Take your time to explore the historic Cognac old town before heading out into Cognac Country.
Set on the Charente river-banks, Cognac is well worth exploring, especially the old townâ€™s narrow streets lined with stately 16th century mansions (some bearing the salamander insignia of King FranĂ§ois I) built by wealthy merchants. Half way along Rampe du Chateau, watch out for the 'King's balcony' as well as the Creux de Charlotte, originally the chateau's water tank which was turned into a public wash house after the revolution.
Nearby youâ€™ll find medieval timber-framed houses of the workers, before seeing the blackened chais (warehouses) in which barrels of cognacs mature lining the quayside. The discoloration of the walls of the chais is a result of the alcohol evaporation (known locally as the angel's share) - where the alcohol condenses on the cool walls, a tiny black fungus flourishes.
King FranĂ§ois I was born in Cognac in 1494. A contemporary of King Henry VIII of England, he is considered France's first Renaissance king. His birthplace is now called ChĂ˘teau de Cognac whose illustrious history also includes being the place where Richard the Lion Heart gave his son in marriage to AurĂ©lie de Cognac in 1190. The chateau was sold as national property during the French Revolution and was bought in 1795 by cognac producer Baron Otard and today is the brand's heaquarters. A tour of Otard includes some of the rooms of the chateau.
No visit to Cognac is complete without taking one or more of the cognac tours available. All the major houses offer guided visits, many in English. More information >>
To see Cognac and its surroundings differently, take to the river on a gabarre â€“ a perfect replica of the flat-bottomed sailing barges once used to transport cognac and other produce. La Dame Jeanne regularly sets sail on the river from Cognacâ€™s historic quayside (see the Cognac tourist office for tickets).
Today, the town's fortunes are based on the popularity of the famous spirit named after the town.
16 rue du XIV Juillet; +33 (0)5 45 82 10 71; http://tourism-cognac.com