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Life in Rural France

Living the French Dream….The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious

Old building with the French flag flying in the centre of Cognac France

What to do in Cognac, France: The Ultimate Guide

Visiting the town of Cognac France is more than just an opportunity to discover the world-famous drink.

It’s a chance to immerse yourself in history, culture, and gastronomy within this picturesque region. 

Now I have to be honest, I’m not a lover of Cognac the drink, it’s not my tipple of choice, but that didn’t put me off wanting to visit this historic place, and I’ve now been several times.

Situated in the beautiful Charente it’s only a 30-minute drive from Angouleme, under two hours from Bordeaux and less than 90 minutes from La Rochelle.

From the vines to the historic cellars, discover how Cognac has been developed by Maison Hennessy over the centuries. There is even a quick trip on their boat!

Cognac offers something for everyone from vineyard tours and wine tasting to old cobbled streets, historic sites and dinner by the river.

Trust me you won’t be disappointed.

Whether you’re a connoisseur or a curious explorer I’m about to spill the beans on the must-see attractions, top dining experiences, and more.

Table of Contents

When to Visit Cognac

A bridge crossing the Charente river with trees and flowers in Cognac France

The best time to visit Cognac is during the summer months between June and September. Unlike in the winter months when everything is closed, you’ll find the town a hive of activity.

The vineyards and distilleries are in full swing during this time, the restaurants have their outdoor terraces open, and there are some great festivals to enjoy too.

The Weather in Cognac

Cognac has a mild climate with warm summers and relatively mild winters. The temperature during the summer months can reach up to 30 degrees Celsius, while the winter months can see temperatures drop to around 6 degrees Celsius. 

The Charente weather can be a little unpredictable so it’s always best to check the forecast, as we do get a lot of electrical storms in the summer months. But, on the whole, the weather is great from around May to October.

A quick history of Cognac, France

An old Medieval street with timbered buildings in Cognac France

From the Middle Ages to the French Revolution, Cognac has a fascinating history that goes way beyond the alcoholic drink.

Cognac’s origins go back to the 10th century, and during the Middle Ages, it came under the earldom of Angoulême. Being strategically located on the banks of the Charente River made it an important trading post for merchants and sailors. 

But its location also made it vulnerable to attacks, and it was conquered several times during the Hundred Years’ War. It was designated as a safe place for Protestants during the many religious outbreaks.

Despite changing hands between the English and French, Cognac prospered, thanks in part to the production of salt and wine.

The town was granted a charter in the 13th century, which allowed it to govern itself and created a system of taxation that funded the construction of public buildings. 

During this time, Cognac became known for its Gothic architecture, which can still be seen in some of its buildings today.

Cognac in the French Revolution

Like many French towns, Cognac didn’t escape the French Revolution unscathed. In 1789, the revolutionary fervour that had spread throughout France reached Cognac, and the town’s residents rose up against their aristocratic rulers. 

The town’s chateau was burned down, and many of its nobles were executed.

However, the revolution also brought positive change to Cognac. The town’s charter was abolished, and it became a commune, governed by elected officials.

The revolutionary government also began to invest in public works, such as roads and bridges, which improved the town’s infrastructure.

The Rise of Cognac Brandy

While Cognac had long been known for its wine, it was not until the 17th century that it began to produce the brandy that would make it famous.

Dutch merchants introduced the technique of distilling wine to the region, and Cognac soon became known for its high-quality brandy. 

The art of blending different eaux-de-vie, or distilled spirits, was also developed in Cognac, which further enhanced the quality of the brandy.

In the 19th century, Cognac brandy became a symbol of luxury and wealth, and it was exported all over the world. The town’s economy was transformed, and many of its residents became wealthy merchants.

Understanding Cognac, the brandy

A big Cognac barrel in the Hennessey house in Cognac France

Cognac brandy is made from white wine grapes that are double-distilled and aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years. The result is a smooth, amber-coloured spirit with rich flavours and aromas.

The Grapes Used in Cognac Brandy

There are several different grape varieties used to make cognac brandy, but the most common are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard. These grapes are known for their high acidity and low alcohol content, which makes them perfect for distillation.

