PUDUCHERRY, India (Reuters Life!) - Puducherry, a small town on southern India’s Coromandel coast, woos visitors with its easy French colonial charm, food and laid-back calm.
Formerly known as Pondicherry, the town provides an escape from hectic city life. With the nearest airport in Chennai, 160 km away, it is best reached by bus or cab.
The town offers luxury and mid-range hotels and, for those who prefer simplicity, a guesthouse run by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Puducherry is small enough to walk around but you can also hire bicycles or scooters to get about.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help you get the most out of a stay in Puducherry:
6 a.m. - Catch the sunrise above the Bay of Bengal with coffee at Le Cafe, a former port office, on Beach Road, also known as Goubert Avenue, as the fishermen set out.
7 a.m. - Stroll down Beach Road, past the statues of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, and the town’s former Governor General Marquis Joseph Francois Dupleix to the French war memorial honouring those who fell in World War I.
7.30 a.m. - Don’t miss the 19th century lighthouse before heading to the boutique Promenade hotel for a lavish breakfast overlooking the beach. A must-try is a South Indian breakfast of idlis — steamed rice cakes with coconut chutney — and sambhar, a tangy-spicy lentil dish.
10 a.m. - Head to Auroville, or the “City of Dawn,” a Utopian settlement envisioned by Sri Aurobindo Ghose’s French companion and disciple, Mira Alfassa, known locally as “The Mother.” The township has many expatriates running small industries that make aromatic products, hand-knit wear, and small restaurants. Collect a pass from the visitor’s center for Matrimandir, the spiritual center of the city.
11 a.m - Tease out the shopaholic within at the boutiques at the Auroville visitors center, offering handicrafts such as glazed pottery, candles, oils, incense sticks and paper products.
1 p.m. - Take your pick for lunch from the visitor’s center cafeteria — the Solar Kitchen, Lhasa, a Tibetan shack, or Paradise Pizzeria.
4 p.m. - Go for a cooling dip off Serenity Beach or Auroville Beach or catch a boat to Paradise Beach near the mouth of the backwaters, about 8 kms away.
7 p.m. - Ride to Hotel De L’Orient on Rue Roman Rolland for dinner at the former Directorate of Education building, now restored as a hotel. The hotel is famous for its Creole cuisine that infuses local Tamil spices with French ingredients. Try the Creole fish curry or prawn curry with rice.
9 a.m. - A visit to the French Riviera of the East is not complete without some French bread and pastries at a local bakery. Baker Street offers a good assortment.
10 a.m. - Pondy, a town built in a grid formation, is divided into two parts — the French Quarter and the Indian Quarter. Walk through the “Ville Blanche” with colonial mansions. The Tamil Quarters host the popular morning bazaar or visit beautiful temples and old-style Tamil homes.
11 a.m - Pay homage to Sri Aurobindo and The Mother at their Samadhi, or resting place, at the Aurobindo Ashram. Visit the ashram’s handmade paper factory to see how a variety of colourful paper is created. Pondy is home to many churches and temples but a highlight at the Notre Dame des Agnes is an oil painting of ‘Our Lady of Assumption,’ which was a gift from Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Prefer the blessings of an elephant god? Then go instead on a trip to Ganesha’s temple, Manakula Vinayagar Koil.
1 p.m. - For lunch try Satsanga, situated in a rambling colonial house, and catering to the European palette with its French and Italian cuisine.
3 p.m. - Take an afternoon walk and shop around Mission Street, starting at Casablanca, a two-storey building selling everything from funky jewelry to traditional kurtas. Cross the street to Kalki and stock up on candles, handmade soaps, perfumes, silk clothes and shoes. The Hidesign factory outlet offers cheap deals on leather bags, wallets and jackets.
5 p.m. - Relax at Coffee.com with wi-fi, books and magazines. Choco-La is another option with delicious pastries.
8 p.m. - Have a drink at the Governor’s Lounge at Le Dupleix, originally built to be the French Mayor’s residence, or go to Le Club and sit under a thatched roof overlooking a French villa and listen to some Caribbean music. For dinner, you can dine at Le Dupleix’s Gourmet Restaurant or at Le Club itself.
11 p.m. - Take a final walk down Beach Road because you can never get enough of this view.
Editing by Elaine Lies