Some of the best things to do in Cognac are visiting the cognac houses, tasting the double-distilled spirits, enjoying strolls along the river and chilling in the park. And that’s exactly what you’ll find in this post.
Situated on the river Charente between Angoulême and Saintes, you can already guess what Cognac is renowned for. This town in southern France gives its name to world-known eau-de-vie, meaning “the water of life” in French.
That’s why you just can’t leave the town without visiting at least one of the cognac houses and learning more about the making of brandy for the last three centuries.
Explore the World-Famous Cognac Houses
You don’t need much planning for your Cognac visit. It’s a small and easy-going town. Very beautiful too, we must add. Plan a full day to explore the picturesque old town, take a river cruise on a traditional barge and maybe pop into the Musee des Arts du Cognac.
But if you are looking at having an authentic and personalised experience at the cognac distilleries, we recommend booking tasting tours in advance.
Brandy making is the essence of Cognac as well as the whole region. After all, tasting one of France’s most iconic drinks (if you are of legal drinking age) is one of the best things to do in Cognac town.
And even though 98% of all the alcohol made here is exported, Cognac is very proud of its roots and hundreds of years of spirit making traditions.
From hidden independent distilleries in and outside Cognac to four main cognac houses in the town, you have a good variety of tours and tastings. Plus, you have Château de Cognac, the timeworn royal castle right in the centre.
Enjoy the Hennesy Cognac Tour and Tasting
Hennessey, an internationally recognised name has been producing the precious eaux-de-vie in their ageing cellars for over 250 years.
We opted for an early tour with Hennessy Les Visites and had a cracking morning touring the ancient ageing cognac cellar and tasting smooth brandy before noon.
The start of the tour was a well-polished brand advertisement, but you’ll get that with any bigger cognac brand. That’s why it’s always better to book a private cognac tour with smaller producers if you can.
However, the Hennessey tour was well executed, we thought. Our tour guide was knowledgeable about all aspects of the making of the cognac. Combined with high-tech presentation and HD images, the first part, distillation, was very interesting.
Walking through the spooky Traditional Ageing Cellar, was what made the tour really exciting. We got to see the real Hennesy cognac barrels from the 1960s and beyond. Some topped off with flower bouquets.
The flowers indicate the very first cognac barrel made by the apprentice at the Hennesey distillery. What a lovely touch.
But the real fun begins outside of the cellars when you get to taste some fabulous cognac. We tasted three different styles. And between cognac discussions and picture taking, we also got to taste a very pleasant cocktail made with cognac. All before noon. It was great fun.
We booked our tour in English via the Hennessy website a day before the experience.
Hennessy Les Visites address: 8 Rue de la Richonne
Have a Unique Experience at Bache Gabrielsen
If you are brave enough and speak some French, peek inside the traditional Maison de négoce – Bache Gabrielsen. The house runs distillery tours paired with tasting and even making of your own cognac.
Run by Thomas Bache Gabrielsen’s great-grandson, the house is still owned by the family. For over a century the Gabrielsen family has been creating authentic spirits and has many blends famous the world over.
If you are after an authentic experience, you might want to check out their private cognac making class where you will make your personalised brandy blend.
Hidden in the backstreets of Cognac, you’ll find it on 32 Rue de Boston. It’s the tall house right on the corner to the east of the park Jardin Public. If you are unsure of which house, just follow the scent. You’ll be able to smell cognac from across the street.
Visit Remy Marten Cognac House
Founded in 1724 by Remy Marten, a young winegrower from Cognac, the cognac house has been producing superior cognac ever since.
All of their high-end brandies are made exclusively from Petite Champagne and Grande Champagne crus. The blends include the rare and very expensive Louis VIII, Rémy Martin XO, Fine Champagne Cognac VSOP and 1738 Accord Royal.
The latter is named in honour of the Royal Acord granted by King Louis XV. The French king was so impressed by Martin’s cognac, that he gave him the exclusive royal permission to grow vines on his land in 1738.