It’s important to note that only grapes grown in the Cognac region can be used to make cognac brandy.

The Distillation Process

The distillation process for cognac brandy is unique in that it involves double distillation. The first distillation, known as the brouillis, produces a low-alcohol spirit that is then distilled again to create the eau-de-vie. 

This second distillation results in a higher alcohol content and a more concentrated flavour. The eau-de-vie is then aged in oak barrels, which gives it its distinct flavour and colour.

The Ageing Process

The ageing process for cognac brandy is a crucial step in creating its unique flavour profile. The spirit is aged in oak barrels, which impart flavours of vanilla, caramel, and spices. The longer the cognac brandy is aged, the more complex and flavourful it becomes. 

Cognac brandy can be aged anywhere from two to 40 years, with the older varieties being more expensive and sought after.

Visit the Cognac Houses

A big tall building which is the Hennessey House on the Charente river in Cognac France

You can’t go to Cognac and not visit one of the distilleries. It really is quite an experience and you have a huge choice. We took my parents on the Hennessy tour when they were visiting us back in 2019 and loved it.

As part of the tour, we went on the company boat on the Charente, which took us to the cellars where we saw the ageing barrels. It was such a fun day.


Hennessy is the largest cognac house in the world and has been producing cognac since 1765. The brand is known for its smooth and rich taste, which is achieved through its unique blend of eaux-de-vie.

Hennessy is also known for its iconic bottle design, which has remained unchanged for over 200 years.

When we went they had a gorgeous rose gold bottle and I couldn’t resist getting it, even though I don’t drink Cognac!

One of the most popular Hennessy blends is the Hennessy VS, which is a blend of around 40 different eaux-de-vie.

The brand also produces premium blends such as the Hennessy XO and the Hennessy Paradis, which are aged for much longer periods and have a more complex flavour profile.

Rémy Martin

Rémy Martin has been producing cognac since 1724. The brand is known for its rich and full-bodied taste, which is achieved through its unique blend of eaux-de-vie. Rémy Martin uses only the finest grapes from the Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne regions of France to produce its cognac.

One of the most popular Rémy Martin blends is the Rémy Martin VSOP, which is aged for at least four years and has a smooth and mellow taste. The brand also produces premium blends such as the Rémy Martin XO and the Rémy Martin Louis XII.


Martell is one of the oldest cognac houses in France and has been producing cognac since 1715. Martell uses small copper stills to produce its eaux-de-vie, which results in a more refined and elegant flavour.

One of the most popular Martell blends is the Martell VSOP, which is aged for at least four years and has a smooth and fruity taste. The brand also produces premium blends such as the Martell Cordon Bleu and the Martell XO.


Courvoisier has been producing cognac since 1809 and is known for its smooth and elegant taste, which is achieved through its unique blend of eaux-de-vie. 

One of the most popular Courvoisier blends is the Courvoisier VS, which is aged for at least two years and has a smooth and fruity taste. The brand also produces premium blends such as the Courvoisier XO and the Courvoisier L’Essence.

Luxury Tours of Cognac, France

To really immerse yourself in the world of Cognac then one of the best ways is a private luxury tour with a knowledgeable guide.

This way you get the history, tasting and lunch in one great package, and you can ask as many questions as you like. 

It’s an all-day event starting and you’ll be an expert in no time.

Walk through the Old Town of Cognac, France

If you want to fully immerse yourself in the unique culture of Cognac, there are several places you simply cannot miss. Here are some must-visit destinations that will give you a taste of the town’s rich heritage, and which I’ve done myself so can highly recommend:

The Château Royal de Cognac

An old castle building in Cognac France

Perhaps the most iconic landmark in Cognac, the Château Royal de Cognac is a stunning piece of architecture that has been standing for centuries. Originally built in the 10th century, the castle was renovated by King Francis I in the 16th century and became his favourite residence. 

Today, you can explore the castle’s magnificent rooms and discover the stories of its former inhabitants. Plus, it is now home to Baron Otard Cognac and you can visit the cellars where the Cognac is distilled as part of your tour.

