As India's fourth-largest city, Chennai is often overlooked as a travel destination. But the capital of Tamil Nadu is a great jumping-off point for exploring the state's impressive Hindu temples as well as the intriguing former French colony of Pondicherry, a two-and-a-half-hour drive to the south. On my last visit this past winter, I was pleased to discover that Chennai—which you might know by its former name, Madras—has become increasingly cosmopolitan in recent years, with a slew of new glamorous hotels and restaurants on offer. Though just a short drive away, Pondicherry feels like a different world; Pondy, as it's referred to by locals, remained under French control until 1954 (seven years after the rest of India gained independence from the British). You'll detect that cultural stamp in the French quarter, which has a distinctly European vibe. The orderly grid of tree-shaded, bougainvillea-draped streets is lined with elegant old villas, many of which have been restored in recent years and converted to chic boutique hotels, restaurants, and shops.