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Cognac is a beautiful town in the South West of France. mostly known for its luxurious spirits. I’ve been living in France for years but somehow visiting Cognac has never crossed my mind until we moved to Bordeaux. As a very occasional Cognac drinker, I was wondering if there’s anything to do there beyond distillery tours. But from my first visit, I quickly realized that there are plenty of things to do in Cognac!

This little town will surprise you with its impressive architecture, delicious restaurants, and remarkably nice people. In this article, I gathered the top 10 things to do, see, and eat in Cognac and its surroundings.

If you are here mostly for the spirit, here’s my article about the best distilleries to visit in Cognac. Also, don’t miss my article about other fabulous places in the Charentes department: the stunning village of  Aubeterre sur Dronne,  and Angouleme, the French comics capital.

1. Discover the Old City of Cognac

Stroll the narrow paved streets of the city center to absorb the charm of Vieux Cognac (the old Cognac). The impressive architecture is a time machine to the early days of the salt trade that was a catalyst for the economic growth of the city.

Many old houses in Cognac date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, displaying the eclectic architectural style of the city. The wealth of the Congac’s traders at that time can be reflected in the large windows.  The “newer” part of the old city unveils the vibrant economic and cultural development of Cognac in the 19th century. That trail called the “Belle Epoque” starts at Place Francois I and ends at the Jardin de l’hotel de ville. 

While the center is relatively small, there are plenty of charming streets and nice boutiques so give yourself some time to get lost.

Booking.com

2. Take a tour of a Cognac distillery

With almost 200 Cognac producers in the area, visiting distilleries is the main attraction in the region. Four big Cognac houses produce most of the Coganc exported to the world. These include Hennessy (book a tour), Martell (book a tour), Rémy Martin (book a tour), and Courvoisier. Other known brands include Camus (book a tour), Meukov (book a tour), Otard, and Delamain (located in the neighboring town of Jarnac). 

Many distilleries offer tours in French and English. However, if you need an English-speaking tour, be sure to book in advance. Martell and Hennessy are very popular tours as well as those by Otard where you get to visit the old Chateau de Cognac (the place of birth of King François I). 

You can also take a private tour that includes a visit to several distilleries and a walk in the city of Cognac. 

Best Distilleries to visit in Cognac, France
Best Distilleries to visit in Cognac

In the years since first releasing this article, I’ve visited many distilleries, both big and smaller family-owned ones. If you want to read about my favorite ones, check out my article about the best distilleries to visit in Cognac. You should know, however, that many distilleries are closing for winter so consult their tour schedules before heading to Cognac.

If you never visited a distillery before and you have time only for one visit, the Hennessy tour is a great choice. The company’s boat takes you to the other side of the river to visit the cellars. You get to learn about the production of this luxurious spirit, from the terroir to the maturing and assembling processes. At the end of the tour, you get to taste two different Cognacs and a Cognac-based liqueur (which to be honest, I loved the most).

3. Walk along the Quai of the Charente River

For years banks of the Charente River were the trade center of the city. King François initiated the salt trade in Cognac, making the river an important economic player. Later, all the big Cognac houses would establish their main buildings on the riverfront. 

Charente river - Cognac
The promenade by the Charente river in Cognac

The promenade itself is very pleasant and makes for a nice tour on both sides of the Charente River. Walking along the promenade you’ll pass by the port of Cognac, the Hennessy house, le Chateau de Cognac (now the Otard Cognac house). One monument you can’t miss along the river is the impressive Tours Saint Jacques, one of the only remains left from medieval times. 

4. Walk along the Quai of the Charente river

There are quite a few other towns and villages included in the Cognac production region. To visit more distilleries go to Jarnac, the second distilling town in the area. There you can find Cognac houses like Courvoisier, Hine, Delamain, and Cognac Braastad. Jarnac is also the place of birth of the former French president François Mitterrand. You can visit a nice museum with all the presents he received during his presidency. 

There are also quite a few distilleries to visit in the town of Segonzac. There you can visit family-owned distilleries such as Cognac Frapin, Cognac Rabi, and Cognac Painturaud Frères. Other pretty villages in the area are Bassac and Bourg Charente.

