Chennai, apart from being a destination in itself, is a great base to explore the southern part of the country where ancient temples and opulent mansions rub shoulders with colonial forts and serene hill stations. With the Nilgiris, the spectacular east coast and fertile river beds and fields just a weekend drive away, the state offers a smorgasbord of experiences waiting to be unravelled. Here are a few such places you can visit over a weekend.
The lure of hills is irresistible; if they’re calling out to you, you must go. And in this case, discover serenity at neighbouring Coonoor, instead of any other crowded hilly place. Set high up in the Nilgiris, near Ooty and Kotagiri, this hill station is your best bet if you want to experience the finest of what the region offers, sans the crowds.
Take a stroll at the botanical garden; stop by to hear the waterfalls roar; enjoy panoramic viewpoints and grab a chance to go trekking and bird watching.
There are plenty of quaint cottages, bungalows, and old-school cafes, bakeries and restaurants here where you could get everything from a standard English breakfast to piping hot sambhar and delicious homemade chocolates or cheese.
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The Chettinad region comprising Karaikudi, Devakottai and villages in the neighbourhood is a veritable treasure trove of culture and cuisine. Home to the Nattukottai Chettiars, the region is rife with palatial houses, some of which have been converted into heritage hotels, while most remain abandoned. The mansions of Chettinad are a study in design and reveal the global aesthetic of the well-travelled Chettiar; Italian marble, stained glass, giant pillars, intricate woodwork, open courtyards and Belgian cookware embellish these massive homes.
Chettinad cuisine is rich, flavourful and iconic – a meat-lover’s delight. Dig into sumptuous Chettinad chicken, mutton kola urundai (fried meat balls) and if you’re adventurous, try the ratha kootu (goat blood curry) or the thalai maas (goat brain curry). Don’t leave without picking up Athangudi tiles and Chettinad sarees.
Tharangambadi (or Tranquebar) means ‘land of the singing waves’ and this nondescript town is set on the east coast, in the Nagapattinam district. But what makes this relatively non-touristy place a great weekend idea is its rich Danish heritage. This was the seat of the Danish East India Company and Fort Dansborg, built by Danish Admiral Ove Gjedde in1620, stands tall on the shores, as testimony to the town’s colonial past.
The fort houses a museum with a much-coveted collection of antiques dating back several centuries. While travellers who wanted to explore this town would simply have to make do with a brief pitstop due to lack of accommodation options, but things are different today as there are numerous hotels for staying out.
If you’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Chennai, chances are you’ve definitely been to ‘Pondy’ on a Friday night at least once. The former French colony, located just 150 km or so away from Chennai, never gets boring. The scenic drive along the famed East Coast Road (ECR) is a delight, with several cafes and restaurants flanking the highway. The Union Territory on the shores of the Bay of Bengal is a cornucopia of cultural influences – from Dutch and Portuguese to French and British, and of course, Tamil.
The Aurobindo Ashram is a haven of peace. The temples and churches here are definitely worth visiting. Head to Auroville, an experimental township with people from all corners of the world, for an unparalleled spiritual experience.
Don’t leave this seaside town without gorging on the food, which is a heady mix of South Indian, French and European cuisines, with some great bakeries and steakhouses to boot.
Located just 50 km south of Chennai, Mahabalipuram, one of the UNESCO world heritage sites, is a treat for culture vultures. In addition to ancient archaeological wonders, salty air and coastal beauty, the town’s buzzing, growing surf scene is quite an attraction. A wander round the town’s magnificent, World Heritage–listed temples and carvings inflames the imagination, especially at sunset.
‘Mahabs’, as most call it, is a small and laid-back place, and sights can be explored on foot or by bicycle.
Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary
For nature lovers, Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary may sound as the best escape to spend a weekend away from Bengaluru. Serenity surrounds the sanctuary, which is home to migratory birds such as pintail, garganey, grey wagtail, blue-winged teal, common sandpiper and the like.
The place is well structured with paved paths and watchtowers and benches for the bird watchers. You can take a close view at the birds’ activities from here.