A streak of gold floods the horizon as dawn breaks on Marina Beach in Chennai. Centuries ago, the local Nayak rulers leased a coastal sandy strip to the British who fortified it. A settlement grew around the fort with White and Black Towns, trading outposts became forts and traders became colonists. These shores had beckoned not just the British and the French but also the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the Danish who set up trading posts here. And they had left their footprints behind in forts, lighthouses, churches, cemeteries, and mansions that are hidden along the coastline. Even Chennai then had two distinct settlements. While Fort St George was with the British settlement, neighbouring Santhome became a Portuguese colony. Standing there you become a time traveller as you embark on the GReat Coastal Colonial Trails in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry by GRT Hotels and Resorts to discover lost pieces of history. Stay in the luxurious Radisson owned along the historic coastline and explore.

A few years ago, I embarked on this coastal colonial trail in Tamil Nadu myself as it had always been my dream to traverse down the coastline and lose myself in dusty fishing hamlets. The smell of the sea lured me. The waves told a story of their own. Several hamlets interrupt my journey and that is when I realized that some of these nonchalant villages had once worn a cloak of a different identity. They were erstwhile bustling settlements of Europeans but are today lost in a maze of huts and fields overlooking the shores. While some became popular tourist spots, most of them remain hidden behind the garb of a simple village. My tryst with the coast began to discover forgotten history. Years later, as I curated this trail for  GRT Hotels and Resorts, a wave of nostalgia flooded me. Join me on this GReat Coastal Colonial trail as we explore and look for colonial stories.


Arrive at Radisson Blu Hotel, GRT Chennai
Visit to Fort St George
Visit Luz Church
Visit to San Thome Basilica

We start our day in Chennai. Relax in the comforts of the Radisson Blu Hotel, GRT Chennai which is a short drive from the airport. Begin your colonial trail by exploring both Fort St George and Santhome. While Fort St George houses The Secretariat, which is the seat of power of the Tamil Nadu government today, There are other buildings like Fort Museum and St Mary’s Church, the oldest surviving building of the British in the city and the oldest Anglican church as well.  If you go to the Fort Museum today in the Fort St George complex, you can see various illustrations showing how the Fort St George has evolved over the years. Robert Clive got married in St Mary’s Church and you can ask to see the register as well.

Map of Fort St George

.There were at one time several monuments inside the fort complex beside the Fort House. Mint, Hospital, defense warehouses, gates, towers, granaries, residences of Clive and Wellesley,  Town Hall,  Parade Ground, King’s Barracks, and Grand Arsenal among others. However, you can see now The Exchange Building which is now the Fort Museum and St Mary’s Church. Continue along the beach towards Santhome to see the iconic Basilica, also called St Thomas Cathedral Basilica. The present basilica dates back to the 16th century, when the Portuguese rebuilt it and it is believed that the tomb of Apostle Thomas lies buried below it.

Luz Church – Chennai’s oldest Church

However, the oldest church in Chennai is the Luz Church or the Kaatu Kovil, also called, the Church of Lady of Light. Legend says that eight Franciscan friars sailed to India from Lisbon in the early 16th century. While they initially stopped at Calicut and Cochin they sailed further south. On the way the sea turned rough but they were guided by a bright light, which led them towards the shores of Mylapore, where the old house of St Thomas was in ruins. The light then directed them towards a clearing in the forest where it finally disappeared. It is believed that this led the friars to build a small oratory on the spot.

Back at the hotel, which is inspired by the colonial and army locale, experience Anglo-Indian Cuisine at the Ministry of Culture, where you can savour varieties of chutneys. Don’t miss relaxing in the Salt Splash Pool and pamper yourself in the Bodhi Spa before heading out on the trail

DAY 2 

Head to Sadras, Dutch Fort near Mahabalipuram
Stay at  Radisson Blu Resort, Temple Bay, Mammalapuram
Optional – Explore Shore Temple and Mahabalipuram

Sadras – A tale of crumbling forts

On Day two of the GReat Coastal Colonial Trails in Tamil Nadu, we buzz past the ancient Pallava port of Mahabalipuram and drive down towards a fishing hamlet called Sadras or Sadarangapattinam. Our first destination was an erstwhile battlefield with a restored Dutch fortress where the Battle of Sadras was fought between British fleets against the French and the Dutch. The canons, a watch tower, the warehouses, and the tombs are the last vestiges of this era. Sadras, often assumed as a twin city of Madras (today’s Chennai) has a history that even dates earlier to the Chola feudatories and later on was ruled by the Vijaynagar empire. A weaving centre, it is known for muslin which was exported to Europe.

Back at the hotel, experience the luxurious resort, lose yourself in the neverending Infinity Pool, and savour the flavours of seafood at the Wharf 2.0  You can pamper yourself with massages at Bodhi Spa.

DAY 3 

After breakfast, head to Alamparai fort
Arrive at Radisson Resort, Pondicherry Bay
Enjoy the delights Franco -Tamil Cuisine at Bay Bistro
Explore French India – Pondicherry
Visit Fort David – Cuddalore

Alamparai Fort – picture postcard of ruins

We take a detour and enter the portals of another crumbling fortress overlooking the ocean. We are at the 17th-century Alamparai fort that was ruled by the Nawab of Carnatic and was gifted to the French for their support.  The British eventually destroyed the fort and the dockyard which was more than 100 metres long. A rusty ASI board gives us more information. Alamparai, it says was the ancient land of Idaikazhunadu, mentioned in the literary work, Siruppanatruppadai.