Other places in the region that are not Coganc-related but are worth visiting include: the comics capital Angouleme, Saintes, and the Paléosite in Saint-Césaire.

5. Eat great local food

With its reputation for producing one of the most prestigious spirits in the world, it only makes sense that the town of Cognac will dominate the gastronomic scene as well. There are plenty of great restaurants in Cognac, both in the old city and on the other side of the river (in Quartier Saint Jacques). 

The one we particularly liked was L’atelier des quais. A lovely place on the riverfront with an incredible view of the old part of Cognac and a delicious menu. They also have a big Terrace which is perfect for lunch on sunny days. Other recommended restaurants are La Courtine, La Poulpette, L’arty show.

6. Taste Pineau des Charentes

Although Cognac is the main star here, there’s another spirit you must taste when visiting the Charente department. Pineau des Charentes is a fortified wine, created from the mix of grape juice and Cognac eau-de-vie, which then goes through a maturing process. 

This is a very popular aperitif in Charente but not very well known in other parts of France. It’s really good so don’t miss the chance to taste it! You can find it in every bar and alcohol store in Cognac.

7. Visit the local market

the market in Cognac
The covered market in Cognac

I absolutely adore French markets so I was very happy to discover that there’s a covered market in Cognac. This market is not on my top 10 French markets list but it’s a nice place to buy some local products. One of the stands sells great local alcohol and cheese and you can even order a cheese plate and take it to the picnic area in the middle of the market.

8. Learn about Cognac at the Musée des savoir-faire du cognac

If you’re interested in learning more about the production of the spirit head to the Musée des savoir-faire du cognac. The museum located in a 16th-century mansion, next to the quai, holds an impressive amount of articles, documents, and an audio-visual exhibition that will help you learn everything you need to know about Cognac.

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 14:00 to 18:00.
The address is: Les Remparts, Place de la Salle Verte, 16100 Cognac

9. Drink a Cognac cocktail

As Cognac became an international success it took a life of its own. A fair amount of Cognac-based cocktails have been developed outside of France, in particular in the US. Some cocktails can be ordered in bars and restaurants in Cognac and they are worth a try. In the summer you can drink on the chic rooftop, Indigo which is located on the building on Martel.

 Some of the most popular ones are Classico, Sidecar, French75 and Le Cognac Summit (the tourist information even gives you the recipe, click here to learn how to make it).

10. A city of festivals

Despite its small size, there are plenty of cultural events and festivals taking place in the Cognac area throughout the year. In the summer the city hosts one of the biggest music festivals in the region, the Cognac Blues Passion. The festival, taking place in July, attracts some of the biggest names in the Blues world. 

Another big summer festival is Fête du Cognac. The Cognac festival celebrates the spirits of the region, the Cognac, Pineau des Charentes and wines of the region.

Another cool festival is Distillerie en fête which takes place during the winter. From December to February, plenty of activities are put in place by the Cognac distilleries to help you discover the behind-the-scenes of Cognac production. For more info check out the tourist info website.

Where to stay in Cognac 

There are many recommended hotels in the center of Cognac, such as the 4-star hotel Hôtel François Premier or the more simple Hotel Heritage. But you can also turn it into a fancy experience and stay at the stunning La Nauve hotel, a few minutes’ drive from the center. If you want to experience a stay at a beautiful chateau outside of the city, Domaine de Pladuc is a wonderful option.

Get into the atmosphere with more photos from Cognac

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cognac for pinterest

Looking for more destinations in the South of France? Check out my articles about:
A guide to a weekend in Bordeaux
The most beautiful villages in Île de Ré
The most beautiful villages in Dordogne
A guide to the Bordeaux wine region

You can also get plenty of tips on things to do in the Southwest of France via lost in Bordeaux’s social media accounts and email list, check them out here:

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*Note – Some of the links in this article include affiliate links for which I earn a small commission. It adds absolutely nothing to your cost and helps me continue writing about this amazing region. Don’t worry, I’m not getting rich here, I’ll never recommend anything I don’t believe in 🙂 

Cognac is located about an hour and a half drive from Bordeaux and is one of the most interesting trips you can do in the SW of France. In this article, I will recommend the best distilleries to visit in Cognac (and the Cognac region). However, Cognac itself is also a beautiful little town, rich with history and unique architecture. If you have time to visit the city itself too, check out my article about the best things to do in Cognac.

the best things to do in Cognac
Visit Cognac

If you’re also interested in wine, you must dedicate some time to visiting wineries in the Bordeaux wine region. To help you do that, I have a detailed guide to the Bordeaux wine region, that will help you decide what chateaux you’d enjoy visiting. 