Explore the Saint-Léger Church

The front facade of an old gothic church in Cognac France

If you’re a fan of Gothic architecture, you’ll love the Saint-Léger Church. Built in the 12th century, the church boasts a beautiful mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles. Take your time to explore the intricate details of the façade and the stunning stained glass windows inside. 

The church also features a magnificent organ that dates back to the 18th century. Although I find the organ a bit overpowering, as a classical pianist I still find it a fascinating instrument. The sound it makes is quite extraordinary.

Visit the Cognac Museum

An ornate living room in an old house in Cognac France with a chandalier

The Cognac Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in the town’s world-famous drink. The museum is housed in a former cognac merchant’s house which helps bring the whole thing to life.

It tells the story of the spirit’s production process, as well as its rich cultural heritage. 

You’ll learn about the town’s history, from the Roman occupation to the present day, and get the chance to admire a stunning collection of antique bottles and labels.

You had to literally drag me out as it gave you such a great insight into the history of the town, especially given it was all set in the old home from one of the inhabitants years ago.

The Saint-Jacques Gate

Two stone towers on the Charente river leading into Cognac France

The Saint-Jacques Gate is a beautiful piece of architecture that used to be part of the town’s ancient walls.

Built in the 15th century, the gate features a unique mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles, with intricate carvings and sculptures adorning its façade.

From here you can take a walk through the gate and wander around the narrow streets of the town’s historic centre.

Enjoy the Outdoors in Cognac

As much as Cognac is known for its rich history and heritage, the city has a lot to offer to nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

From leisurely river cruises to invigorating bike tours, there are a plethora of activities to explore in the great outdoors of Cognac.

Go on a River Cruise

The charente river with beautiful red flowers on the river bank in Cognac France

One of the best ways to experience the beauty of Cognac is by taking a river cruise. Hop aboard a traditional boat and drift along the serene Charente River. 

It’s such a lovely thing to do and you’ll be treated to stunning views of the picturesque landscapes, vineyards, and historic buildings that line the riverbanks. 

The cruise takes you past the famous Hennessy and Martell cognac houses, the Saint-Jacques I mentioned above, the Château de Cognac, and much more. You can choose from various cruise options that range from a short 45-minute ride to a full-day excursion.

For more information on river cruises in Cognac, visit tourism-cognac.com.

Take a Bike Tour

The last time we went to Cognac, we hired bikes and took in the scenic countryside by following one of the many biking trails in and around the town. It’s such a lovely way to get around as you have time to take everything in. 

We stopped and had a picnic sitting on the banks of the Charente and it was idyllic.

You can choose to rent a bike and explore on your own or join a guided tour that offers a more immersive experience.

For more information on bike tours in Cognac, visit tourism-cognac.com

Relax in the Jardins de l'Hôtel de Ville

A botanical garden with a fountain and church in the background in Cognac France

Escape the hustle and bustle of city life and unwind in the tranquil Jardins de l’Hôtel de Ville. These beautifully maintained gardens are located in the heart of the city and offer a serene oasis for visitors. 

Whether you want to take a leisurely stroll, enjoy a picnic with friends and family, or just relax and soak up the sun, the Jardins de l’Hôtel de Ville is the perfect place to do so.

For more information on the Jardins de l’Hôtel de Ville, visit tourism-cognac.com.

Festivals in Cognac, France

If you’re a fan of festivals, you won’t want to miss the many celebrations that take place in Cognac each year. From music and dance to food and wine, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Cognac Blues Passions

One of the most popular festivals in Cognac is the Cognac Blues Passions. This festival attracts musicians and fans from all over the world and is known for its lively atmosphere and unforgettable performances. 

The festival takes place every July and features a variety of blues and rock acts, as well as, food and drink stalls and other entertainment.

Cognac Fête du Cognac

The Fête du Cognac is a celebration of the famous Cognac brandy that is produced in the region. This festival takes place every year in July and includes tastings, tours of local distilleries, and a variety of other events. 

If you’re a fan of fine spirits, this is a festival you won’t want to miss.

Cognac Festival de la Musique Classique

If classical music is more your style, you’ll love the Festival de la Musique Classique. I haven’t done this yet, but it’s on my list.

It takes place every September and features a variety of classical music performances in beautiful venues throughout the region. From solo performances to full orchestras this festival is a must-see for music lovers.

