Situated on the Charente River, the commune of Cognac in western France is undoubtedly best known for producing the fine brandy of the same name. The smell of the evaporating spirits and their oak casks permeates through the town, its aroma referred to as the “angels share”.
Cognac is around 480km southwest of Paris and the drive via the A10 motorway takes just under 5 hours. Sections of this journey are along toll roads. If travelling from Bordeaux take the N10 or from Saintes the N141. The high-speed TGV rail line runs to Angouleme which is 45 minutes away from Cognac, with the journey taking 2 hours and 20 minutes from Paris. Buses connect Cognac with Angouleme, Royan and La Rochelle.
Cognac is a medieval town with cobble-stone streets, narrow alleyways and elegant Renaissance facades. Vieux Cognac is the town’s medieval quarter which boasts buildings ranging from the 15th to 18th centuries, many of featuring gargoyles, ornate facades and the symbol of King Francois I, the salamander. The Old Town runs from Tours Saint-Jacques to the Saint-Leger church. The Château des Valois served the town as an important medieval trading post. Art and history exhibits are on show at the Musée des Arts du Cognac.
Also worth a visit is Le Jardin Public de Cognac, which is one of the only English-style public gardens in France. The park is made up of the gardens of the adjoining Town Hall and Museum of Art and History and spans a total area of 7 hectares. The highlights of the park include the maze, waterfalls and landscaped rivers.
The Saint-Gobain glassworks and barrel-works provides an insight into the local cognac production industry. However, to find out more about cognac-making stop by the visitors centre one of the many Grande Marque Cognac houses, most of which are centrally located in the city, including Hennessey, Remy Martin, Otard and Camus. Courvoisier is located a short drive east of Cognac in the town of Jarnac.
The alcoholic beverage itself must be produced according to strict regulations within a certain area in and around the town of Cognac to meet the definition and be granted the name Cognac. There are six vineyard areas in the region although they are said to vary in quality, with the finest Cognacs made using grapes from the Grand and Petit Champagne areas. Take a tour of one of the houses to learn more about the double-distilling and aging process as well as the grading system and history of the spirit’s pedigree.