Exploring Cognac, France: Where to go and what to experience

 Charente vineyards, Aurélien Terrade / BNIC

Discover the Cognac territory, where centuries of tradition meet innovation to create the world-famous eau de vie.

Any self-respecting spirits aficionado will be familiar with the Cognac name but not quite as many are familiar with the specifics of the area itself.

Nestled between the Atlantic coast and the winding Charente River, this region is the birthplace of the eponymous Cognac, celebrated for its diverse character and age-old production techniques.

While November through to March might be the distillation season, Cognac offers a wonderful array of year-round experiences for all kinds of travellers.

Spend Spring exploring distillery tours that reveal the intricacies of Cognac-making. Summer brings lively festivals like Cognac Blues Passions. Autumn is harvest time, perfect for exploring local markets and culinary treats while winter invites cosy indoor tastings and historical explorations.

While Cognac may officially be split into six geographical areas, we’d consider it to informally split into three distinct sections: the coast, the river and inland. Regardless of when you find yourself in France’s most delicious region, you’ll find plenty to eat, drink, explore and sample during your time here.

The coastal region

Gatseau Beach, l’île dOléron

The coastal towns of the Cognac region, including Saintes and Jonzac, come steeped in history and tradition.

On Ré, cycle through quaint villages and along sandy shores, stopping at local markets for a taste of the island’s produce. And don’t miss the Camus Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac, a testament to the island’s unique terroir.

Oléron offers a different palette of experiences, from exploring colourful oyster huts to climbing the Chassiron lighthouse for breathtaking panoramic views. Bohemian charm is the name of the game, with an endless array of postcard-perfect backdrops.

And no visit to the Cognac coast is complete without a stop in La Rochelle. This vibrant port city is a mosaic of maritime history, bustling markets and seaside cafes. Enjoy freshly-caught seafood at Le Panier de Crabe and explore the towers that guard the old harbour.

Along the river

The River Charente has shaped Cognac’s history, culture and, of course, its world-famous spirits. With a history dating back to Roman times, Cognac’s growth has been inextricably linked with the river. Explore the historic distilleries, walk along the old quays and immerse yourself in the town’s rich heritage.

Jarnac, another jewel along the Charente, is known for its serene beauty and historical significance. The town is also home to renowned Cognac houses, including the world-renowned Courvoisier (complete with its own museum) and Hine, known for its exceptional aged Cognacs.

Further along the river lies Saintes, which boasts several well-preserved Roman remains, including an amphitheatre and the Arch of Germanicus. Days here are best spent perusing its lively markets and getting lost amongst its bustling arts and cultural scene. Expect to leave with everything from traditional fabrics to pastries and artisanal honey.

The inland gems

Aurélien Terrade / BNIC

In the heart of the Cognac area, you’ll find its most well-known crus: Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne. Renowned for their optimal soil composition and microclimate, these areas are a must-visit for any wine-loving traveller. Explore vineyards, meet master distillers and sample the spirits that made these crus famous.

The Cru Fins Bois region offers a patchwork of vineyards and distilleries, where you can experience the authentic rural charm of the Cognac countryside.

Away from the big hitters, take some time to explore the Unique Micro-Terroir Borderies, the smallest of the Cognac crus. Delve into the world of Borderies Cognac, visiting family-run estates like Mauxion Cognac.

The Cognac region also encompasses Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires. These areas provide a deeper understanding of the region’s diversity and are perfect for those looking to venture off the beaten path. Our bespoke tours can bring together a range of wine and gastronomic experiences from all of the above and more.

What to do in the Cognac region

From nature-hued strolls to cultural landmarks and historic marvels, Cognac offers something for every kind of traveller.

  • Wander the cobbled streets of the old town. The area is dotted with historical landmarks, inviting cafes and chic, artisanal shops that showcase the region’s unique heritage.
  • Take a serene cruise along the Charente River. These traditional Gabare boats provide a unique perspective on the region’s beauty and the importance of the river to Cognac’s development.
  • Explore the Château Royal de Cognac, a fortress turned royal residence, which now houses the Baron Otard and Dussé Cognacs. Discover the dual history of France and this renowned Cognac house with a guided tour.
  • Relax in the Cognac Public Gardens, an oasis of greenery that offers a tranquil retreat from the bustling town. The gardens are a perfect spot for a picnic with local delicacies – head to Marché de Plein Vent first for Charentais goat cheese, baguettes and fresh peaches.
  • A tour of Le Domaine du chêne: this picturesque, boutique-style house is famed for both Cognacs and Pineau des Charentes.
  • No visit is complete without touring the famous Cognac houses. Each house offers a unique experience, from witnessing the ageing process in centuries-old cellars to tasting sessions.
  • For music enthusiasts, the Cognac Blues Passion Festival is an annual highlight, blending smooth jazz with the region’s smoothest spirits every July.

Cognac’s famous distilleries

Chances are you’ll sample a range during your time in the Cognac region. Some of the must-visits here include:

  • Hennessy, which stands as the world’s top-selling Cognac. Experience their multi-sensory tour, sipping a range of classic Hennessy V.S and the more intricate V.S.O.P, as well as the exquisite X.O and Paradis expressions. 
  • Martell, the oldest of the great Cognac houses, is renowned for its exclusive use of eaux-de-vie from the Borderies region. Explore the estate’s history with a modern twist on an electric scooter tour.
  • Rémy Martin, celebrating its 300th anniversary this year, gained royal favour in the 18th century, exclusively using grapes from Grande and Petite Champagne regions. Their immersive tours highlight the craft behind their Cognac.
  • Courvoisier is known as ‘Cognac of Napoleon,’ and is well-loved for its rich, fruity Cognac from Fins Bois vineyards.
  • Grosperrin Cognac: an independent, family-owned spot that’s well-loved for its barrel tastings and offers both tours and tasting sessions.

The perfect pairings for dining and drinking

But no trip to the Cognac region is complete without sampling some of the region’s masterful food and beverage pairings. The French know what’s what when it comes to delicious gastronomy and that’s something Cognac really excels in.

Imagine a truffle-infused mushroom risotto with an accompanying sip of Cognac’s warmth or a caramelised pear dessert, where the fruit’s natural sweetness is accentuated by the spirit’s spicy undertones.

For a truly indulgent experience, pair a VSOP Cognac with the region’s creamy cheeses or a robust XO with the complex flavours of game meat at La Table de l’Yeuse.

Some of our favourite gourmet experiences in Cognac include:

  • La Maison, which offers a modern twist on traditional flavours, with a menu that pays homage to global influences and local ingredients.
  • Cognac Delamain for a food pairing lunch: think smoked trout and caviar paired with a range of Cognacs.
  • Comptoir 17 is a chic brasserie serving homemade cuisine in an industrial setting, perfect for those seeking a blend of classic and contemporary.
  • For an intimate dining experience, Le Bistro de Claude offers a menu rich with French classics.

Plan your perfect trip to the Cognac region with SmoothRed.

Share this article

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter to receive inspiring travel ideas and offers.
We won't share your email address with anyone.

    Contact our team

    Start creating your tailor made wine-tasting tour today.
    Call our team on +44 (0)20 8877 4940

    Or enquire online