Coup de Chauffe

If you’re a fan of street art and theatre, then the Coup de Chauffe festival is a must-see. This festival takes place in mid-June and features a variety of outdoor performances, including theatre, circus acts, and dance performances. The festival is free, and the performances take place in various locations throughout the town, making it easy to catch as many shows as possible.

The 15 best Food Festivals in France >>>

The Best 9 Music Festivals in the Nouvelle Aquitaine >>>

Best Places to Eat in Cognac

When it comes to food, Cognac is definitely not lacking. It has it all, from traditional French cuisine to Michelin stars.

The interior of a restaurant with tables and chairs in Cognac France

Fine Dining Restaurants in Cognac

When it comes to food, Cognac is definitely not lacking. It has it all, from traditional French cuisine to Michelin stars.

Le Coq d'Or

This Michelin-starred restaurant is located in what used to be the old post office with “Art Nouveau” decor and a menu that celebrates the best of French cuisine.

The dishes are beautifully presented and expertly crafted, using only the freshest ingredients. From the foie gras to the truffles, every bite is a delight. Book a table >>>

La Ribaudière

Located on the river in a lovely 19th-century manor house, La Ribaudière is something else. There are plenty of dining areas to choose from, and you can dine al fresco on the terrace.

The menu focuses on traditional French cuisine with a modern twist. Expect to find dishes such as roasted duck breast with figs and a balsamic reduction or scallop carpaccio with citrus fruits. Book a table >>>

La Table de l'Yeuse

We took some friends of ours here when they were visiting from Australia, and the views took their breath away. It’s situated just outside of Cognac on a hill overlooking the Charente countryside. 

The weather was wonderful so we sat outside on the terrace, which just added to it all. The food was fantastic with a great menu and a good wine list. Book a table >>>

Traditional French Cuisine in Cognac

If you’re looking to indulge in some more traditional French cuisine and enjoy some delicacies of the region, try these two restaurants.

A roof top bar overlooking the town of Cognac France

La Table du Château

For a taste of authentic regional cuisine, look no further than La Table du Château. The restaurant is located in a restored 16th-century castle with lovely grounds. You can even choose to dine under the one-hundred-year-old lychee tree.

The menu features classic dishes such as escargots, coq au vin, and crème brûlée. Book a Table >>>

La Courtine

Sat on the banks of the Charente, this cosy bistro offers a menu of hearty, traditional French dishes. From the cassoulet to the beef bourguignon, the food is rich and flavourful. 

The wine list is extensive, with a focus on local and regional wines. Book a Table >>>

Riverside Dining in Cognac

My favourite two experiences in Cognac when it comes to dining are La Scala and La Ponton. Both of them are by the river and although not haute cuisine, I have fond memories and have been several times now.

A pontoon on the charente river with a bride in the background in Cognac France

La Ponton

Every time I’ve eaten here we’ve sat outside on the tiny little wooden pontoon area and it’s just fabulous. It wobbles a little as you sit down but oh my goodness is it worth it. You’re literally sitting on the water.

The food is great although service is often slow due to you being away from the main diners on the pontoon. Great experience watching the world drift by! Book a Table >>>

La Scala

Sat at the foot of the chateau and right on the river, this Italian restaurant does the best pizza. We sat outside on the raised terrace balcony when we went, but inside the decor is all themed as a traditional trattoria. We’ve enjoyed it both times we’ve been, but it’s the location that’s the wow factor.

The one drawback is the lack of vegetarian and gluten-free options. Book a Table >>>

No matter where you choose to dine in Cognac, you won’t be disappointed. Bon appétit!

The 5 Best Restaurants in the Charente, France >>>

Best Places to Stay in Cognac

For those seeking a luxurious experience, there are several high-end hotels in Cognac offering exceptional service and amenities.

Hôtel Chais Monnet & Spa

Hubby and I stayed here just after it opened and snagged ourselves a really good deal. To say this hotel is luxurious would be an understatement.

Adding to its charm is the fact it’s located in an old Cognac warehouse.

The restaurant is superb and looks every inch like a warehouse but with all the modern luxury you would expect. However, for me, the pièce de résistance is the rooftop bar.

