In Puducherry's French Quarter, life tends to be rather slow and languid, but that's half its charm
Photos: Selvaprakash Lakshmanan

Known as the French Riviera of the East, Puducherry is a walkable archive of its past. Once you make your way through the packed main roads, inching closer to the buzzing Promenade and into the French Quarter, a sudden silence takes over. This silence is of a good kind–one that whispers the secrets of a slow life—of days marked by leisurely strolls, mornings welcomed by the perfectly flaky and buttery croissants, evenings ushered in by the waves of the Bay of Bengal, and nights made bright by candle-light dinners in courtyards of centuries-old French villas.

Two-hundred years of French colonisation have imbued the once humble fishing town and an erstwhile port town the charm and romance the country has been envied for. And while most part of the union territory has shed itself of any proof of that time, the French Quarter or the White Town has survived.

Being The Flâneur

The French are passionate "flâneurs." For such a complicated word, it means to wander aimlessly while observing life around. And the French Quarter is the perfect setting to give it your best shot.

The grid-like planned neighbourhood demands you to be an early riser even on vacation. Before the shutters roll up and people fill the streets, head out early and explore its colourful lanes on foot–most notably, Rue Rolland, Rue Romain Rolland, Rue Suffren, and Rue La Bourdonnais. It is certainly the best time to capture a postcard-worthy picture.

Croissant Calling

To truly understand the French way of life and how it continues to flavour this neighbourhood, grab a bite of the golden croissant or pain au chocolat for breakfast— not without a shot of a heady espresso.

While every café here has perfected the intricate French culinary skills, a few select joints hit the spot. Tucked away in Rue De La Marine street, Bread & Chocolate lays out the finest array of classics and a few unique seasonal options, such as the mango and coconut escargot and shakshuka quiche. At a walking distance of a few minutes, Cafe Des Arts on Suffren Street also reigns as an ideal breakfast spot.

TÊte-à-TÊte with History

The French Quarter's beautiful facades are the best secret-keepers of its history. Start your lesson at the Pondicherry Museum. The museum exhibits a vast collection of artefacts tracing back to the time of the Pallava and Chola dynasties and its subsequent time under the rule of the French colonisers. You can even get a closer look at the archaeological digs found in Arikamedu, the Indo-Roman port city from the 2nd to 8th century BCE, located 4 km away from Puducherry.

If you wish to get more intimate with its history, visit the Romain Rolland Library, previously "Bibliotheque Public," right next to it. Founded in 1827, the library is one of the oldest in India and houses hundreds of thousand centuries-old manuscripts across Tamil, French, Portuguese, Hindi and other languages.

Night à la Française

As the sun sets, the French love to settle down with their favourite aperitif followed by a hearty dinner. If you do, too, make your way to Le Dupleix–a hotel-cum-restaurant set in a 300-year-old French villa and once home to Puducherry's mayor. Their open-air restaurant set in the courtyard is an ambient setting for a night of indulgent French food. If you fancy fusion, the Coromandel Café, located after a few turns, is another idyllic spot known for its fine preparations featuring organic, seasonal produce. However, a walk along the sea at Promenade, which turns into a no-car zone post 6 pm, is the best way to bid the night au revoir.

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