Cognac is a smallish city, easy to walk around to see the sites, and with plenty to do – especially if you’re a fan of Cognac the drink!
Le Musee des Arts du Cognac
If you want to know about cognac the drink as well as the region, the Museum of the Arts of Cognac is a great place to start. You’ll discover all there is to know about the creation of cognac and the area in which it is made. There are thousands of objects to bring the story to life as well as a rather fascinating selection of posters and labels. Details: www.musees-cognac.fr
Cognac Discovery Centre
Nip next door to the Discovery centre to find out all about the heritage of Cognac and the Charente area. You’ll get a great overview of how cognac came to be, the different areas of cognac production, the vineyards, landscape and villages.
Cognac tour and tasting
You can’t go to Cognac and not do a tour and tasting. There are loads of options including Hennessy, Remy Martin and Martell. Just check at the tourist office for details of all that are available in the town and the surrounding countryside. However, I think one of the best tours is to be had at the Chateau Royal de Cognac. It is an extraordinary visit of a majestic building – plus there’s a fabulous tasting…
Royal Chateau de Cognac
The Royal Chateau de Cognac overlooks the Charente river. The original castle was built in the 10th century and designed to stop Norman invasions. Chateau des Valois, as it was known, is where one of France’s most celebrated kings, Francis I, was born in 1494. It’s now the domaine of Baron Otard, whose cognac house was founded in 1795. The chateau then was in a state of neglect and the Baron had it restored and realised that the thick walls provide exceptional aging conditions for his eau-de-vie.
Guided tours of the chateau are divided into two parts, French history and Baron Otard cognacs. (It’s available in several languages). Tours begin in the historic part of the chateau, then onto the cellars.
You can smell the cognac as you walk through the doors of the 12th century rooms above the cellars.
A historic castle turned Cognac cellar
The castle is wonderfully preserved, you can even see the remains of a 12th century hot water system. And, there’s a room where King Richard the Lionheart came to bless the wedding of his illegitimate son Philip of Cognac. There are sculptures and engravings, early style Renaissance rooms – in fact it’s said that the French Renaissance was born here.
In some rooms you can see engravings carved into the walls by English prisoners which are fascinating.
Down in the cellars the 90% humidity and constant 15 deg C temperature are perfect condition for the spiders that are part of the cycle of production. The cognac is matured in wooden barrels, the spiders eat the bugs in the wood and keep it clean. The locals joke that the spiders are drunk in here! Cognac evaporates through the wood and causes a blackened fungus to form on the walls and ceiling. It’s known as “the angels share”.
The room where Francis 1 was baptised as a baby, more than 500 years ago, is now the dry cellar room. There are sniff tables where you can really tell the difference between the various types of cognac
In the dungeons are the oldest bottles of cognac dating back 200 years. It’s a totally fascinating visit only made better by the tasting at the end of the tour!
Wine and dine in Cognac
There are plenty of restaurants and bars in the city, just perfect after a stroll by the river…
Locals love: Le Bistro de Claude. Fresh food and a tasty menu, great atmosphere and lots of cognac to choose from! Friendly staff, English spoken and full of locals who know a great restaurant when they see one…
Wine and dine: Atelier des Quais. From the door just off the main bridge, you might not realise just how lovely this place is. But, if you enter the door from the quayside opposite the towers of the Chateau Royal, it’s obvious you’re somewhere special. Go for coffee, tapas, cocktails and for the fabulous lunch or dinner menu. The courtyard with its twinkling lights at night is truly lovely.
Poulpette in the Saint-Jacques district is a unique and lovely tiny restaurant with a no-choice menu. The chef cooks whatever is freshest and most appealing to him. Seriously creative and authentic.
Chez Aristide, in the pedestrian zone of Old Town is traditional. You’ll find a regional menu with a fresh twist. Casual and hip with a nice terrace.
Chai Meukow, a restaurant within the Cognac House Meukow in the centre of town. Lunch only with a no-choice menu that’s fabulous. And, it’s so popular, reservation is obligatory (online at their website). You can also do a tour and tasting.
Where to stay
Stay in a gorgeous Cognac farmhouse. Built around 1840, the house is set in its own secluded garden enclosed by stone walls with exclusive use of a heated pool. A family holiday home (sleeps 8) it is close to Cognac, Saintes, Angouleme, Royan, La Rochelle and Rochefort and the beaches of the Atlantic coast, as well as a whole lot of other fabulous sites and attractions. Find out more and book at: cognac-no22.com
Discover what’s on and things to do in Cognac at www.tourism-cognac.com.
More on the local area: www.atlantic-cognac.com
Saintes with its Roman arena, stunning churches, museums and musical vibe
Angouleme – home to an incredible comic museum and some of the best street art in France
Royan – what to see and do in the maritime city
La Rochelle, the seaside city that steals your heart
Rochefort – 10 things to do in the famous French naval town