While Chennai is a great city to visit in and of itself, with wonderful tourist spots, shopping centres and restaurants galore, a longer stay down south merits a trip to a few amazing spots close by. Both Pondicherry and Mahabalipuram are just a stone’s throw away from Chennai and are the most convenient and fun locations to plan a week-long road trip with family, friends and loved ones. Here’s a guide to the ultimate road trip, where you can experience these amazing destinations along the coast of Tamil Nadu.
The first step, if you're not from Chennai originally, is to fly into the city. If you have some time, then spending a day visiting some of the amazing temples and museums this city has to offer is definitely worth it. However, if you’re eager to get your road trip started, then the least you can do is have a breakfast of champions at Sangeetha or Saravana Bhavan and gorge on some world-class dosas, sambar, chutneys and vada before hitting the road.
Your first stop should be Pondicherry, which is around two-three hours away by car from Chennai. It’s easy to get there by renting a cab or taking an uber! I would recommend staying in White Town, the French colonial part of the city. Walking around White Town feels like you’ve stepped into a quaint European village, a perfect place to experience a day “abroad” while right here in India. White Town is known for its colonial architecture, brightly painted storefronts, small tourist haunts and quirky cafes and eateries, all scattered within a 5-kilometre radius. The best way to experience this part of Pondicherry is on foot. So after you’ve checked into your hotel, take a stroll down the promenade, or wander down an alleyway or two, and let this city surprise you!
There are also some fantastic places to eat in this area of Pondicherry. Definitely grab a bite at Coromandel Cafe, a spot that is both aesthetically Instagramable and also serves seafood to die for. The pasta dishes and dessert are unmissable! Villa Shanti is another great restaurant in White Town, known for its sangrias and delicious Indian food.
After you’ve spent a day roaming around White Town, a visit to Auroville, around 20 minutes away should be next on your list. Auroville is an experimental township that prides itself on being a city that welcomes all humanity, without any restrictions. I would definitely suggest stopping at Bread and Chocolate, a bakery and breakfast place on the way from White Town to Auroville, and sampling their Pain Au Chocolat and mouthwatering coffee. Once in Auroville, you should visit the Matrimandir, or the golden dome-like structure in the centre of the town. Surrounding this are the four zones - Residential, Industrial, Cultural and International, each with their unique features. If you’re inclined to shop and buy antiques then Auroville is a great place to find nice products. Pondicherry is also known for its leather goods, so it is a fabulous place to buy wallets, bags, satchels and so on.
Pondicherry is another 2-hour drive away from Mahabalipuram, a popular coastal tourist destination for locals and visitors alike. While Pondicherry is great for roaming around and exploring a town, Mahabalipuram gives you the opportunity to sit on the beach and unwind. It has a variety of local and resort beaches that are the perfect place to take a dip in the water, read a book, listen to some music and watch the sunset. The Taj Fisherman’s Cove Resort and Spa is one of the places most visitors flock to, known for its great service and food. This hotel also gives you direct access to Covelong beach, one of the iconic beaches of the city. It is also built on the ramparts of an old Dutch fort, with plenty for children and history buffs to explore.
Aside from chilling on the beach, if you would like to spend a longer time in Mahabalipuram, there’s always plenty to do. The seashore temple is a UNESCO world heritage site and a spot rich in culture, history and heritage. “Arjunas Penance” and “Descent of the Ganges” are beautifully carved sculptures embedded on a rock front that can also be found in this city. The Mahabalipuram lighthouse is a wonderful spot to catch the view and take some breathtaking photographs.
As the wonderful weekend trip comes to an end, you can easily drive back from Mahabalipuram to Chennai as it is only an hour away. While Chennai is a popular metropolitan city with much to do, visiting these smaller towns along the eastern coast always makes for a fantastic experience and a balanced holiday - from visiting tourist spots to eating great food to being able to squeeze in some much-needed rest and relaxation. So take our advice, the next time you're in the wonderful state of Tamil Nadu, make sure you reserve a few days and take part in this road trip of a lifetime!