Beloved around the world for its eponymous fine liqueurs, Cognac is one of France’s most elegant towns. But while many visitors assume the only thing to do there is tour its prestigious distilleries and vineyards, the city nestled in the southwestern region of Charentes has much more to offer. Centuries of history, architecture and art. A winemaking tradition that produces some truly unique and prestigious local vintages. Picturesque countryside landscapes that are lovely year-round, and ideal for cycling, drives or walks. Superb hotels and gastronomic experiences. Keep reading to learn why Cognac, France should be on your luxury travel radar– and how our private French guides and travel planners will ensure your visit is nothing short of exceptional.
Of course, when visiting the centuries-old town of Cognac, a priority for most luxury travellers will be to taste some exceptional examples of the liqueur that made it famous– and learn the traditional methods behind its production. French writer Victor Hugo once described the drink as “the liquor of the Gods”, and discerning tasters know why that is. Cognac is a type of brandy produced to strict standards by twice distilling white wine in special copper pot stills, then ageing it for a minimum of two years in oak barrels– yielding a deeply aromatic “eau de vie”. Only certain grape varietals grown in the Charentes region can be used for a brandy to qualify as an authentic Cognac, and producers must use French oak barrels from Limousin or Troncais. These infuse the cognac with notes of caramel, vanilla or deep spice.
Why Choose a Private Cognac Tour?
Taking a private tour of the town’s most-respected cognac producers will open your eyes to the complex steps and artisanal expertise behind its creation. You will enjoy privileged encounters with vintners and cognac experts who will initiate you to the secrets of this intense, fortified wine– allowing you to appreciate its unique characteristics and long history. You’ll also learn to distinguish between cognacs that are “extra old” (XO), aged for at least six years and considered among the very best, from younger varieties. The latter are referred to as “VS” (very special, aged for two years at minimum) or “VSOP” (Very Superior Old Pale, aged for four years minimum).
There are too many respected producers of the famous brandy to name them all here. In addition to the most well-known producers such as Hennessy, Martell and Remy Martin, a few treasured houses we recommend potentially including on your private tour of Cognac include the following:
Baron Otard at the Royal Château de Cognac
The 10th-century Royal Château de Cognac is birthplace of King Francis I and houses the cellars of the prestigious Baron Otard cognac house, known around the world for producing some spectacular brandies. Founded in 1795 by the Baron Otard who had purchased the castle following the French Revolution, Otard has long used the ideal climatic conditions of the castle’s underground cellars to yield cognacs prized by connoisseurs, including a 1972 vintage limited to only 2,500 bottles.
Situated in the Grande Champagne wine-growing terroir in Charentes– not to be confused with the region that produces France’s most-famous sparkling white wines– Cognacs Ferrand is a smaller producer that is coveted for its high-quality cognacs. This house using painstaking, craft-based methods to produce its fine eaux de vie, rather than turning to large-scale industrial counterparts. The result? Some truly distinctive, rich and aromatic cognacs that both amateurs and connoisseurs will prize. At the At Logis d’Angeac aging cellars, five generations of cellar masters use treasured and secretive techniques to create cognacs made with 100% Grande Champagne grapes. Its 10 Generations Premier Grand Cru is especially lauded.
This family-owned cognac house opened in 1863 and has since solidified its reputation as one of the finest in France. Five generations of Camus family members have presided over the house, whose vineyards are situated in the low-yield, highly-prized “Borderies Cru” part of the Cognac appellation. At the Visitors’ Center, you can learn about and taste exceptional vintages under the guidance of master blenders. Camus is especially noted for its “Cuvée Rarissimes” collection, which includes rare cognacs produced in single batches and sold in extremely limited numbers. These are produced from exclusive, one-off blends from some of the house’s treasured eaux-de-vie, and come in elegant, sculptural Baccarat crystal bottles from a noted artists.
Musée de Cognac
A stop at this excellent museum is recommended if you want to learn all about the history of Cognac– both the liqueur and the town. The permanent collection features some 1,000 items that have historically been involved in the production of the town’s finest cognacs.
