At a distance of 162 km south of Chennai on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal lies the French connection to India, Pondicherry. With its manicured boulevards juxtaposed with picturesque colonial heritage buildings, Pondicherry is a dream travel destination in India. Although there are many routes to Pondicherry, ECR, NH32 and NH48, the route from Chennai to Pondicherry along the East Coast Road (ECR) is the most popular one and the shortest route, covering endless stretches of unspoilt virgin beaches and backwaters along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. To know what to do, what you can expect, and the places to visit on a road trip from Chennai to Pondicherry, keep reading.
Chennai to Pondicherry By Road…
Taking the East Coast Road or State Highway 49 from Chennai to Pondicherry, you can explore everything including popular pit stops while being en route. Total distance to be covered is approximately 1750km which can take about 3.5 hours. Start your trip early in the morning so that you can catch the sunrise, experience the cold sea breeze while driving and reach Pondicherry by noon.
The two-lane East Coast Road is never congested, allowing vehicles to drive freely and reach Pondicherry in just 3.5 hours.
Pit Stops Along ECR Road
As you are making your way from Chennai to Pondicherry via the ECR route, you will encounter some amazing places. We suggest making pit stops at the following landmarks.
Located in the fishing village of Covelong with three adjacent crescent beaches, Kovalam beach has been attracting tourists worldwide since the 1930s. The rocky promontory on the beach calms the turbulent waters, making it suitable for swimming and other water activities without having to fear the currents. The pristine sands and picturesque natural views make this beach ideal for strolling around or just sitting and gazing at the beauty of the place. People come to this beach for the spa including herbal body toning massages.
Portuguese Catholic Church:
One must stop by this beautiful Portuguese Catholic Church, which dates back to the 18th century. The impressive grotto is dedicated to ‘Our Lady of Mount Carmel’ and a bell tower soaring from a height of 16 meters.
Ruins of the Alamparai Fort are located at a distance of 100 km from Chennai along the ECR. The fort was built in the 17th century during the Mughal regime and is totally worth visiting. Built with bricks and limestone over an area of 15 acres overlooking the Bay of Bengal, the architecture of the fort is quite impressive. The fort is surrounded by tall walls and red bricks. From the top of the fort, you can capture Instagram-worthy pictures of virgin beaches and backwaters.
Also known as Mahabalipuram, Mamallapuram is a coastal town nestled between the Bay of Bengal and the Great Salt Lake. The UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to the 8th century and is famous for its temples and awe-inspiring monuments built during the Pallava dynasty. It is a great place to have authentic seafood. It has many good hotels for budgets of all sizes, making it an amazing place to stay the night.
Marvel At The Art Works At Cholamandal Artists’ Village
Explore the indigenous, traditional, and contemporary works on terracotta, wood, paint, ceramic, textile, paper and glass by local artisans. Art galleries, open-air theatre, sculptures, museums, handicrafts, dance performances, sand and clay art and photography are some of the exciting things to experience at the Cholamandal Artists’ Village.
Timings: 9:30 AM to 6:30 PM
Entry Fee: Rs 20 for adults and Rs 5 for kids
Address: Murungapakkam, (Near Govt. Catering College) Puducherry 605004
Revive South Indian Culture At Dakshinachitra Museum
The Dakshinachitra Museum is a heritage cross-cultural museum preserving and showcasing South Indian culture through art, architecture, lifestyles, crafts, and performing arts. The museum promotes cultural aspects of the South Indian States including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Take a tour of the ancient cultures by visiting the traditional homes at the museum, shop traditional jewellery, crafts and artworks, and have a closer look at the live demonstration of the artisan’s craftsmanship. Various programs and activities are held at the museum for different age groups, including arts and crafts, board games, spin tops, break pots, puppet shows and more.
Timings: 10 am to 6 pm (the museum is closed on Tuesdays and open on all national holidays except on Diwali day)
Entry Fee: Rs 100 for adults, Rs 20 for kids (5-12 yrs), Rs 30 for students (13-18 yrs), and Rs 50 for teachers. In regard to foreign tourists, Rs 200 for adults and Rs 70 for students.
Unwind At The Paradise Beach
Paradise Beach, as the name suggests, is the most beautiful beach in Chunnambar, close to Pondicherry town. Also known as Plage Paradiso, the beach is adorned with golden sands and surrounded by stunning landscapes. The beach is less crowded and has a constant flow of pleasant, cool breeze.
You need to take a ferry from the boathouse to the beach that will take around 20-30 minutes; enjoying the green backwaters surrounded by bushy mangrove forests, watching bird’s flock and clicking beautiful pictures is a fun and thrilling experience but don’t go deep in the water as the currents can get high. Watching the sun getting down on the western coast, drinking coconut water, with good company by your side is all you need in life.
Time Required: 1-2 hrs
Timings: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Entry Fee: Rs 150, Chairs: Rs 75 per hr
Relish The Heart Of French Café’s
Pondicherry is not only famous for its French architecture and clean beaches but also its French cafés; it is called a “foodie’s paradise” as it serves contemporary gourmet cuisines from around the world. The following are the best cafés in Pondicherry that I personally loved and recommend to my readers.
La Maison Rose
Depicting its grand French architecture, La Maison Rose is a boutique restaurant where you can savour the French cuisine amid nature as you are seated under the shade of mango trees.
