Satisfy Your French Yearnings With These 6 Pondicherry Experiences

Explore the ruins of Arikamedu, a thriving maritime port dating back to the 2nd century BCE, and witness the captivating wildlife at Ousteri Lake, a designated Asian wetland
An auto rickshaw driver awaiting custom in the French quarter
An auto rickshaw driver awaiting custom in the French quarter pjhpix/Shutterstock

If you're having the blues for Parisian and French culture, then there is no better place than Pondicherry to satisfy your yearning. Pondicherry is a former French colony which blends Indian and French heritage in a unique and colourful way. There are plenty of French bakeries, bohemian stores and cobblestoned paths which will make even the most hardcore Francophile happy.

Here are six ways to experience a holiday in Pondicherry which tickles all the sense.

Fill Your Belly With A Smorgasbord Of Food And Drinks

The rainbow cake from Zuka
The rainbow cake from Zukafoodofchennai/Facebook

Pondicherry has a plethora of cafes that one doesn't even know where to start. The Cafe des Arts has homely recipes and excellent coffee. Croissants and organic smoked tofu sandwiches with iced tea are best sampled at the Naturellement Garden Cafe. La Maison Rose has a tasty Italian menu while the Solitude Farm has organic, vegan fare which is wholesome and delicious. Lastly, indulge in chocolate heaven by visiting Zuka.

A Crumbling Built Heritage Worth Learning About

The Arikamedu ruins
The Arikamedu ruinsWikimedia Commons: Muthukumaran pk

Four kilometres south of Pondicherry, on the banks of the Ariyankuppam River, lie the ruins of Arikamedu. These ancient structures were further devastated by the cyclone of 2012. What's now a coastal palm grove was once a thriving maritime port dating to the 2nd century BCE, which had significant bead-making traditions and strong trade links to Rome.

The forlorn museum displays some of the recovered artefacts: lamps, glassware, gems and jewellery, all of which were excavated by the controversial archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the mid-1940s. More such artefacts can be found among the Chola and Pallava treasures of the frequently overlooked Puducherry Museum in town.

Rejuvenate Your Body And Spirit With Health Therapies

A sound healing workshop at the Quiet Healing Center and Guest House
A sound healing workshop at the Quiet Healing Center and Guest HouseQuietHealingCenter/Facebook

The relaxing vibe of Pondy means wellness therapies proliferate in this town. The Dune Eco Village and Spa offers water-based therapies that they say are fluid, musical, meditative and freeing. The Quiet Healing Center and Guest House offers a wide range of natural healing courses and workshops that includes acupuncture, reflexology, bioresonance, Birenda Massage, lomilomi massage and Shiatsu treatment. The Radisson Resort Pondicherry Bay is a modern beach resort with a calm and tranquil ambience. It has a variety of treatments to choose from like massages, facials, body scrubs and yoga sessions.

The Wildlife Is Captivating

A grey heron at Ousteri Lake
A grey heron at Ousteri Lake sivakumarsphoto/Shutterstock

Ousteri Lake was designated as an important Asian wetland by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and an Important Bird Area by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). It is located 8km outside Pondy and is spread over 800 hectares. According to some accounts, the water tank near the lake was constructed during the late Vijayanagara period. It is connected via the Suthukanni channel to Gingee town and supplies drinking water to the urban agglomeration. A BNHS census in 1998 recorded 25,000 birds of 44 species at Ousteri, including residents like the cotton teal and white ibis, and large numbers of migratory species like the Eurasian wigeon.

Bonus: Golden Bridge Pottery Workshop

Golden Bridge Pottery makes you lose track of time
Golden Bridge Pottery makes you lose track of timegoldenbridgepottery/Instagram

In 1971, Americans Ray Meeker and Deborah Smith set up Golden Bridge Pottery: the first workshop to make glazed stoneware pottery by hand in southern India. Their teaching practice, which continues to attract serious students, is the reason why Pondicherry has over 20 small-scale and big studio potteries producing everything from raku to porcelain. This low-profile workshop is an eye-opener to visit and you can lose track of time as the craft of pottery absorbs you.

Stay Comfortably In Heritage Homes

The Villa Helena is a 19th century house that was originally a women's clinic
The Villa Helena is a 19th century house that was originally a women's clinicvillahelenapondy/Facebook

It's hard to be sure what came first in Pondicherry: heritage hospitality or tourism. If you're hoping to stay at an idiosyncratic and welcoming property which will make your holiday unique, look no further than the elegant Villa Helena, a 19th century house that was originally a women's clinic and Pondy's first heritage guest house; the clean and popular Anantha Heritage; and the 120-year-old beauty of Les Hibiscus, which belongs to the sweet-natured Bascaranes family.

Getting There

The nearest airport to Pondicherry is Chennai International Airport, approximately 145km away. You can hire a taxi or take a bus to Pondicherry, which takes around 3-4 hours.

Pondicherry has a railway station connected to major cities like Chennai, Bengaluru and Kolkata. Several trains operate on these routes.

Pondicherry is also well-connected by a network of national highways for those who prefer travelling by road. The East Coast Road (ECR) offers a picturesque drive along the coast. The Chennai-Pondicherry route via the ECR is particularly popular among travellers.

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