The seaport was used for trade by the Arcot Nawabs and zari, salt, and ghee were exported from here. Coins were minted from here as well and later on the mint was shifted to neighbouring Pondicherry. The mint built on a highway near Alamparai here even housed a Shiva temple, a “choultry “ and a pond and was built for the benefit of the travelers coming down this route towards Rameshwaram.

Pondicherry – Reminiscent of French India


The sun gets kinder as we drive towards the last vestiges of French India – Poudoucheri. Walking along the beach in the old French town, the statue of Dupleix looks down at you as you explore the colourful maze of streets with colonial buildings that are reminiscent of a bygone era. The French connection with Pondicherry is often waxed eloquent by the tourists.

But not many speak of the Portuguese, Danish, and Dutch who have all laid claim to this port which was another centre of trade. Lose yourself in the colourful streetscape, where every colour has a story to tell. Visit the century-old Sacred Heart Basilica and don’t miss the statue of Joan of Arc in a garden, facing the Church of Our Lady of Angels.

Cuddalore – Ruins of Fort St David

If Pondicherry is a time capsule that is tinged with nostalgia, Fort St David in Cuddalore along the banks of the River Gadilam is lost amidst ruins. The story goes that the area which came under the range of the canon was colonized by the British. Cuddalore is an ancient port that wears the mask of an industrial town. We leave the bustling town and delve into the past. The old town presents itself, boasting of a Roman connection. But in Cuddalore, was the very foundation of the East India Company. The seas have witnessed battles fought between the arch-rivals here.

We skim through layers of history and learn that Fort St David, an erstwhile fort on the banks of the river Gadilam was the headquarters of the British before Fort St George in Chennai took over. A passerby tells us that this fort was under the control of the Marathas and was later bought over by the British. The story goes that the purchase was decided based on a shot from a gun. The area which came under the range of the canon included the entire town and Cuddalore became a British settlement.

Back at the resort, dine at Bay Bistro and dig into the delicious Franco-Tamil cuisine, and pamper yourself at the Bodhi Spa or the Salt Splash Pool. The Blue Flag Eden Beach is secluded and inviting and enjoy some sun and sand. If you are in the mood for more adventures, then head on a day trip to Tranquebar.

DAY 4 – Day trip to Porto Novo and Tranquebar 

Porto Novo – Ruled by “Parangis 

We add a special surprise to the GReat Coastal Colonial Trails in Tamil Nadu with this day trip which is optional. We drive towards Porto Novo, colonized by the Portuguese and sieged by the Dutch and British. It was the home of foreigners or Parangis hence the local name, Parangipettai. It was also a trade centre for the Arabs and the Yemenis. A battle was fought here between Hyder Ali and the British.

Tranquebar – A slice of Denmark

The music from the seashore lifts our spirits as we reach Tharangambadi or the town of the singing waves. The Danes who landed here called it Tranquebar. As you drive through the town gate or “ Landporten”, you see the imposing Fort Dansborg.  The Danes however sold their colony to the British.

The Danish fort at sunrise

The quaint streetscapes lend an old-world charm. We walk down the small bylanes called King Street, Queen Street, and Goldsmith Street where buildings have been restored, mainly those of the British and Danish Governors apart from old houses museums, and monuments.

The Danish fort at Tranquebar

The tsunami he says swallowed close to four streets in this lost forgotten town and he takes us to see the ravaged Masilamani Nathar temple, the oldest monument that has survived in Tranquebar, An inscription says that this partially eroded temple was built on land granted by King Maravarman Kulasekara Pandian in 1306. The village was then referred to as Kulashekarapattinam or Thayangambadi

Broken bricks along the seashore

Our trail ends here but there are many more of these long-lost towns, forgotten ports that now wear the garb of a dusty fishing hamlet and are waiting for you to be discovered.

Brief itinerary – Highlights

 Duration – 4 nights and 5 days

Start your trail in Chennai with a relaxed evening at the Radisson Blu Hotel GRT Chennai
Explore some of the oldest churches in Fort St George and Santhome
Head to Pallava port of Mahabalipuram and stay at the Radisson Blu  Resort Temple Bay Mamallapuram
Explore the ruins of Sadras and Alamparai enroute to Pondicherry
Stay overnight at the luxurious Radisson Resort Pondicherry Bay and relish French Indian cuisine
Walk around the charming streetscape of French India in Pondicherry listening to stories
Drive to Cuddalore and see the ruins of Fort St David on the banks of the River Gadilam
Buzz past Parangipettai or Porto Novo and visit Tranquebar, to see the Danish settlement.

Places to stay

Radisson Blu Hotel GRT Chennai

Newly renovated hotel with unique features like Salt Water Pool, Turkish Hamam,
Iconic restaurants like The Great Kabab Factory, Ministry of Chutneys
indulge in local cuisine at Kari Theory Bar
Easy access to the airport and the rest of the city

Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay Mamallapuram 

Asia’s 2nd largest meandering pool at 27,000 sq ft spread over an area of 44 acres
Stay in rooms and suites closest to the beach overlooking the Shore Temple, a UNESCO Heritage Site.
Indulge at Bodhi Spa, Wharf 2,0 beachfront restaurant serving a variety of grills
Pet-friendly beach resort.

Radisson Resort Pondicherry Bay

Only International Brand in Pondicherry
Easy access to Blue Flag Eden Beach
First Salt Water pool in Pondicherry
Bay Bistro offering Franco Tamil Cuisine
Pet-friendly beach resort.

Ruins and backwaters near Pondy

You can email reservations@radissongrt.com to book the GReat Coastal Colonial Trails in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.

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