With its interconnected roads, trees lined streets and cycling culture, Pondicherry is a place that can make you feel out of time. Depending on where you are in the town, it could take you back to a seaside French colony in the 20th century, or a modern Tamil town with French influences, or if you head to Auroville, you might feel like you are living among trees and animals, enjoying the simple pleasure of being close to nature, with people from all over the world. This is the charm that keeps many going back to Pondicherry.
While many head to Pondicherry predominantly for the cheaper liquor rates and the beaches, it has so much more to offer. Depending on your interests, with a little bit of research, you can find a number of things to do, places to visit and people to meet. While we are firm believers of the fact that Pondicherry is a town that requires more than a weekend to truly soak in, if you are pressed for time, our guide can help sample a little of all the best things it has to offer:
Best Time to Visit
While the weather is always nice in Pondicherry around the beach, the months of October – November are the best times to visit. While the summer time (May- July) are usually humid and make it hard to get around, the monsoon (July – September) might surprise you with unexpected rains. If you are someone who enjoys going to the beach when the weather is cold and do not like crowds, winter (December – February) is also a great time to visit Pondicherry.
How To Get There
Earlier, getting to Pondicherry required taking a flight to Chennai and then finding a way by road to Pondicherry. But Pondicherry Airport is now open and a number of connection flights can now take you straight to the town. The town is also reachable by train and of course, road.
Best Area to Stay
Choosing a place to stay in Pondicherry is largely dependent on what your interests are. If you are looking to experience more of the town – the beach, the restaurants and the shopping, areas like Missions Street or MG Road are central locations that makes getting around easier. But if you are looking to focus your trip more towards Auroville and the silent allure of nature, you can find a number of stay options right outside the township.
Where To Stay
As a popular travel destination among the youth, there is a large number of affordable as well as luxury hostels and hotels for visitors to stay at. There are also a number of homestays that you can find in the town as well as Auroville that offer good amenities as well as helpful hosts. Some of the best options however are available on AirBnB or OYO.
#HGReccomends: Velvet Villa, The House of Blue Mangoes and The Wildflowers of Walden are all great stay options that are situated in the heart of the town. With their whimsical names and gorgeous decors, these stay options are great for their aesthetic as well as their accessibility. If you are looking to stay closer to Auroville, away from the town, Green’s Guest House is a great hostel in that we have mentioned before as one of the Best Backpacker’s Hostel In South India.
How To Get Around
The best way to get around Pondicherry is by renting out a two wheeler. They are usually available at a rate of Rs.250-300 per day. If you are only staying in the town, walking or cycling is a great option as well. We suggest being wary of the auto services in the area, since they do not run by meter and are known for overcharging tourists. But if you are planning on heading to Auroville, two wheelers are definitely your best bet.
For the first day in Pondicherry, we suggest sampling the many things that the town has to offer. This range from churches, shops, unique ventures, cafés and restaurants.
If you are lucky enough to make it to Pondicherry before the sun comes up, head first to Rock beach. The sunrises here are often more magnificent than the sun sets. Being home to those who practice a holistic lifestyle, you will be in good company of morning joggers and beach side yoga practitioners during this time. Even though rock beach is the most visited tourist spot in town, the experience is much more serene if you visit during the early morning hours. But even during evening strolls, there is a certain quaintness to rock beach.
Early Breakfast at Baker’s Street
If you are looking to have a good cup of coffee and some freshly baked croissants or pastry based breakfast before 8AM, Baker’s Street is the place to go. While it does not have the kind of French bakery appeal that you would like for it to have, the sheer options of items makes up for it.
#HGRecommends: The Cheese Quiche at Baker Street truly stands out - rich, flavourful cheese enveloped in crumbling puff pastry, baked to perfection, what else could you ask for?
Late Breakfast at Coromandel Café
If you are only looking for a breakfast option after 9.00AM, and wants to have a much more filling experience, with regard to food and ambiance, Coromandel Café is the place to go. Considered one of the best Café/restaurants to open in the world in 2018, according to CN Traveller, they celebrate local produce and have a stunning menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The pastel building, the green wallpapers, the indoor and outdoor dining options, all makes this restaurant one of the best places to spend time at in Pondicherry.
