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Guide to Cognac, Charente

Vineyards on a hill in Cognac, France

The town of Cognac in the Charente department, south west France makes for a great visit. Especially if you love cognac… And historic towns, gorgeous countryside, sitting at cafés and watching the world go by.

Guide to Cognac

The name cognac is famous the world over for the fine French brandy made from white wine grapes. And, as you’d expect, cognac the drink is a major part of visiting the town of Cognac. There are several important cognac houses and a dedicated museum plus discovery centre.

The origin of cognac dates back to the 16th century when Dutch settlers visited to purchase salt, wood, and wine. As the long journey home made preserving the wine difficult, they started to distil the wine into eau-de-vie and they realized a second distillation made for an even finer, more elegant and very drinkable product. This is essentially the birth of brandy. The word “brandy” comes from the Dutch word “brandewijn” which means burnt wine.

Brandy can be made all over the world, but only brandy made in the Cognac region of France and under the strictest guidelines, can be called “cognac.” It is made from white wine, using only very specific types of grapes grown in one of the six crus surrounding the town of Cognac in the Charente and Charente-Maritime regions of France. It’s distilled twice and aged in casks for a minimum amount of two years.

Cognac the town

Bridge over a river in Cognac

Cognac is a pretty town with a “City of Art and History” label. It’s easy to spend a day here wandering it’s ancient streets, taking in the sights, relaxing by the river and indulging in the local cuisine. The town has a feeling of peacefulness, prosperity and good living.

Half timbered houses in a street in Cognac, FranceA great starting point is Place Francois 1er, a big square, lined with shops and bars. It’s a great place to grab a coffee, or cognac and watch the life of Cognac going on, before you start a walking tour of the town. It’s named after King Francis 1 of France, who was born here in 1515 (more on that later). It has in its time had several names and was even the site of a pig market for a while.

You can take a guided tour with the tourist office or just amble. It’s not a big town and easy to see on foot. There are some beautiful old houses, fabulous shops ranging from gourmet food to fashion and art. The Jardin Public makes for a great picnic spot with its pretty fountains and peacocks wandering about. There’s a Museum of Art and History in a beautiful building with a collection of paintings and sculptures as well as a Museum dedicated to cognac.

Then continue your walk down to the riverside. Wide open spaces, beautiful old warehouses and some of the major cognac houses are in this part of the town.

Cognac in Cognac

Bottle of Cognac on a counter at a tasting bar

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. 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…

Cognac fact file

Only brandy made in the Cognac region of France and under the strictest guidelines, may be called “Cognac.”

V.S. (Very Special): stored for at least two years in cask.
V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale): stored for at least four years in a cask.
XO (Extra Old) or Napoléon: stored for at least six years in a cask.
Hors d’âge (literally meaning Beyond Age): equal to XO, term is used by producers to market a high-quality product beyond the official age scale.

You should always use a tulip- shaped or balloon glass. Apparently it helps to capture cognac’s subtle aromas.

The ideal temperature to serve cognac is between 15 and 18ºC (59 to 64.4°F); too warm and it will evaporate and lose taste and flavour.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s favourite drink was cognac.

Where to stay

Quai des Pontis is situated in the heart of Cognac, on the Charente River. It’s a magical setting with three different types of accommodation from gypsy caravans to cabins on stilts on the river’s edge and cosy wooden lodges. They’re all equipped with mod cons such as DVD’s, LCD television sets, Nespresso machines. But it’s the natural beauty of the resort that makes it a knockout location and really brings it home that the countryside laps right up to the edges of the town. There’s loads to do here from fishing, swimming, exploring the surrounding countryside or the short walk into town.

Stay at a gorgeous gite farmhouse. Cognac No. 22 is in an idyllic location near Cognac and close to so many of France’s most wonderful sites and destinations. It’s the perfect base to simply unwind, relax and visit the area. Find out more and book your stay 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; www.infiniment-charentes.com

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