Pondy (to its friends) or Puducherry (as it's officially called) is a charming, cultured city - once the largest French colony in India - which despite recent growth (to a population of half a million) still retains an extremely relaxed, laid-back and distinctly Gallic feel. Better still, it's an easy city to explore: there are French-speaking rickshaw drivers, and distances within the old quarter aren't great.
It boasts probably the loveliest seafront promenade in the country - a favourite for sunset strolls - and an old French quarter (separated from the choatic Tamil districts by a canal) which is full of broad boulevards, whitewashed houses, petanque courts, newly restored boutique hotels, chichi shops (for fabrics, leather, clothes and handmade paper) and Med-style restaurants and bakeries.
The choice of cuisine is amazing; classic French, Vietnamese, Chinese and regional Indian - or just stop for a croissant and perfect fresh coffee. There’s even a long beach - not always swimmable due to surf, but great for cleaning the lungs and mind - and it's easy to fix up a fishing excursion with locals on a double-hulled wooden boat.
Some travel writers are talking about Pondy as the new Goa - a little optimistic, perhaps, but it certainly seems to have a bright future ahead. For explorations further afield you'll need to hire a car with a driver, or to take your most meditative, patient mindset with you onto the bus or train. Pondy is at the end of a branch line from Villupuram, with 4 trains per day connecting to the main Chennai-Tiruchirappalli line.
Base yourself at Maison Perumal in the Tamil quarter of Pondy, or at The Dune, 15km outside town.