#HGRecommends: While their Hot Pink Benedict make for great Instagram food porn, the Mason & Co. ultimate pancake stack is a delectable dish. The stacks of perfectly made pancake with chocolate chunks, banana, jaggery butter and nuts and spiced syrup will probably be the best pancake you have ever had.
Cluny Embroidery Centre
If you are someone who enjoys old buildings and embroidery, Cluny Embroidery centre is a unique experience to witness in Pondicherry town. Housed in a 18th century building, Cluny embroidery centre is run by a local convent. The nuns teach women from Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu to do intricate embroidery works, which are in turn sold to provide livelihood for them. If you visit the embroidery centre, you can take in the buildings and visit the array of women doing intricate needlework by hand. You can also buy pieces that they have in stock, or even give custom orders.
A church that was built in 1855 by Napolean III, this church is also known as Our Lady of Angels Church. With a Greco Roman architecture, the roof of the church is a true marvel that needs to be seen anyone taking a trip to Pondicherry. This church still has daily mass and worship practices going on and is the only church that does mass in three languages – French, Tamil and English.
Sri Aurobindo Paper Factory
Set up in 1959, this paper factory’s main product is the completely recycled cotton rag papers in addition to books and other stationery items. The factory set in the heart of Pondicherry has been a large part of its culture and opens its door to visitors from Monday to Saturday. We suggest calling ahead and ensuring your entry to the factory however the showroom that features their products such as marbled paper, deckle edge paper, screen printed paper and more can be visited easily.
Lunch at Le Dupleix
A luxury resort and restaurant property in Pondicherry, Le Dupleix is a great pick if you would like to enjoy seafood. Featuring French, Continental and some North Indian dishes, they have a very eclectic menu. While they have a very comfortable indoor dining space, you are sure to love eating Al Fresco under the huge tree in front of the restaurant.
#HGRecommends: Their Grilled Calamari with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Lemon Butter Sauce is truly something to write home about. Even if you are not a big fan of seafood, we guarantee that you will find a place in your heart for this dish.
Located on the East Coast Road that connects Pondicherry Town and Chennai, Auroville, is an experimental township with its own unique rules and customs, including an economic system that is unique to the township. They also focus on spirituality, art, culture and holistic living.
Based on these aspects of the township there are many cafes, ventures and shops surrounding Auroville that cannot be found anywhere else. Those who want to have a true Auroville experience, often choose to volunteer with them. But if you are just visiting, we suggest having an early start and ticking off some of the most interesting places in the vicinity.
Early Breakfast at Auroville Boulangerie
A trip to Auroville Bakery is a staple on any visitor’s list. Even though the Bakery is open through the day, we suggest getting there by 7AM, when they open up to get your pick of the freshest croissants and pastries. While the items on the menu keep changing, the quality is very consistent.
Auroville Vistor’s Centre
Auroville Vistor’s Centre serves as the entry way in to the community. In addition to providing information regarding the township, the visitor’s centre is the entry point to the Viewing Point in Matrimandir. While Matrimandir is the central attraction in Auroville, the only way to enter Matrimandir is if you are staying for a longer period as they require people to go in person and make a booking few days beforehand.
The Visitor’s Centre has an Audio Visual room that plays the history and construction of Auroville as well as giving a visual tour of the different aspects of life in Auroville. It also has a shopping area where you can buy products made in Auroville from clothing and ceramic items to candles and bath and body products. There are also a few great cafes within the Visitor’s Centre whose food is predominantly organic and made using local produce.
#HGRecommends: If you are looking to buy great quality handmade ceramic crockery, look for it in one of the shops in The Visitor’s Centre. You can also find pieces at great prices if you don’t mind small mistakes, in the seconds section. If you are going to grab lunch at Visitor’s Centre, we suggest having either their Farm Roasted Chicken or the rice noodle salad, both of which are made using a lot of fresh local produce and are cooked to perfection.
Red Earth Riding School
While Red Earth Riding School usually offers a week long riding lesson that people come there for, it is a great place to visit if you love animals. They have a shed that houses beautiful horses and you can witness riders training on the course.
#HGRecommends: If you make it in time for their annual Equestrian Championship, you can witness some of the best riders in the nation competing in the championship, some of whom have gone on to participate in the Olympics.
Another great hidden treasure near Auroville is SVARAM Sound Experience. The centre for musical instruments research is both a workshop for creating instruments and a centre for music therapy. You might have to travel through some rocky pocket roads but what makes the trip worth it, is their outdoor garden/park that features innovative music instrument installations that are truly one of a kind.
#HGRecommends: If you come across a check point on your way to SVARAM, you should consider taking the alternate route provided on Google Maps. Even though it is a longer route through the woods, SVARAM is worth the effort.
Lunch at Frite’s Corner
While Frites Corner is not a design marvel like many of the other cafés and restaurants in Pondicherry, the quality of the food is unparalleled. Located right next to crowd favorite Tanto’s, this restaurant often gets mistaken as an extension of Tanto’s or do not get any attention at all. But as the name says, the restaurant serves up the best plate of hand cut fries (frites) that Pondicherry has to offer. Located right on Auroville main road, it is a great place to relax and have a conversation over some fresh juice, salads or crepes and people watch.
#HGRecommends: While their juice menu is seasonal, if it is available, we suggest getting yourself a glass (or two) of their Mandarin juice, which does not use ice or sugar. It is essential to treat yourself to crepes when in Pondicherry and their chicken crepe with a side of fries and fresh green salads are the perfect pick.
Dessert at Bread & Chocolate
Just a walk away from Frites Corner is Bread & Chocolate, the bakery founded by the creators of one of the nation’s best artisanal chocolate brand Mason&Co. and Auroville’s Wild Yeast Bakery. A bean to bar vegan chocolate brand that creates products with unique flavors, their café also features a number of unique dessert options.
#HGRecommends: The Chocolate Bonbons at Bread & Chocolate are great for sampling their varying flavors. Our personal favorite is the Cashew Praline Filled Chocolate Bonbon.
Once the sun settles down a little, we suggest making your way to Sadhana Forest in Auroville. A prolific reforestation project, Sadhana Forest is a sustainable living community where volunteers from all over the world come and participate. The forest is open to everyone at all times and is a place of peace and quiet. You have the freedom to interact with the people who work there and to walk around the forest and get a better understanding of what they are trying to do there. They have guided tours on Fridays, including a vegan meal. In order to get truly involved with their works, it is necessary to volunteer with them for a longer duration.
Street Shop the Evening Away
Around the evening hours on Sunday, we suggest taking to the streets of Pondicherry for some much needed shopping. Something that many people don’t know is that the streets of MG Road gets transformed in to a shopping street every Sunday. From cheap household objects to second hand books, this street has a myriad of items that you might want to buy. While there are a number of clothing items available on this street, we suggest taking to JN Street to find quality fashion pieces. If you are patient enough to scour through a lot of pieces, you can come across seconds pieces from great brands.
#HGRecommends: If you are looking to by Pondicherry Souvenirs, we suggest trying out the shop Ma Pondy Cherie near MG Road that stocks a number of pieces inspired by the town, as well as other interesting products and coffee books. You can also find souvenirs at hotels/stores by Hidesign such as The Promenade and Casablanca.
Dinner and Drinks at The Promenade
After all the walking around, we suggest having a laid back dinner with drinks at The Promenade hotel that is located right on the beach. If you would like to dine with a view, you could opt for their Blue Line restaurant that has features multiple cuisine. Bay of Buddha, their rooftop restaurant has some of the best Asian food that the town has to offer. This hotel is also home to The Storyteller’s Bar, a unique bar that is based on the concept of stories, and Pondicherry itself.
If you are planning on staying for a longer period in Pondicherry, we’d suggest taking the time to visit more spaces in Auroville and Pondicherry. You could also visit the historical site of Arikamedu that is just 4Kms from the town and Tranquebar, a small village that still bears remnants of being a Danish trading post as well. Paradise Beach is a quaint private beach that could only be accessed by taking a boat from Chunnambar Boat House.
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