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Every year, the modest town of Cognac draws thousands of visitors from all around the world. Not surprisingly! Cognac is the world’s capital of the golden-color elixir and symbol of French refinement – Cognac, the brandy. But what may stun the newcomer is that the city’s savors go beyond its famous brandy.
The eau-de-vie comes from Poitou-Charentes, a region that may well be one of France’s best-kept secrets. Blessed with a sunny and mild climate, Poitou-Charentes also boasts a serene landscape with winding rural roads, meadow-lands, pine forests, Romanesque churches and hillsides studded with châteaux. Cognac, the city, sits peacefully on the banks of the slow-moving Charente River, surrounded by luxuriant vineyards.
City of Cognac
Although you may be eager to indulge your palate, you shouldn’t overlook the medieval city’s own flavors. Exploring King Francois I’s hometown starts unavoidably in the vielle ville (old town). You will find the Romanesque St. Leger Church with its 16th century spire that dominates the city’s tiled roofs. From there, stroll through the cobblestone streets lined with quaint two- and three-story stone houses. On the Rue Grande, the main street from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, you will admire half-timbered houses. Known for its magnificent 15th century frame, La Maison de la Lieutenance ranks as one of the city’s most impressive architectural sites. Rue Saulnier, a sloping street, evokes the city’s thriving past as a trading center for salt. You will notice the sumptuous facades of private mansions –Hôtel Brunet de Bocage or Hôtel Perrin de Boussac.
Cognac’s modern neighborhood is quite lively. The Square François I provides for a ‘royal’ setting with its terrasses, restaurants and boutiques. It opens towards the Place d’Armes where one of the most beautiful indoor markets in the region takes place. Next, why not treat yourself to a zen moment in King Francois I Park, located near the Charente River. According to legend, the future King of France was born near an oak tree –which bears his name.
Cognac, a city of festivals
There is no time for boredom in Cognac! The city vibrates all year long to the rhythms of festivals, each one with a distinct flavor. One of the most important events, La Fete du Cognac, takes place in July. Young viticulturists introduce their cognacs along with the houses of Hennessy, Martell and Rémy Martin. Guests can appreciate inventive Cognac-based drinks and an assortment of local food specialties — oysters, mussels, meats and cheeses (from July 8 through 11, 2010.)
Other Cognac festivals to mark down on your calendar:
Every third week-end of November, the festival proposes a broad range of literary events – debates, meetings, readings both for adults, teens and kids.
Where to take a sip of Cognac
You’ve been patient enough…. It’s now time to get acquainted with the ‘drink of the kings.’ The region houses about 300 cognac houses, each one with unique tastes and savors. The four leading players are Hennessy, Martell, Remy Martin and Courvoisier. There are several ways to get up close and personal with the brandy — and quite content as well.
You can book a visit through agencies specializing in tasting tours. Several formats are available, starting with half-day visits. You may choose to tour distilleries where you will learn about the production of the liquor and enjoy several tastings. Or you may visit the Grande Champagne vineyards, the premier cru of cognac. Producers of the old vintage will welcome you and tell you fascinating stories about their savoir-faire.
You may want to partake in any of the three day to several week-long tasting tours which consist of workshops, discussions with experts, cooking lessons or relaxing moments –such as cognac-cigar dinners. If you are wondering where to hold your next company meeting, consider booking Cognac-cooking workshops or a cognac-tasting session. For further information, check Cognac Tasting Tours
Les Etapes du Cognac organizes journeys combining the pleasures of cognac tasting with tourism. You can select among five routes, each one exploring a particular feature of the region. One trail follows the geological strata of Charente’s limestone. Indeed, it is on these chalky hillsides reflecting the warm sunlight that the vines develop all the aromatic and mouthwatering qualities that give cognac its bouquet. Other trails will have you travel through abbeys or chateaux sitting on hillsides. Every route stops at various villages where you will meet local people and gain insights into wine-growing traditions and… gourmet food. Who can ask for more?
Words of caution
When visiting distilleries, you will be struck by the heady fragrance: About 2 to 4 percent of the alcohol evaporates through the pores of the oak barrels.
What else to see in Cognac
Espace Découverte en Pays du Cognac
Facing the port, on the banks of the Charente river, the gallery reveals the region’s cultural and touristic patrimony.
Musée des Arts du Cognac Art Museum
You will learn the history of the spirit, from how it is made to the skills required to make it.
Salle Verte Square
Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
An invitation to discover popular traditions – costumes, artefacts and also archeological pieces, furnishings and decorative arts.
48 boulevard Denfert-Rochereau
Where to Stay in Cognac:
Château de L’Yeuse
The elegant château stands in a wooded park. Excellent cuisine.
65, rue de Bellevue
Le Domaine du Breuil
Charming hotel in a small 19th century castle.
104, rue Robert Daugas
The former home has been converted into a chambre d’hôtes. Enjoy the swimming-pool and tennis courts.
56, rue des Chabannes
Where to eat in Cognac
Parc François 1er, Cognac
Written by Brigitte Aflalo-Calderon for EuropeUpClose.com