A big shout out, to Marie, a fabulous guide in the Cognac region that took me to several of these distilleries. If you’re staying in Bordeaux and don’t want to drive to Cognac I highly recommend taking her as a private guide. There’s also a great semi-private tour from Bordeaux to Cognac that’s offered by Olala company – see all the details here. Finally, if you’re looking for a special activity in Cognac, join this masterclass and taste several different Cognacs.

How Cognac is made – some basic info before your visit

The eau-de-vie created in the cognac process has been called the “nectar of the gods” by Victor Hugo.

Cognac is a brandy made from white grapes, and is crafted in the region of… Cognac. 98% of the grapes used for making cognac are Ugni Blanc grapes. In fact, like with French wine and champagne, there are laws that control exactly how cognac is distilled. During the distillation process, the spirit must be distilled twice using copper alembic stills. The region even requires the cognac makers to distill their spirits before April 1st every year. Talk about pressure. 

Then the cognac has to be matured in French oak barrels that are from Limousin or the Tronçais forests. Most cognacs have been mixed by a maître de chais. All of these rules ensure the quality of cognac, which has 63 different possible aromas. 

French cognac-makers separate cognac into different vintages, or “crus” in French, which reflect their quality. The most revered is the “Grande Champagne”, widely known for its fine taste and wide range of aromas. Some might say it’s the “champagne of cognacs.”

A map of the vintages of Cognac
A map of the vintages of Cognac

A cognac of the “Petite Champagne” vintage is also prestigious but is grown in soil with less of a limestone layer, and therefore less prestigious. The “Borderies” and “Fins Bois” are two more high-quality cognacs, each with a distinct flavor. Borderies has a violet aroma and Fins Bois has a fruity flavor. There’s a fifth vintage, but nobody talks about that one.

Now that we have that covered, let’s dive into the best distilleries to visit in Cognac. I’ll start with distilleries located in the center of Cognac City and continue to other villages in the larger Cogan region.

The best Distilleries to visit in Cognac City 

Cognac Camus – traveler’s favorite!

The Camus Distillery has been in the Camus family for five generations. They use a special distilling method dubbed the “intensity” process. It allows them to find the most aromatic parts of the second distillation. This gives their cognacs a very fruity aroma and makes them 7 times more aromatic than the competition. 

At the Camus distillery, there are tours offered in English with a tasting of their Horizontal Intense Classic cognac for 35 euros. You can also take a master class, during which you make your own cognac for 190 euros.

Where: 21 Rue Cagouillet, 16100 Cognac

Hennessy – the biggest Cognac house 

Anyone who’s listened to U.S. or British rap in the past 20 years has heard of Hennessy. Fortunately, the actual spirit has nothing to do with fur coats or oversized gold rings.

We took the Hennessy tour and had a fabulous time. The company’s boat took us to the other side of the river to visit the cellars. Then we learned all about the processes of creating this luxurious spirit, from the terroir to the maturing and assembling processes. At the end of the tour, you get to taste two different Cognacs and a Cognac-based liqueur (which to be honest, I loved the most).

Cognac tasting - Hennessy
Cognac tasting – Hennessy

The price of the tour is 20 euros per person, you can book it here. Tours run from an introduction to a detailed look at the XO spirit of Hennessy. 

Where: Quai Richard Hennessy, 16100 Cognac

Château Royal de Cognac 

This is arguably the most historical château on my list. It dates back to the 10th century and creates both the Baron Otard and Ussé cognacs. Because of its rich history, visitors receive tours that are based both on history and on the craft of cognac making. Built along the river and meant to prevent invaders from Normandy from infringing upon the city walls, the château casts an impressive shadow over the water.