Address: 8 Rue Romain Rolland Street, White Town
Timings: 10:30 AM – 10:30 PM
Must-Try: Lamb Chops
Dining at the seafront café is everyone’s dream, and you can fulfil this dream at Le Café by the beach facing the Bay of Bengal in White Town. Taking a bite of luscious food and watching the sunset on the horizon is therapeutic. The only downside to this place is the crowd because it is the only seafront café in Pondicherry. You can avoid the crowd by visiting the cafe late into the night.
Address: No. 40, Beach Rd, White Town
Timings: Open 24 hours
If you are in Pondicherry with your friends and are looking for a restaurant that offers the perfect ambience for fun over food, you should go to Rendezvous Cafe. From exotic seafood sizzlers to freshly brewed coffees, you and your buddies can quench your insatiable appetite either in the lounge or the garden terrace.
Address: 30, Rue Suffren Street, Puducherry
Timings: 12 PM – 3:30 PM, 6:30 PM – 10:30 PM, closed on Tuesdays
Must-Try: Apple pie, chocolate mousse, tiramisu, ratatouille and bruschettas
Stroll At The Promenade Beach
On your stroll through the 1.2-km-long stretch of the Promenade Beach, you will come across historic landmarks including the statue of Joan of Arc, the Heritage town hall, a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, Dupleix statue, an ancient lighthouse, and more. This place is perfect for a short break and will alleviate your travel sickness if any.
Ousteri Wetland & National Park
At a distance of 10 km from Pondicherry along the Pondicherry-Villupuram road lies the Ousteri Wetland and National Park sprawling across 3.9 km sq. The place houses a variety of fishes and birds and is one of the most remarkable ecological places in entire South India. Migratory birds are attracted to the unique species of trees and herbs at this park, making it photography friendly to click amazing shots of aquatic and aviary at the park.
Wander At The Botanical Garden
You can find French influence everywhere in Pondicherry, be it architecture or food. The Botanical Garden in Pondicherry especially reflects “Frenchness.” In 1931, French botanist and horticulturist George S Perrottet turned the place into a botanical garden. The typical French-styled garden flourished with trees, exotic plants, herbs, fountains and gravel-lined paths. On weekends, during the evenings, the garden is lit with the energy and laughter of people in shows with musical fountains.
Pay A Visit To The French War Memorial
The French War Memorial is located on Goubert Avenue and was built in 1971 to pay homage to the French soldiers lost during the First World War. This place is a must-visit on your trip to Pondicherry, to learn the struggle of soldiers at war and gander at the pleasant experience the place offers. To make the most of this place, visit the French War Memorial on Bastille Day (July 14th) where the memorial is illuminated, and a commemoration ceremony is held to honour the sacrifice of the soldiers.
Ponder At The Pondicherry Museum
Pondicherry Museum is located in Bharathi Park and showcases sculptures and archaeological findings from the ancient port of Arikamedu Roman settlement. The museum also houses unique statues and bronze sculptures belonging to the Chola and Pallava dynasties. You can gain profound knowledge of the colonial history of Pondicherry and its French influence. Handicrafts are also displayed at the museum exhibiting the craftsmanship of the ancient people, which are very intriguing.
Tour The City Of Dawn – Auroville
Auroville is an experimental township and a famous tourist spot in Pondicherry. It was the idea of the spiritual collaborator, Sri Aurobindo, to house people of all kinds without discrimination and bind them together through yoga and peace. The main attraction at the centre of Auroville is a huge golden globe-like structure, Matrimandir, which is a meditation centre. An interesting fact is that, for building this township, soils from 124 countries were brought in and put in an urn and mixed. You can find the urn in the amphitheatre in Matrimandir Gardens.
Location: Viluppuram District, Pondicherry, India.
Must-Know Facts Before Visiting Pondicherry
Best Time To Visit:
Winter is a great time to visit Pondicherry, i.e., between December to March, as the temperature drops to 17°C, making it an ideal time for sightseeing and adventure activities. October to November is also a good time to visit Pondicherry if you don’t mind the rains (the place receives northeast monsoons during this time).
Culture Of Pondicherry:
Pondicherry has a diverse and vibrant culture with a strong French influence.
Languages Of Pondicherry:
The original languages of Pondicherry are French and English. With the influx of tourism, the locals also speak Tamil and Telugu. English is spoken by the majority of the people in Pondicherry, so you will not find it difficult to express if you don’t speak the native languages.
People of Pondicherry:
Pondicherry is a diverse place where communities from Odisha, Gujarat, and West Bengal live in harmony. The majority of the population is Tamilians and a minority are French. You will encounter a cosmopolitan ambience where contrasting cultures and traditions blend. People in Pondicherry are cordial and welcoming.
Scuba diving, cycling, hiking, electric bike tours, boating, surfing, tree climbing trails are some of the fun and adventurous activities you can do in Pondicherry.
Things To Carry:
What to pack on your road trip to Pondicherry along the ECR depends on when you are travelling. During summers, the sun is harsh. You need sunscreen, an umbrella, shades, and a hat all the time because the weather is unpredictable. Pack lightly, wear anything you are comfortable in and pack swimsuits if you are planning for scuba diving or any other water activities.
A road trip to Pondicherry from the ECR is an experience that will be etched in your memory forever. There is no shortage of tourist spots; even along the ECR, you can indulge in spell-binding places that can be enjoyed with friends and family.