppin