Insider View: Pondicherry
Puducherry, or Pondicherry as it is still called by everyone, is an unexpected corner of southern France perched on the balmy Bay of Bengal. A minor outpost of the French Empire for almost 300 years and only made independent in 1954, 'Pondi' charms and surprises with a distinct Indo-Mediterranean flavour. The pastel-coloured houses, friendly locals and stylish boutiques make for an ideal gentle landing to India. In this unhurried sun-drenched haven, seek out the remnants of the city's colonial past, indulge in glorious seafood and shop for silks and crafts. Stroll along the promenade, take in the Botanical Gardens and watch the light turn the buildings burnt ochre as the day draws to a hazy close.
Pondicherry is also home to the renowned Sri Aurobindo Ashram, whose buildings pepper the town: visit the international community Auroville, founded in 1968, 10 km away from the city. The ashram's spiritual centre is a golden meditation dome called Matri Mandir and the place is suffused with a sense of peace and purpose. There is plenty to experience – in a typically Indian melange fashion, east and west blends with spirituality and commerce. Fans of organic, locally-sourced food should seek out the (divine) raw chocolate and homemade bread from wood-fired kilns. For a unique meal, dine in the silent Goyo restaurant serving authentic Korean food. Follow it up with a reviving beachside massage facing the Indian Ocean at the Quiet Healing Centre.
Our insider guide seeks out some of the most special corners of Pondicherry to experience this unique destination like a true local.
Set in the tranquil French Quarter, Villa Shanti has the unassuming charm of a Provençal cafe. Tables are romantically set with candles and fresh flowers while the friendly staff are unfailingly hospitable. The seafood options include grilled lobster and green coriander swordfish along with vegetarian dishes such as stuffed mushrooms and paneer.
14 Rue, Suffren Street, White Town, Pondicherry, 605 001 | www.lavillashanti.com
CAFE DES ARTS
Whimsically bohemian, this small French cafe, hidden by lemon yellow walls, is a place to linger, read and meet other explorers. The French owner has charming taste and visitors are greeted by a vintage bicycle rickshaw and eclectic decor that delights. Come here for a breakfast of croque monsieur and ricotta crepes – a light-hearted slice of Montmartre in the tropics.
10, Suffren Street, White Town, Pondicherry, 605001
Old world chic in the governor’s former mansion – dine under the stars in the courtyard of Le Dupleix and enjoy the timeless atmosphere. The fine cuisine is matched by the superior drinks menu and the faultless service. The scene is further enhanced by an ancient mango tree, tinkling granite fountain and the delightful Governor's Bar, dominated by a tableau from French designer Jean-Francois Lesage. A jewel in Pondicherry's crown.
5, Caserne Street, Pondicherry, 605001 | www.ledupleix.in
THE BAY OF BUDDHA BAR
A front row seat on the majestic Bay of Bengal, this terrace bar is a salty-scented beachside haven, watched over by the town's iconic lighthouse. We love the cut of (equally iconic) bartender Mr Tamil's jib and his cocktail-making genius. Go for dessert gold with the lemongrass crème brulee and homemade ice-cream.
23, Goubert Ave, White Town, Pondicherry, 605001 | www.thepromenadepondicherry.com
A heritage property turned classy, cosmopolitan restaurant, The Coromandel serves delicious food within an elegant ambiance. A favourite dish of ours being the unforgettable juicy Prawns accompanied with a plate of risotto!
8, Romain Rolland Street, White Town, Pondicherry, 605001 | www.coromandel-restaurant.com
Take a seat under the arches surrounded by tea lights and elegant flowers in La Villa’s courtyard to experience al fresco dining at its finest. Enjoy excellent French cuisine in a romantic setting, hosted by delightful locals. Here, you can indulge in the rich flavours, colours and textures that change with the seasons.
11, Surcouf Street, White Town, Pondicherry, 605001 | www.lavillapondicherry.com
The Pondi branch of this design-forward brand is called the coolest store in town. Find colourful graphics and India-experimental vibes splashed on bags, textiles and fashion. We covet the irreverent artwork and unique offerings such as the Mughal-inspired playing cards. With collaborators including Sir Paul Smith and a joyful and dynamic approach – Play Clan encapsulates the new wave of creativity in contemporary India.
6 Rue, Surcouf Street, Pondicherry, 605001 | www.playclan.com
SUNDAY MARKET, M.G ROAD
A truly authentic local experience – lose yourself in the hurly burly of this weekend market. The cacophony of noises, sights and smells is reminiscent of a carnival and lots of bargains can be found. Go early in the morning (it opens at 8am) and click away – the flash of saris, jasmine-bedecked heads and piled-up produce is instagram heaven.
Mahatma Gandhi Road, Chinnakadai, MG Road Area, Pondicherry, 605001
LA BOUTIQUE D'AUROVILLE
The Pondicherry outpost of the Auroville boutique is a great place for unique mementos, textiles and leather goods. The store is infused with the considered approach that makes Auroville such a unique hub – seek out the flowing cotton garments, handmade paper and deliciously fragrant soaps.
No. 38, Jawaharalal Nehru Street, Heritage Town, Pondicherry, 605001 | www.auroville.com
Classical dancer turned designer Vassanty Manet's diminutive boutique is a hidden treasure in the old town. Dive under the entrance canopy of Bougainvillea into a world of antique armoires filled with sherbet-hued silks, tables of delicate handcrafted jewellery and chic souvenirs to bring home. Manet, who returned to Pondicherry from living in Paris, is great company and loves meeting visitors – her fascinating family history is a glimpse into the city's complex colonial past.
Shop No. 38, Near Bussy Street, Romain Rolland St, White Town, Pondicherry, 605001
CLUNY EMBROIDERY CENTRE
In a beautiful setting right at the heart of the French quarter, this beautiful 250-year-old building is famed for its embroidery of the highest quality. Trained by the sisters of the Cluny convent, the products are made by vulnerable women to help provide them with a sustainable living. Watching the women stitching the delicate and intricate work is a joy to behold. Do ask for Sister Augusta, the serene hostess, and stock up on exquisite linens, towels and cushions to take home.
46 Rue Romain Rolland, Pondicherry | www.cluny.in
Immerse yourself in the history of the region at this well-stuffed museum housed in a 100-year-old building. We are fascinated by the ancient Roman pottery and burial urns found at the Arikamadu Roman settlement, just south of Pondicherry. France's ancien regime is brought to life with 18th-century paintings and hand-painted porcelain mingling with antique furniture including Governor Dupleix's four-poster bed and carriages.
No. 2, St Louis Street, Near Raj Nivas, White Town, Pondicherry, 605001
CATHEDRALS AND TEMPLES
Let your spirits soar at the majestic Notre Dame Des Anges Church, a tropical echo of Lourdes Basilica and boasting a history harking back to 1686. The rose pink edifice is guarded by a rather ferocious statue of Joan of Arc and contains a wonderful central dome and Doric columns. Look out for the painting of Our Lady of The Assumption donated by Napoleon III during his visit. Opposite the church, old men still gather in the shade to play the uniquely French game of pétanque – a timeless scene. A contrasting experience is the magnificent Hindu temple of Manakula Vinayagar. Come and be blessed by the temple elephant and gaze at over 40 incarnations of the Lord Ganesha.
Eglise De Notre Dame des Anges, Rue Dumas, Pondicherry, 605001
Manakula Vinayagar Koil Street, Opp Governer Office, Pondicherry, 605002
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