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Cognac France French Holidays

If you can't guess what the town of Cognac is all about you are either very lucky, or have lead a very sheltered life thus far. For Cognac revolves around cognac, the double distilled spirit that is the driving force of this town's economy. They grow the grapes near here, distil the spirit here, and in the town's many chais (warehouses, often underground, pronounced "shay") the brandy is left to mature, the fumes turning the walls black with microscopic fungi.


As the world always has something to drink to, be it success or sorrow, the export market for cognac is booming and so Cognac is a prosperous place, with a nice medieval quarter to discover as well.

The old town stretches from the Église St Léger to the River Charente and features stone and half timbered medieval buildings on narrow streets like the rue de l'Isle d'Or and rue Saulnier. Stroll from the church on rue Aristide Briant, and along the meandering Grande Rue to the remains of the Chateau de Cognac where King Francois I was born in 1494. Here you will find the Otard distillery, which has been producing cognac since 1795 and runs good, informative tours around the premises, with a little tipple included in the price (about €5). You will be amazed how complicated cognac is, with only certain grapes from very specific areas being allowed to produce the eau de vie that goes on to become cognac. The tourist office at 16 rue du 14 Juillet (05 45 82 10 71) will be able to provide you with information about the other chais and also the St Gobain glassworks, 2km south of Cognac, where they make the bottles.

If you want to stay in Cognac itself you could try the Hôtel d'Orleans at 25 rue d'Angoulême (05 45 82 01 26) in the old town, which has rooms from €30 40, or in the nearby town of Pons there is a wonderful little hotel, the Hôtel de Bordeaux, at 1 avenue Gambetta, 17800 Pons (05 46 91 31 12), which has decent rooms from €30 55 and a truly marvellous restaurant. You could sample the €42, eight course menu de dégustation, including fois gras, pigeon, and other delights, and then move on to one of the hundreds of cognacs available. The sommelier is extremely helpful as well: what more could you want from a hotel? Cognac itself has some good dining options, including La Boite à Sel, 68 avenue Victor Hugo (05 45 32 07 68), with good value €12 menus or the gourmet €30 menu.