Remy Martin has several cognac tours ranging from €20 per person for basic tours to an exclusive six-hour “Louis VIII experience” with a ceremonial tasting of Louis XIII cognac at €1,200 per person. You can book your tour directly via their website.
Remy Marten address: 20, rue Société Vinicole
Experience the Making of Martell + Rooftop Bar
Even older than Remy Marten house, Martell is another recognisable cognac name across the world which you too can visit during your trip to Cognac.
Established in 1715 and run by Jean Martell’s widow Rachel after his death, the house boasts 300 years of intriguing history.
From the USA to Asia, Martell cognac exports boomed throughout the 1800s. Not to mention that the Martell house received a special import license signed by King George III in 1808. He allowed for the Martell cognac to be imported to England during the continental blockade.
English royalty must have loved Martell cognac since it was served at the coronation of King George V of England in 1811. And later in the 1900s, her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II even sampled the brandy during her first official visit to France.
Tours at Martell start from €65 – €96 per person for a visit to the house’s Eaux-de-vie + cognac tasting. You can book them directly with the cognac house.
And if you love rooftop bars, pop into the top floor of Fondation d’Entreprise Martell for a cocktail and panoramic views over Cognac.
Martell Address: 16, avenue Paul Firino Martell
Taste Cognac at the Royal Château de Cognac
If you love castles, Château de Cognac is a fascinating place to explore the history of its fortress building paired with the tasting of cognac and their signature chocolate.
Initially built to protect Cognac from Norman invasion, the 10th-century chateau is also the birthplace of King François I, one of the most famous kings of France.
The 10th-century Château de Cognac has been rebuilt many times during its existence and in the 1700s, it was starting to delipidate.
Luckily, Baron Otard, the great-grandson of James O’Tard who fought alongside Louis XIV of France and was created a Baron in 1701, secured the chateau in 1795.
Having discovered the walls of the castle to be the perfect thickness and containing extreme humidity, he turned the castle into cognac cellars. And therefore saved it from complete run-down.
The French cognac house was privately owned by the family for over 200 years until it was eventually purchased by Bacardi.
The chateau runs a few cognac tours. From discovery visits to an in-depth exploration of the Chateau paired with cognac and chocolate tasting. You can plan your visit via their website.
Château de Cognac address: 127 Boulevard Denfert Rochereau
Relax at Jardines Public
If you are looking for relaxing things to do in Cognac, the Jardines Public park is located right in the centre. It’s beautifully landscaped with water features, fairy-tale-like bridges and other interesting features such as Pavillion Gothique.
After all that cognac tasting, you’ll need to chill for a minute. And what a better place to have a lazy stroll than a shaded park.
We thought that the English-style Jardines Public was perfect for recovering after the smells and tastes of our tour.
Take a Cruise on Gabare
Planning a visit to Cognac in the summer? Then add this cruise along the Charente river to your “things to do in Cognac” list.
During our stroll around the old town, we learned that the Charente river runs across Cognac and flows into the Atlantic ocean. And therefore it was one of the major trading paths in the region.
“Gabares”, traditional flat-bottom boats were used to carry the mighty cognac barrels along the river. And while the barges are out of service today, you can cruise and enjoy Cognac and the surroundings aboard La Dame Jeanne, an excellent replica of a “gabare.”
In under two hours, you’ll get to enjoy picturesque Cognac from the river and the distilleries along the way. The commentary is in French, but you can still enjoy this relaxing experience even if you don’t speak the language.
You can get your tickets (May-September) at Quai de la Salle Verte at least 15 minutes before departure or at the tourist office in town.
Pop Into Musee des Arts du Cognac
Housed in a beautiful 16th-century mansion, the Cognac museum is a great space to learn more about the history and production of the luxurious French spirit.
Here you’ll discover the different ingredients required to make good cognac as well as an impressive collection of documents and articles. The audio-visual exhibition will help you further your cognac knowledge in a fun and interactive way.
A great thing to do in Cognac on a cold and rainy day.
Musee des Arts du Cognac address: Les Remparts – Place de la Salle-Verte.
Have you been to Cognac? Which Cognac House did you visit? Let us know in the comments below.