Formerly known as Pondicherry, this coastal town is all about sun, sand, and spirituality. Since it was a French stronghold from the 15th century until the mid-20th century, remnants of colonial architecture have an abiding presence in its cobbled streets. Explore this pocket sized paradise in a day. By Supriya Sehgal
GET INTRODUCED ON A HERITAGE WALK
Sign up for a two-hour heritage walk by Story Trails, where a local expert unravels the history of Puducherry, offering anecdotes on nooks and corners of both the French Quarter and the Tamil Quarter. This is an excellent way to get your bearings before doing a deep dive into specific spots later. Stories of remarkable buildings, tales lost to time, secret spots, and famous landmarks will make you feel like an insider. storytrails.in
TREAT YOURSELF TO A SOUTH INDIAN BREAKFAST
A classic eatery for South Indian breakfast, Surguru Spot Restaurant is always packed and in high demand. The busy, no-frills outlet promises value for money, prompt service, and a delicious spread. The authentic South Indian flavours compete with the laid-back vibe of the restaurant, sans eye-catching decor or celeb stature. Large ochre pillars and rattan chairs make for simple yet tasteful interiors. Near Vinayagar Temple, 12, JN Street, White Town
WALK AROUND SRI AUROBINDO ASHRAM
Stroll in the peaceful erstwhile home and ashram of philosophers, Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa (known as The Mother), and stop by their flower-draped samadhis in the courtyard. Founded in 1926, this is where the two spiritual gurus lived and spread ideas of higher spiritual consciousness. Books on the philosophy of the ashram, in international and regional languages, are available here to buy. sriaurobindoashram.org
MEDITATE AT MATRIMANDIR
Visit the landmark symbol of Auroville (14 km from Puducherry), the Matrimandir, whose huge golden dome embodies the teachings of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The lotus-bud shaped marble structure stores soil from 124 countries and 23 Indian states, a symbolic gesture of Aurovillean unity. Meditation passes are given out a day in advance. The short walking route to Matrimandir from the Information Centre is dotted with an open exhibition, herbal garden, a coffee shop, and pavilions to meditate in. auroville.org
TAKE SURFING LESSONS
Catch the last of the four surfing sessions at Kallialay Surf School run by the enthusiastic brother duo, Juan and Samai, at Bodhi Beach (near a small fisher village called Thandirayan Kuppam). If you’re here only for the day, it’s best to join a beginner class, which includes sand surfing, followed by personal or group learning exercises in the shallow end of the sea. The fee includes rash vests and surfboards. surfschoolindia.com
COFFEE AT LE CAFÉ
A vintage address on Goubert Avenue which runs along the ocean, Le Café was originally the port office of Pondicherry. A few black and white photographs on the walls bear testimony to this. Enjoy the view of the endless ocean and the promenade beach from this 24-hour haunt as you sip on a cup of coffee. Don’t forget to try the chocolate cake. No 40, Goubert Ave, Near Gandhi Statue, White Town
PROMENADE WALK ON GOUBERT AVENUE
Evenings on the Goubert Avenue (Beach Road) are alive with hawkers lining up to engage locals and tourists with snacks, and toy vendors trying to catch the attention of kids. Benches line the walkway that is closed to motorised vehicles after 6 pm. You can stroll along the wide footpath that lies along the sea. Landmark monuments on this street include a towering statue of Mahatma Gandhi, the French War Memorial, Old Lighthouse, Joan of Arc Statue, a statue of Jawaharlal Nehru, a memorial for BR Ambedkar, and a statue of Marquis Joseph Francois Dupleix, who was the Governor of Pondicherry between 1742 and 1754.
SKY GARDEN FOR DINNER
A coastal holiday demands at least one meal dedicated to seafood. Enjoy excellent seafood and continental dishes with a view of the sea at Sky Garden, the rooftop restaurant
that serves up delicacies from around the world. skygardenpondy.com
Puducherry airport is equipped for small planes to fly into the city, connecting Bengaluru and Hyderabad via direct flights. You can also fly to Chennai (151 km) and take a bus to
the town. A coastal drive on the East Coast Road from Chennai is a popular option to get here.
Accommodation varies from home run guesthouses such as L’escale Guest House (starts from INR 1,800/ USD 25; lescalepondicherry.com), chic hotels such as Villa Shanti (starts from INR 7,650/USD 107; lavillashanti.com) and upscale options like Palais De Mahe (starts from INR 13,000/USD 182; cghearth.com).
October to March.
Architecture enthusiasts looking for a stress-free, easygoing holiday flavoured with surfing, scuba diving, and some time for self-discovery.
The Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges (known as ‘French church’ among locals), Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple, the Government Museum and the Chunnambar Boat House (7 km from the city).