The views are unbelievable and if you have good weather, as we did, then it’s such a fabulous place to sit and drink in your surroundings.

We had a suite and I don’t think I’ve ever had a bed so comfortable. We didn’t pay the ticket price though as we go an extremely good deal due to it only just opening.

If you have the budget I give this one the full five stars!

François Premier Hotel

Sat right in the heart of Cognac, you’ll be in good company as Charles de Gaulle stayed here in 1914. The building dates back to 1870 when it belonged to the Cagon family but was purchased in 2011 by Jean Biais.

It’s more of a boutique hotel with just 26 rooms, a wellness centre and two restaurants, one gourmet and a bistro.

The renovations are in keeping with 19th-century architecture but with a modern twist. Its location makes it a great choice for walking around the town and along the river banks of the Charente.

Château de L'Yeuse

Although I haven’t stayed here I’ve eaten here, as I mentioned above, and the views alone make it worth a visit. But this hotel has a fun side to it. 

The owner, Céline Desmazières, invited graffiti artists to run the hotel bedrooms into works of art. And the result is something else.

The project was overseen by Mathieu Peronno, the artistic director, and he, with the help of the chosen graffiti artists, transformed the 24 rooms into an explosion of colour.

So with great food and inspired decor, it’s a great option if you’re looking for accommodation outside of Cognac and away from the hustle and bustle.

Mid-Range Hotels

For budget-conscious travellers, Cognac has several affordable accommodations that provide comfort and value for money. 

The first I’d recommend is the Ibis Styles Cognac, which is centrally located and offers comfortable rooms at an affordable price. 

Friends of ours stayed in Hotel Heritage and said it was a great budget option as rates were good and it was centrally located making walking around Cognac really easy. 

Lastly, the Hotel La Residence is another budget-friendly option with a central location and good service.

Day Trips from Cognac

Getting to Cognac, France

For budget-conscious travellers, Cognac has several affordable accommodations that provide comfort and value for money. 


By Air

The closest airport to Cognac is the Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport, which is approximately 100 kilometres (62 miles) away. From there, you can take a taxi or rent a car to reach your destination. Alternatively, you can fly into Paris and take a train to Cognac.

By Train

Cognac has a train station that is well-connected to other cities in France. If you’re travelling from Paris, you can take a TGV train to Angouleme, then transfer to a regional train to Cognac. The journey takes approximately 3 hours.

By Car

If you’re coming from another part of France, driving to Cognac is a great option. The town is located near the A10 and N141 highways, making it easily accessible by car. If you’re renting a car, keep in mind that the legal driving age in France is 18 and you will need to have a valid driver’s licence.

By Bus

Another option for getting to Cognac is by bus. Several bus companies operate in the region, offering affordable and convenient transportation to and from other cities in France. The main bus station in Cognac is located on Rue Aristide Briand.

FAQS Cognac

Unsurprisingly, Cognac is known for the drink Cognac, a type of brandy made from white wine. It’s also known for its beautiful vineyards and historic town.

I’d plan for at least 2-3 days in Cognac, to fully experience everything this town has to offer. However, those who are more interested in cognac may want to stay longer to visit more of the cognac houses.

The legal drinking age in France is 18 years old.

While some of the Cognac houses may allow visitors without a reservation, I’d recommend booking in advance to ensure availability and to avoid disappointment.

While French is the primary language spoken in Cognac, many of the cognac houses and tourist attractions have English-speaking guides and staff to assist visitors who do not speak French.

Yes, many Cognac houses allow visitors to purchase Cognac directly from their premises. Some Cognac houses have dedicated boutiques where you can explore and buy a variety of Cognac bottles, including exclusive editions and limited releases.

Yes. Many Cognac houses offer guided tours of their facilities, providing insights into the Cognac production process and offering tastings of their exceptional spirits. CLICK HERE FOR AVAILABLE TOURS >>>


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About Me

I’m Kylie….

And I live in the beautiful Charente region of France having made the move back in 2016, and I’ve never looked back.

Now, I’m sharing everything I’ve learned about living in rural France. From visiting wineries & chateaux to negotiating French admin and learning the language.


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