I have been fortunate over the years in being able to explore some of the hidden treasures of France; you do have to be inquisitive as they are off the normal visitor routes. As there are now plenty of flights to different areas of France, there are myriad opportunities to explore places beyond the traditional tourist destinations. For example, many of the more obscure French regions are popular with those that regard themselves as wine connoisseurs. For a tasting that is very unique and somewhat special, it is well worth exploring the home of Cognac in Poitou-Charente.
The Charente Valley is lush and green, with rolling fields through which the Charente River gently meanders. A trip on La Dame Jeanne, which is a traditional flat-bottomed wooden boat, passes through undulating countryside that is dotted with picturesque churches and water mills and, of course, vineyards. Being in Cognac Country presents a unique opportunity to sample this fine French spirit, which is prepared using a double distillation process. For a different kind of dégustation, or tasting, take a tour of the Cognac houses, in the town of the same name, and drop in at the headquarters of Hennessy, a produces that dates from 1765.
The commune of Cognac
Cognac town center has a historic heritage, with many ancient buildings dating from the Renaissance period. The French king, Francis 1st, was born at the Château de Cognac in 1494 – he was a great patron of the arts. It is therefore unsurprising that Cognac has two art museums as well as a glassworks and a barrel works. Cognac has been the birthplace of poets, scientists and master glassmakers, including the inventor of the glass-blowing machine, Claude Boucher.
In the medieval quarter of Cognac alongside the river down narrow cobbled passageways, you will find unusual buildings dating from the 15th–18th centuries, many decorated with the king’s symbol, the salamander. Cognac also has several picturesque chateaux and Romanesque churches. The town also has its lively commercial side, with a bustling daily market that attracts customers from the nearby villages to shop and meet with friends.
All over France, summer festivals are very popular and cheap flights make it possible to enjoy the cultural attractions in various parts of the country. Cognac is no exception – the Cognac Festival takes place near the town’s marina and on offer are samples of the spirits, wine and food of the region: a wonderful occasion to enjoy dinner and a concert. Adults and children alike enjoy the Cross Montamette – a giant funfair with a spectacular fireworks display at the close of the event.
Every summer in Cognac the Cognac Blues Passion focuses on Afro-American music and is staged in an outdoor arena. Recognized by professionals worldwide as being one of the leading European festivals, for four days and nights Cognac is filled with music and packed with people of different cultures and backgrounds, all enjoying the same inspiring sounds.
To close the summer fun, the Coup de Chauffe takes place on the narrow streets and features entertainment suitable for everybody, by circus performers, musicians, actors and dancers. For history, heritage, the arts and summer fun, Cognac provides a very special place to spend a vacation.