Some of the best things to do in Cognac include visiting the cognac houses, tasting the double-distilled spirits, enjoying strolls along the river and chilling in the park.
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 the world-known eau-de-vie, meaning "the water of life" in French.
That's why you can't leave Cognac without visiting at least one of the cognac houses and learning more about the brandy-making process for the last three centuries.
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A mini guide to exploring the world-famous cognac houses
One of the best things about Cognac is you don't need too much planning to visit this place. It's a small and easy-going town. Very beautiful, too, we must add. Still, we recommend booking cognac tasting tours in advance for an authentic and personalised experience at the cognac distilleries.
Also, reserve a full day to explore the picturesque old town, take a river cruise on a traditional barge and pop into the Musee des Arts du Cognac.
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 proud of its roots and hundreds of years of spirit-making traditions.
Enjoy the Hennessy cognac tour and tasting
Hennessy, an internationally recognised name, produced 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 enjoying a cheeky tasting session before noon.
The start of the tour was a well-polished brand advertisement, but you'll get that with any bigger cognac brand. Booking a private cognac tour with smaller producers is always a good idea.
However, the Hennessy tour was well executed. Our tour guide was knowledgeable about all aspects of making the cognac. Combined with high-tech presentation and HD images, the first part, distillation, was intriguing.
Walking through the spooky Traditional Ageing Cellar was what made the tour even more exciting. We saw the authentic Hennessy cognac barrels from the 1960s and beyond. Some are topped with flower bouquets.
The flowers indicate the first cognac barrel made by the apprentice at the Hennesey distillery. What a lovely touch.
But the real fun begins outside the cellars when you taste some fabulous cognac. We tasted three different styles. Even better, between discussions and picture-taking, we also mixed up a delightful 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
Brush up on your French and peek inside the traditional Maison de négoce - Bache Gabrielsen. The house runs distillery tours paired with tasting and making your own cognac.
Run by Thomas Bache Gabrielsen's great-grandson, the family still owns the house. For over a century, the Gabrielsen family has been creating authentic spirits and has many blends famous worldwide.
If you are after an authentic experience, 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 corner house east of the park Jardin Public. If you are unsure of which house, follow the scent. You'll be able to smell cognac from across the street.
For more details and prices on the private cognac-making class, contact email@example.com or check their website.
Visit Remy Marten cognac house
Founded in 1724 by Remy Marten, a young winegrower from Cognac, the house has produced superior cognac ever since.
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 honours the Royal Acord granted by King Louis XV. The French king was so impressed by Martin's cognac that he gave him exclusive royal permission to grow vines on his land in 1738.
Tours here range from €20 per person for an introductory excursion to an exclusive six-hour Louis VIII experience with a ceremonial tasting of Louis XIII cognac at €1,200 per person.
Remy Marten address: 20, rue Société Vinicole. You can book your tour directly via their website.
Experience the making of Martell + rooftop bar
Even older than Remy Marten, Martell is another recognisable cognac house that you 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. The king allowed importing the spirit to England during the continental blockade.
Cognac was also served at the coronation of King George V of England in 1811. And later in the 1900s, her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is said to have 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. If you love rooftop bars, you can also pop in to the top floor of Fondation d'Entreprise Martell for a cocktail with panoramic views across Cognac.
Martell Address: 16, avenue Paul Firino Martell. You can book a tour directly with the cognac house.
Taste cognac at the Royal Château de Cognac
If you love castles as much as we do, Château de Cognac is a fantastic place to explore the history of its fortress building paired with the tasting of cognac and its signature chocolate.
Initially built to protect Cognac from Norman invasion, the 10th-century Château is also the birthplace of King François I, one of the most famous kings of France.
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 castle in 1795.
Having discovered the castle walls to be the perfect thickness and containing extreme humidity, he turned the castle into cognac cellars, saving it from complete run-down. The family privately owned the French cognac house for over 200 years until Bacardi eventually purchased it.
Today, the Château de Cognac runs a few cognac tours, from discovery visits to an in-depth exploration of the castle paired with cognac and chocolate tasting.
Château de Cognac address: 127 Boulevard Denfert Rochereau. You can plan your visit via their website.
Other things to do in Cognac
There's more to Cognac than just tasting the brandy. Here are some suggestions on where you can have a relaxing or rainy afternoon.
Relax at Jardines Public
After a morning of sipping brandy, strolling the Jardines Public park in the city centre is one of the most relaxing things to do in Cognac. You'll find it beautifully landscaped with water features, fairy-tale-like bridges and other features such as Pavillion Gothique.
The peaceful English-style Jardines Public was perfect for recovering after the smells and tastes of our tour!
Take a cruise on a Gabare
Planning a visit to Cognac in the summer? Add the boat cruise along the Charente river to your things to do in Cognac list.
We learned during our stroll around the old town 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 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 ingredients required to make good cognac and 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.
While you can book cognac tours via the official websites, you can also book private tasting tours and masterclasses via our trusted partner, GetYourGuide.
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