French Haveli, Ahmedabad

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French Haveli, Ahmedabad

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Review of "French Haveli, Ahmedabad"

published 02/08/2016 | koshkha
Member since : 26/12/2005
Reviews : 1434
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Seems it takes a lot to get many reads these days so be assured that all are appreciated.
Excellent
Pro A unique heritage property
Cons It won't suit everybody - but it was a hit with us
exceptional
Value for Money
Quality of Rooms
Standard of Service
Quality of Food & Drink
Cleanliness

"Step back in time"

The French Haveli

The French Haveli

Some places move your soul

I spend more nights a year in hotels than many people will spend in a lifetime but when I think really hard about the places I've been that really moved me, I can count the truly remarkable hotels that linger in the mind as probably no more than a dozen in my lifetime. The world is full of faceless chain hotels, so interchangeable that you wake up without a clue where you are but knowing exactly where they'll have hidden the hairdryer and what the shower gel will smell like but it doesn't always have to be like that. Sometime you really get lucky (or I like to think it's not so much luck as good research) and you find a place so perfect for you and so sublime that it seems like an enormous privilege that you got the chance to stay there. These are not always the really expensive and swanky hotels that cost a fortune and make you glad you're on expenses and my most recent 'find', a place I'd go back to in a heartbeat even though the city where it's situated is a bit low on normal 'attractions', is the French Haveli in Ahmedabad.

Why Ahmedabad?

I had pretty low expectations of Ahmedabad before I went there. I'd read a fantastic e-book about a guy following the England cricket team around India which utterly slated the place, perhaps most notably for having terrible food, no alcohol and a sense of open hostility – admittedly that's perhaps not entirely unexpected when the Barmy Army roll into town. When I told Indian friends that we were planning to go there, they raised their eyebrows and asked "Are you sure?", followed by "You do know that Gujarat is a 'dry' and vegetarian state, don't you?" Honestly, as if we couldn't go a few days without a beer or a piece of fish. Actually, lest this worry you, the whole vegetarian thing has been relaxed in recent years and you can now get an omelette for your breakfast without breaking any laws, eggs normally being considered non-veg in Indian dietary rules.

Once you've been everywhere obvious in India you have to start exploring the less obvious places and my decision to go to Ahmedabad was driven by the desire to stay at the French Haveli more than anything else. I had booked the first part of our holiday in Mumbai and Goa and needed somewhere to spend a few extra days in the second week of our trip. I started out on a mission to get to one of the Maharastra 'hill stations' before realising they were stupidly expensive and didn't look particularly nice. My policy then was to look at the flight options and identify somewhere we could get to from Mumbai in no more than an hour that had cheap flights and that we hadn't been to before. When I found the French Haveli on Tripadvisor that sealed the deal. We would go to Ahmedabad, and to hell with what everybody else thought of the place. We delight in the less conventional tourist attractions and knew we'd find something to do once we got there.

Why was I so excited about this place?

I've been going to India for 20 years now and I constantly yearn for finding the sort of accommodation that lets you see a bit of the real India without requiring you to stay in a slum. Yep, that sounds pretty shallow but I'm sure I'm not the first person to feel that way. The fancier and more luxurious the hotel, the less likely it is that you can have any kind of insight into daily life that's going on around you. There are organisations that could put you in a mud hut in the middle of the countryside (not so much in India, but I've done it a lot in Morocco and Turkey) and let you smell the cows and step in their poop, but you're not going to get air con and Wi-fi and you might get the runs in a major way and have to perfect the art of nose breathing and getting in and out of a stinky hole in the ground toilet really fast. Finding a comfortable and beautiful place to stay that lets you observe real life happening around you is rarer than hens' teeth.
French Haveli styles itself as a 'boutique heritage hotel' and that's really only scratching the surface of what it is. This place is a labour of love, a project that seeks to offer outsiders an insider view of the city's small communities known as 'pols' which effectively turn the old city into a collection of much smaller linked groups of houses. It's also a project that actively supports the local community and other heritage projects in the area. It won't be for everybody – and indeed, some of the reviews you'll find on Tripadvisor suggest it's absolutely NOT for some people, usually Indian tourists, who want five star luxury and fawning service for their money – but it's perfect for tourists who want something rather different.

The building is 150 years old and in Indian terms, that's pretty old and given the local environmental conditions, it's clearly a big job to keep the place structurally sound and safe. A haveli is a traditional local multi-family home, usually shared by the parents and several sons and their families as an extended family. In its heyday, there would have been several brothers and their families inhabiting the place, each with different access doors to give a little bit of separateness in a shared home. The building is built around a small central courtyard that's open to the elements and filled with natural light. In many respects, if you're used to the layout of Moroccan riads or even old Roman villas, it's not dissimilar to either.

