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As you approach the town of Cognac in the Charente, the scenery changes from fields of grazing cattle to neat rows of vines, stretching as far as the eye can see. The town is famous all over the world thanks to cognac, the grape-
Cognac is a town full of history. King François 1 was born here in 1494. A contemporary of King Henry VIII of England he is considered France’s first Renaissance king. He gave the town the right to trade salt using the river, so creating the foundations of its commercial success that was further enhanced when it went into cognac production.
The spirit was first made as an alternative to wine as a preventive drink against scurvy – wine was difficult to transport and took up a lot of space. Double-
Today the town of Cognac continues to revolve around the spirit, its fortunes rising and falling according to the popularity of the drink.
THINGS TO SEE & DO
Walk around the old town: here the narrow streets are a mix of narrow medieval timber framed houses that once housed the workers and the grander mansions of the wealthy merchants. Points of interest include the window called 'King's balcony' which is half way along Rampe du Chateau. Amongst the decoration are two salamanders, the insignia of King François 1 found throughout this part of town.
Also along this street is the Creux de Charlotte, once the chateau's water tank, but turned into a public wash house after the Revolution.
The two crenellated towers along Quai Maurice Hennessy date from 1499 – 1500 and which some of the few remains almost of the original fortified town.
Walk along Rue Grande, Cognac's main street from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, which is evident in the half-
Down by the river are the blackened chais (warehouses) that still store barrels of cognac, their discoloured state caused by the alcohol evaporating into the surrounding air. The locals call this ‘the angels taking their share’ – sadly, the truth is less romantic as the culprit is a tiny fungus that thrives in the alcohol-
Another option is to follow one or both of the routes created by the tourist office to help you discover the town. With ‘totem’ poles or panels that give information on the town’s history, the routes lead visitors through different parts of Cognac. These include the banks of the River Charente, place François 1er, place d’Armes, the Récollets convent and the gardens of the town hall.
The Parcours du Roy route takes visitors back in time to the era of the salt trade and then the brandy industry, thanks to its pathway through the beautiful streets of the old town.
Take the Parcours Belle-
Also take a look at the booklet, available from the tourist office, called ‘Laissez-
Take a cognac tour: one of most popular tourist attractions is a tour of one – or more! – of the many cognac producers to learn the history of cognac, how it is made plus enjoy a tasting or two. Most of the big names offer a tour – more information. It’s also worth asking the tourist office about tours of the surrounding vineyards and smaller producers where you can also buy direct.
Château de Cognac: the birthplace of François 1 is now called Château de Cognac. During its illustrious history it hosted the marriage of Richard the Lion Heart’s son to Aurélie de Cognac in 1190. During the French Revolution it was sold as national property and bought in 1795 by cognac producer Baron Otard. Today it is the headquarters of Otard cognac. A tour includes some of the rooms of the château.
Take a cruise on a gabarre: the traditional flat-
Cognathèque: a permanent exhibition devoted to cognac -