For visitors to Poitou-Charentes a must-do is a cognac tour or cognac tasting tour around one of the famous firms or ‘maisons’ as they are called (see below). And of course to have a taste of cognac at the same time!
We would also recommend a visit to one of the many excellent small local producers that can be found through the cognac area. Many speak English, and while summer is the peak period for public visits, there are those that are open all year round. The tourist offices in the cognac areas will have a booklet called 'Les Bonness Adresses du Cognac' which is a detailed list of those offering tours.
For more on the history of cognac, head to the Musée des Arts du cognac (Maco) in Cognac which does its bit for the local industry that made the town famous – and wealthy – by housing a permanent exhibition on the history of the drink and how it’s made.
If you’re looking to buy, then browse at the 400-strong selection on offer at Cognathèque, also in Cognac.
Down by the river in the town of Cognac are the blackened chais (warehouses) that still store barrels of cognac. Their blackened state is caused by the alcohol evaporating into the surrounding air. The locals say this is ‘the angels taking their share’ - the truth is less romantic as the culprit is a tiny fungus that thrives in the alcohol-laden atmosphere!
TAKING A COGNAC TOUR: THE GREAT COGNAC HOUSES
Not in Cognac, but nearby and known for being the home of 'Napoleon's cognac'. It has a variety of excellent tours.
Address: 2 place du Château, 16200 Jarnac
Visits from April - October, 10am to 6pm every day (closed Saturdays in May and September.
Admission: €3 per adult, €2.30 per person per group
www.courvoisier.com; in English
The oldest of the cognac houses, founded in 1715.
Address: Place Edouard Martell, 16100
Admission: €7.50 per adult, €3 for those aged 12-18, free for those aged under 12, €4.50 per head for groups.
Address: 29, rue Marguerite-de-Navarre, 16100
Admission: €7 per adult, free below 18, €3.50 per person for groups of 10.
Address: Château de Cognac - 127, boulevard Denfert-Rochereau, 16100 Cognac.
Admission : €9.20 adults ; €4.10 for children between 12-18yrs; free for children under 12yrs
Address: Le Domaine Rémy Martin, Avenue de Gimeux, 16100 Merpins
Admission: €15 per adult, €7 for those aged 12 to 18, and €12 per person per group.
Tel: 05 45 35 7 .66.
La Maison Rémy Martin
Address: 20, rue de la Société Vinicole - 16100 Cognac
Admission: €25 per adult, €14 for those aged 12 to 18, €7 for under 12’s.
Tel: 05 45 35 7 .66
Address: Les Quais Hennessy, 16100, Cognac
Admission: Between €9 to €45, depending on which tasting you choose.
Tel 05.45.35.72.72 or 05 45 35 72 68
A permanent exhibition devoted to cognac where you can see and buy 450 different cognacs as well as 50 types of pineau.
Address: 8 place Jean-Monnet, Cognac, is open every day 9am to 7pm, admission free.
Tel: 05.45.82.43.31. or visit www.cognatheque.com
Musée des Arts du cognac (Maco)
It has a permanent exhibition that charts the history, the techniques and the economic impact of cognac. Situated in rue des Remparts, place Salle verte in Cognac, the museum is open every day from 10am to 6.30pm until September. Admission for adults €4, free for the under 18s. Reduced tariffs available. Tel: 05.45.36.21.10.
Les Bonnes Chauffes
Each year, during the months of December to February winegrowers and distillers throw open their doors to visitors over the weekend for free distillery visits plus tastings of cognac and of pineau. A number of restaurants also get involved with menus based on local products and of course cognac and pineau - some also put on musical events to create a real feeling of fun and festivity. For a full list of participating growers and their opening hours, and participating restaurants see www.cognacetapes.com
Words: RACHEL LOOS