Pick a room, any room

The haveli has five rooms available for guests. Two are single rooms and they don't have attached bathrooms. I forget the exact layout, but one uses the bathroom next to the breakfast area on the first floor and I think the other might have used a ground floor bathroom. The one with the ground floor bathroom also has its own little study on the ground floor and has windows on three sides of the room making it really light and airy. The single on the first floor has windows that open onto the inner courtyard. Both the single rooms have rates that start at 2125 rupees per night including breakfast. Last year, the exchange rate was approximately 100 to the pound but sadly this year it'll cost you about 13% more (thanks the post-Brexit vote collapse of the pound against the rupee).We didn't get to visit these two rooms as they were let during our stay but we did see all three of the double rooms.

On the first floor, next to the dining area is the least attractive of the doubles which was designed to be the coolest of the rooms in the heat of the summer because it has no windows. It's large, packed with old furniture and with a nice modern bathroom. Personally I was there for the view and having people eat outside my door would have driven me crazy. It would set you back from 2975 rupees a night.

The top floor has two suites and I booked the biggest, best and most expensive at a rate of 4165 rupees per night. Even at today's rate, that gets you an exceptional room for less than £50 a night.

The other suite has a small outside terrace and two beds, neither of them quite a double and each in a different room of the suite. That's obviously why I didn't choose that one although it was very charming and costs from 3655 rupees a night. We opted for the so-called Mahajan Suite which was well worth the extra 500 rupees a night.

Booking and Arrival

I booked through Booking.com which seemed to be the only way to get a room though now that I have the contact with the owners, I'm guessing I could go direct next time. Soon after I received lots of information about how to get there and about the Haveli and its background. We realised that finding the place on our own would be pretty much impossible so we took up their offer to arrange a pick-up when we arrived at the airport. I have a note in my notebook that we paid 1300 rupees but I can't recall if that was including a tip. At the time it would have been £13. Going back to the airport at the end of our stay was about half the price since the driver could get a return journey.

The owners offered us a number of options to get there – including suggesting Uber or picking up a pre-paid taxi at the airport, but with the pick-up, we knew that the driver would call the haveli and get somebody to come and meet us, it seemed like the best option to just go with that option. I'm glad we did as the car dropped us on a busy road next to a tea stall and we'd have had no idea where to go if Mohan hadn't come to find us.

Mohan is the general factotum and odd-job chap from the haveli. He greeted us with an enormous smile, grabbed our bags and took off at a pace with us trotting along behind as he led us through the neighbourhood. We said hello to all the locals and shopkeepers that we passed and waved at old ladies watching out of their windows. It's a bit of a maze but once you come to the Jain temple, turn left, past the bird feeder (maybe more on that later), swerve between the cows and the mopeds, past the odd building site and there's the Haveli. You could feel a bit embarrassed as a couple of over-privileged pinkies rolling into the neighbourhood to see 'real' India and I'm sure in their shoes, I might have felt a bit miffed if I were one of the locals but we were made really welcome.

Oddly, my first impressions of the building were that it reminded me of the amazing old Victorian place my uncle and aunt in Australia used to have on the park in Bondi. It's a rambling wooden structure with doors and windows all over the place and I was keen to get inside and have a look. We stepped into the atrium and saw the big wooden swing and some comfy chairs where we sat to have a welcome drink (I think it was tea) and do the odd bit of admin.

It soon became clear that we were going to have some adventures trying to make ourselves understood and in understanding Mohan. Smiles and hand signals and some good guess work and heavily accented English and we more or less got the gist of things although quite honestly we were totally baffled about how we were going to get some dinner but we relaxed and didn't worry about it. He showed us around the ground floor and I noticed my husband looking a bit pale when he spotted the staircase to the first floor which was more like a ladder than a staircase. He has dodgy knees and no head for heights. We headed up and were shown the breakfast area and one of the rooms and then taken on up to the top floor to our 'suite'. I don't have a problem with the stairs but I'm quite glad that somebody else was taking the bags to the top.

Room with a view

We had a large bedroom, a large sitting room and an enormous bathroom and best of all, a fantastic shady terrace outside as well as access to the upper rooftop if you're willing to climb a ladder with an open grid beneath it. (I am, my husband isn't). The rooms were stuffed with old period furniture which I found charming but others might just find 'old' – it all depends on your perspective. Lying on the big old wooden bed, I marveled at the heavily textured ceiling. The bathroom plumbing was excellent with good water pressure and plenty of hot water and the lighting was also very good. Soft fluffy towels are not always to be expected in India but these were great.

Even in October, Ahmedabad gets pretty hot and we were glad of the ceiling fans and occasionally the air con. But mostly we liked to just open the doors onto the terrace and suck in some air that way.

We spent a lot of time on our terrace watching the world go by and this was something I loved about the haveli. As you go about your daily chores, how often do you look around and see if anybody is watching you? Maybe you do or maybe you don't but the chances are that you don't look UP to see if you're being observed. Sitting up on the terrace on the second floor gave us a fantastic window on the world and an opportunity not so much to spy on the neighbours as to quietly observe their comings and goings. We could happily spend half an hour watching the guys on the scaffolding in their flip flops building an extension, another half hour watching the ladies of the pol doing their washing or washing the dishes and observe some intense negotiations over the best bananas with the banana man. My favourite observation opportunity was watching a lady who had a semi-broken plastic chair negotiating to swap it for a shiny new plastic bucket with the bucket-seller-man.