No trip to Cognac would be complete without tasting some of its other gastronomic specialities, from farm-fresh produce and meats to red and white wines. Depending on your tastes and wishes, your private tour of the region can include market visits, lunches or dinners at some of the area’s award-winning gourmet tables, meetings with food artisans and exclusive tastings. Only your taste buds define the limits of your gourmet adventure.
From Truffles to Salts and Honey
Charente is best-known for its superb cognacs, as you’ve already learned. But the region also produces specialities from black truffles to balsamic vinegar, and salts harvested from moor salt pans. Charentais specialities include caviar, oysters and freshly-caught trout, to the delight of seafood and luxury-lovers. The unique local produce from this region is full of flavour and artisanal secret– so why not discover them?
Aside from cognacs, the region is noted for its distinctive white, red and rose wines known as “Pineau des Charentes”. These wines, aged in oak barrels for several years, are unique for their blending of cognac with young grapes, resulting in a “mutage” (mixture) that is at once aromatic, rich and elegant. Boasting deep notes of red fruits and spices, red vintages pair exceptionally well with cheeses and meats such as foie gras. White varieties, with notes of walnut, honey, dried fruit or vanilla, make exceptional aperitifs, cocktails or neat accompaniments for dessert. Roses, meanwhile, are ideal for a summer “apero” on a warm evening.
Your gourmet tour might include a visit to the truffle market in Jarnac (if you’re visiting during the winter), a private visit with producers of vinegars, honeys or salts, or tastings of local Pineau des Charentes wines paired with delicacies such as caviar or oysters.
Exceptional Tables Around Cognac
The region is also home to some superb gastronomic tables. Among these include La Ribaudiere, a one-Michelin-starred restaurant noted by critics and fine diners for its top-quality, locally sourced ingredients and superb setting. The restaurant is situated on a hilly area with breathtaking views over the Charentes countryside. The wine list is nothing short of exceptional.
Situated on the right bank of the Charente river, Poulpette is lauded by French food critics for its exceptional “cuisine de terroir”(locally-based cuisine). Inventive, creative dishes grounded in tradition are central this modern bistro whose menu changes daily.
Le Bistro de Claude, meanwhile, offers a carefully curated menu “between earth and sea” that features delicacies such as oysters, crab, freshly-caught fish, and Limousin beef. Simple but very fine French-style fare is served at this unpretentious local gem of a table.
If you’re interested in French architecture, history and culture, Cognac and its surrounding region offers plenty to sate your curiosity. From Romanesque churches to medieval Abbeys and centuries-old chateaux, the town has a rich historical legacy that will bring you back to eras past.
Romanesque & Medieval Treasures
When the Emperor Julius Caesar conquered Gaul in around 52 BC, he seized control of the region now Known as Charentes– and it remained under Roman rule for centuries. That legacy can be appreciated in numerous structures that remain intact or partly intact in Cognac, including the monumental Saint-Leger church, which features noteworthy Romanesque architectural elements on the facade. The arched entryway is mesmerizing for its depiction of astrological signs, while the cloisters are both lovely and peaceful. The church– the most important in Cognac and once home to a Benedictine priory– also boasts an ornate rose window.
The area around Cognac is also well-known as a pilgrimage route from the year 1,000 AD onward, witnessed by its many ornate churches and shrines. Pilgrims who passed through the region on their way to the famous Santiago de Compostela. Churches made from local limestone and featuring ornate sculptures, delicate frescoes and stone roof vaulting can be visited in Charentais towns such as Aulnay de Saintonge, Saint-Preuil, Bourg-Charente, and Bouteville. The Bassac Abbey, dating to the 11th century is equally lauded for its fine Romanesque, medieval, and Baroque details.
Of course, the aforementioned Chateau Royal de Cognac is worth visiting for its fine architectural points and historical legacy as much as it is for its cognac cellars; the prestigious State Room– where King Francois I hosted his guests– is particularly opulent and dates to the Renaissance era (around 1517). Also of note within the walls of the 10th-13th century castle is the Salle du Casque (Helmet Room), where an impressive helmet decorates the enormous, regal fireplace.
Last but certainly not least, admire the imposing fortress walls of the St-Jacques Gate, dating to the early Renaissance (15th century) and featuring two impressive, machiolated towers. These once were used to survey a bridge that has since disappeared; the gate now provides access to the stately Rue Grande in central Cognac.