Starting in the 15th century, the château served as a royal residence, and King Francois I of France was born there. The Château offers two different kinds of visits: 1) At the heart of d’Ussé, which is 35 euros per person, and 2) At the heart of the Château, starting at 18 euros per person.

Where: 127 Bd Denfert Rochereau, 16100 Cognac

Cognac MEUKOW

The Meukow estate is a family-owned cognac property. Although it was started in 1850, the last building was not bought until 2012. Symbolized by a black panther, the property is unique in that it is also home to a restaurant, where you can take culinary courses with cognac pairings. 

The château offers a tour with 3 cognac tastings, led by the cellar master of the property. Getting a tour from the cellar master herself is a rarity, but gems like this can be found on small properties like the Meukow estate.

Where: 7 Rue François Porche, 16100 Cognac

Martell – the oldest Cognac house

The Maison Martell has been producing cognac since 1715 and is known for its long history. It credits its 300 years of success to its founder, Jean Martell. At 21 years of age, he established the house and set its tone for innovation and reinvention. These aptitudes have allowed it to withstand the tests of time and modernity. As a grande maison de cognac, Maison Martell has a commitment to biodiversity. 

The property offers three tours in English – one each of its XO (35 euros) and VSOP (25 euros) cognacs, and one on cognac-making craftsmanship (60 euros).

Where: 7 place edouard Martell 16100 Cognac

Best distilleries to visit in the larger Cognac region – the small producers

Domaine Pasquet

If you’re interested in visiting a small family-owned producer in Cognac, Domaine Pasquet is the château for you!

You will be welcomed by the lovely Amy, who is married to one of the owners and is managing the business with him. This is the most welcoming and cozy experience you can get in a Cognac, which is dominated by huge domains. 

The estate produces organic cognac, a rarity, and is known for its ability to present a cozy experience while also being innovative with its product. Its commitment to producing small batches of cognac and to organic processes makes each bottle unique.
Domaine Pasquet offers a tour in English for 16 euros and includes a tasting.

Domaine Pasquet – by Lost in Bordeaux

Where: 27 Chez Ferchaud, 16120 Bellevigne, France France

Cognac Raby

Another great family-owned distillery to visit is Cognac Raby, located in the small village of Segonzac. The tours are free and run by the owner of the Cognac house, Cecile. The Raby family has owned the domain for 5 generations. The family did not start distilling until the 1970s, making Cecile a third-generation distiller. The family takes care of their land, and the estate has been certified as a High Environmental Value level 3.

Cognac Raby - a family owned Congac how you should visit
Cognac Raby – Lost in Bordeaux

The estate’s tours are one and a half hours long, and they are available in English. The estate’s shop on-site is open during general business hours without an appointment. 

Where: 3 bis La Brée, 16130 Segonzac

Bourgoin Cognac

If you’re traveling through Angouleme (the capital of the Charentes department), this is the distillery you should visit. 

The Bourgoin family thinks of its cognac as a winemaker’s cognac. Its website is reflective of the family’s irreverent sense of humor: “Receive the punch of the cognac like a gift. Whether the results are a light stupor or a razzle-dazzle, it promises not to leave you unscathed.” 

The Domaine appreciates the people who work the land, names them on its site, and has their photos in its tour advertisements. It offers tours in English for 30 euros. 

Where: 14 Rue du Puits, 16290 Saint-Saturnin

Here are other articles about amazing places in the Charentes you might like to discover when planning your trip to Cognac:

Where to eat at La Rochelle
What to do in Cognac
Discover the French capital of comics and street art – Angouleme
Aubeterre sur Dronne – the most beautiful village in Charente
The most beautiful villages in Ile de Ré

You can also get plenty of tips on things to do in the Southwest of France via Lost in Bordeaux’s social media accounts and email list, check them out here:

Facebook |Instagram |Email | Facebook group

Pin this article, for your next visit to the Cognac region

*Note – Some of the links in this article include affiliate links for which I earn a small commission. It adds absolutely nothing to your cost and helps me continue writing about this amazing region. Don’t worry, I’m not getting rich here, I’ll never recommend anything I don’t believe in 🙂