Food

All rooms come with breakfast included and it's quite a feast. Watching Mohan and his assistant clambering up and down the ladder-like staircases with plates of food and drink was eye-opening. We lingered over breakfast each day, taking our time to do justice to his efforts. Most days one or more of the other guests sat with us and we talked about what we'd done the day before and what we planned for the next day.

One lady was a fashion designer from Kerala, in town to meet women's collectives who were doing printing for her. Another was a German NGO worker on her way home from Pakistan, stopping off to meet some people relevant to the PhD she was doing on the side. It's fair to say this was not your 'Holiday Inn' crowd.

There are no restaurants in the direct vicinity of the haveli and on the first evening – without us entirely understanding what was going on – Mohan send a tuk tuk to pick up two take-away thali's from a well known heritage hotel's restaurant in the town. I have to be honest that I don't particularly like Gujarati food but it was kind of him to arrange it. On the other two nights, we were with a driver who found place for us to eat – once at the same hotel the thalis came from and once at an outdoor village themed restaurant that the driver chose.

What is there to do?

The highlight of our 3 days in Ahmedabad was the heritage walking tour which we took on our first full day in town. Mohan arranged a tuk tuk to pick us up at the Haveli and deliver us to the start of the walk first thing in the morning and to be in place at the end to bring us back again. This walk with a volunteer guide from the local historical society took a couple of hours and was fantastic. He guided us through the narrow streets and alleyways of the pols, the small communities within the old town, showing us things you'd never spot on your own. He explained the 'bird feeders', beautiful tall ornate covered bird tables which were put in place to compensate the birds when the trees were chopped down to build the houses of the old town. We were a group of just four plus the guide and it was magical. The driver then took us back to the haveli for a late breakfast and we asked him if he'd come back later and take us around in the afternoon.

That afternoon we did the first wave of the 'more obvious' attractions and practical things – a trip to a money changer, off to Gandhi's Ashram, a spectacular ancient step-well, a Jain temple and a beautiful mosque – followed by dropping us at the restaurant for dinner. The following day, we hired him again and he took us to the less obvious places – kicking off with lunch at McDonalds (quite something in a vegetarian state with plenty of chance to watch young Gujaratis flirting with each other), off to a couple of museums (the surprisingly fascinating kite museum and the shockingly run-down Ahmedabad city museum which must have its architect, Le Corbusier, spinning in his grave), then out of town to see a spectacular mosque where we seemed to be the main attraction, before taking us to the village themed restaurant where we sat on the floor, got back and bum ache and left most of the food.

Unfortunately we didn't meet the manager of the haveli until the final morning which was a real shame since if we'd met him sooner, I think he could have suggested lots of really interesting things to do such as visits to the women's textile collectives, cooking lessons and visits to other heritage houses in the area. We were happy with what we did, but I think we'd still find more to do if we went back. I'd particularly LOVE to be in Ahmedabad early in the new year when they host a big kite festival but I suspect I'd need to book way in advance. Just imagine sitting on our terrace on the roof watching thousands of kites do battles in the skies over the city!

Is this for you?

The French Haveli won't be for everybody. I don't think it's really a 'beginners' India type of place and it's fair to say that Ahmedabad itself isn't really beginners India so that's not a problem. If you've already been to the more conventional cities and hotels, this will be a refreshing change. It's also not for you if you want to stay in luxury international chain hotels and be insulated from what's around you (don't scoff, a lot of people do take exactly that approach to India). It's definitely not for anybody who has disabilities and can't get up and down the staircases either and it takes an ability to see 'charm' where others see 'old' and 'fascination' where others might see 'squalor'. But if you want to slow down, watch the world go buy, chat to the cows that have curled up outside, dodge the builders to get a good shot of the bird feeder and to take advantage of the deep privilege of living side by side with real people who don't seem to mind you viewing them as the greatest attraction of all, this haveli really is one of a kind. I wish it were easier to find such places and if I could, I would happily plan whole trips around such 'destination hotels'.

Details

French Haveli
1824 Khijada Sheri,
Opp Jain Derasar,
Dhal Ni Pole, Ahmedabad 380001

All contact details can be found on the website – www.frenchhaveli.com

With thanks to Rajiv Patel and his team at the French Haveli.


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Comments on this review

  • LiveMusicLoverLyn published 01/05/2017
    Great
  • WilliamWillis published 29/12/2016
    Sounds marvellous
  • MrsWilkes published 28/12/2016
    Unable to give an E, although very deserving of it.
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Product Information : French Haveli, Ahmedabad

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Rating: 3 Stars

Type: B&B

Address: 1824 Khijada Sheri, Dhal ni Pol, Ahmedabad 380001

County: Gujarat

Country: India

Continent: Asia

City: Ahmedabad

Rooms: 5

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Listed on Ciao since: 18/07/2016