The area in and around Cognac is also ideal for nature-lovers and anyone looking for a bit of authentic French countryside charm. Whether you’re a hiking enthusiast, amateur cyclist, or are after a relaxing and luxury-filled afternoon on a riverboat, there are many ways to explore the outdoors in this subtly beautiful part of France.
If you’ve already opted for a wine or cognac-tasting tour during your stay, why not take some time to explore the vineyards and Charente riverside path on foot or by bike? Your private guide will take you along idyllic routes from Cognac to Jarnac and beyond, admiring riverine wildlife, picturesque village life, vineyards bursting with colour and bounty and the sun shining on old stone buildings. To make the excursion extra-special, why not indulge in a picnic complete with French cheeses and fresh bread, market-fresh fruit, local wine– and of course, a bit of exquisite cognac to finish?
If it’s a water adventure you’re most interested in, ask your guides to hire a private barge for an afternoon or sunset cruise on the Charente River. Observe natural flora and fauna, take in the scenery as you float past Charentais villages, chateaux and stately homes, and enjoy a gourmet meal prepared by your own onboard chef. Who said river cruises have become too banal? We’ll make sure yours is entirely private and full of luxury. You can easily depart from Cognac or the nearby town of St-Simon, and you may cruise for up to 170km up and down the river, between Angouleme and Rochefort.
Golfing aficianados will adore spending time outdoors on the greens of the Cognac Golf Course, an 18-hole course with a 4-hole training course that’s ideal for beginners. It’s located between Cognac and Jarnac, next to the picturesque Charente river. Situated in a beautiful natural environment amid vineyards, woods and small bodies of water, the course is truly elegant.
Of course, there are many other possibilities for natural exploration in the region and beyond. Even an excursion to the nearby Atlantic coast of France is entirely feasible from Cognac– where you can enjoy breathtaking seaside walks, water sports and even a private sailing trip.
After a day of tasting local cognacs, touring the countryside by bike or boat, and exploring the region’s cultural riches, you’ll certainly require an exceptional place to stay. While the region lacks the flashy, Palace-style hotels and resorts of Paris or the Cote d’Azur, it boasts a few gems that remain true to the understated elegance of the Charente itself. Here are just a couple we recommend for your next stay.
A newcomer to the area, the Hotel Chais Monnet Cognac has nevertheless earned a stellar reputation among luxury travelers, blending contemporary style with local charm. Situated on the banks of the Charente and in walking distance of some of the most famous cognac houses, the five-star hotel boasts a spa, gastronomic restaurant, indoor heated pool, golf course and many other amenities for uncompromising guests. There are several high-luxury suites, including the “Monnet suite” where guests enjoy a private butler, private access to spa treatment rooms, kitchen and other features. The gastronomic French restaurant Les Foudres offers fine local cuisine amid ancient Cognac barrels, and a very fine wine list.
Meanwhile, the prestigious hotel at the Chateau L’Yeuse brings regal opulence to the region, situated in a stately manor surrounded by woods and overlooking the meandering waters of the Charente. An onsite spa, heated outdoor pool, beautifully decorated rooms in a traditional French style and surrounding gardens add both luxury and peace. Gourmets will appreciate the onsite restaurant specializing in local produce and regional dishes, while the “Cognactheque” allows guests to taste some 180 different cognacs– some rare– in cozy and opulent surroundings.
Located in the centre of Cognac, the four-star Hotel Francois Premier embodies a quieter form of local prestige. It boasts a spa complete with heated indoor pool, hammam and treatment cabins, restaurant that has won accolades in the Michelin Guide for its delicious local specialities, and comfortable, elegantly appointed rooms. There are four spacious suites at this hotel, which makes an ideal hub from which to explore the region.
For a rustic yet luxurious sojourn, consider a stay at the Logis du Paradis, a B&B offering both spacious catered rooms and beautifully appointed self-catered cottages. This is an excellent choice for travelers who enjoy staying in historic buildings: the ones at this high-end B&B date to the early 18th century and include the former premises of a cognac distillery, offering a wonderfully authentic setting. The heated outdoor swimming pool and lovely, flower-lined garden offer quiet and relaxation.
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