What to visit in Cognac? Here is a guide to prepare your stay in this city which promises you a real change of scenery: history, culture and wine tourism meet and promise you beautiful discoveries. You’ll find here an overview of the many activities that await you there as well as some good addresses to enjoy your escapade.
Preparing your stay in Cognac: useful information
How to get to Cognac?
Getting to Cognac has become very simple since the development of the high-speed train line Paris – Bordeaux. Indeed, from the french capital it only takes 3 hours: 2h30 by TGV to reach Angoulême and then about 30 minutes by TER to get to your destination.
Getting around the city and its surroundings
The town is small and can easily be discovered on foot: it takes only 30 minutes to walk through it.
If you wish to explore the surrounding towns, a bus network is available at very affordable rates: €1 per trip, €8 for ten trips or €3 per day.
A bit of history to understand the city
The first mentions of the town date back to the 11th century. Cognac developed in the Middle Ages becoming a stronghold with the first fortifications in the 12th century. The 15th century saw the construction of the castle and new ramparts of which the Saint-Jacques gate still remains today.
It is in this castle that Francis I was born on September 12, 1494, which explains the many evocations of the king in the city: you will certainly fall in front of his statue, or in front of a salamander that was his emblem. Even if the king did not stay much in Cognac, he facilitated the development of the city by granting him the privilege of trading salt by the river. The Charente, which runs through the town, has indeed favoured trade first for salt and wine and then for the cognac alcohol from the 17th century onwards.
The famous alcohol was born from the export of wine: the Dutch having realized that wine kept better distilled and improved during the journey in wooden barrels, the first bases for the elaboration of cognac were laid. Even today, cognac is of course still very much linked to the history of the town, since its production and all the derived industry (the manufacture of vats and barrels, its marketing and wine tourism) represents a large part of the activity of the inhabitants.
In the 19th century a free trade treaty signed with England allowed a second wave of development of the local economy. At that time, the population increased sixfold so that the town expanded making the fortifications, which were then destroyed, useless. Walking through the heart of the city, you will therefore be confronted with two styles: a very old lower town and a more modern upper town.
5 things to do absolutely in Cognac
Stroll in the city centre
Cognac is a small town which is easily crossed on foot, especially as the hyper centre has been pedestrianised since the 1980s! Take the time to get lost in the streets of old Cognac to discover the old atypical houses but also some charming places such as the castle, the Saint-Jacques gate, the Saint-Léger church, the remains of the Recollets convent and its 17th century architecture, the public garden where the town hall is located or the old cloister which now houses a library.
Go to the Martell Foundation
For the past four years the young Martell Corporate Foundation has been taking its place in a former bottling plant. This cultural institution aims to become a centre dedicated to contemporary creation and know-how.
Currently and until January 2, 2022 you can see “Place(s) to be”, a design exhibition that takes the form of a large house made up of eleven rooms like a gigantic Cluedo set where the mystery is of course not murder but creation! Each of these rooms has been entrusted to a designer with the mission of making it habitable and usable by visitors who can make the place their own. From room to room, we embark on a real journey into the world of design.
From 2021 onwards, two new floors will complete the Foundation’s offer, including a digital space and a coworking room. A must-see.
READ MORE: The Martell Foundation the new place(s) to be in Cognac!
Visit a cognac house
It would be unthinkable to come to Cognac without taking an interest in the alcohol of the same name. This digestive, sometimes consumed in cocktails, is produced exclusively in the Charente, but it is nevertheless quite unknown to the French. Its history, as well as its method of elaboration are however fascinating: it is a product that requires a lot of technicality and a great know-how.
Strolling through the streets, you will inevitably come across the brands of the greatest houses. I can only advise you to push the doors of one of them to discover the secrets of cognac making and why not have a tasting session. My recommendation: a visit to the Martell house, tested and approved!
READ MORE: How cognac is made?
Enjoy a cocktail
To complete this visit, you might taste a cocktail based on cognac! For this I recommend two bars.
The Luciole bar
This bar was created by a barman who trained in London before moving to Cognac. It offers a wide range of cocktails with or without alcohol but also cheese boards / delicatessen and home-made ice creams.
Luciole is a cosy place, where you toast around shelves filled with beautiful bottles. You can also go to the small library to consult a few books about the local alcohols.
The Indigo Bar
Located in the same building as the Martell Foundation, the Indigo bar occupies the top floor and thus offers a breathtaking view of the entire city of Cognac. It is the official bar of the Martell house and of course offers cocktails made from the company’s flagship products.
Discover the streetart route
Although a medieval town, Cognac is not frozen in its past. It is the breeding ground of a strong cultural dynamism with several events such as the Blues Passion Festival organized in July, the literary event Littératures européennes Cognac which takes place every year or Coup de chauffe a street arts festival which takes place in September.
For the past few months, the Pédiluve is a new project born in the former municipal swimming pool which has been abandoned for two years. Led by Mathieu Perrono, a collective of artists has made it their playground where ephemeral creations can be admired. It is now a meeting place that brings together 400 members that you can discover from Thursday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm.
As you wander through the city you will also certainly notice that there are many street art works. The Wonderwall route allows you to discover several works of art scattered in the streets. Guided tours are organised on Saturday mornings, contact the Pédiluve for more information.
Best places in Cognac
Hotels in Cognac
Several hotels are at your disposal in the heart of the city. Depending on the level of luxury you are looking for and of course your budget, you will find the accommodation you need. Here are three of them located in the city centre:
This 2-star hotel also has a restaurant, bar and terrace. It is ideally located in the heart of the old town. The rooms are clean but the decoration is a little outdated and needs a good makeover. From 65 € per night.
Hôtel François Ier
Upscale with this 4-star hotel also in the heart of the city. It is equipped with a swimming pool with hammam, perfect for relaxing between two visits. From 112 € per night.
Hotel Chais Monnet
A brand-new 5-star establishment installed – as its name suggests – in former wine cellars. This is luxury with two restaurants, cocktail bar, spa and all the services you would expect from a top-of-the-range establishment. From 207 € per night.
Good restaurant addresses
There’s no shortage of restaurants in this town. After all you are in the southwest of France so eating well is an important value! Here are some addresses that I recommend.
Poulpette, a must
Poulpette is my favourite restaurant in Cognac. You can enjoy a refined, modern and tasty cuisine at a very attractive price: only 27 € for a starter – main course – dessert menu at lunchtime.
Attention: the address is famous so it is preferable to make a reservation.
Counter 17, simple and gourmet
At Comptoir 17 you will find typical brewery dishes: burgers, salads, fish and chips, tuna tartar, etc. But it’s very well cooked, tasty and served with a smile.
For lunch, a (home-made!) dish – dessert formula is 16 €, an unbeatable price/quality ratio.
La Belle Époque
La Belle Époque is the restaurant of the heritage hotel and takes place in a former mansion. You can eat there well but for a slightly higher price (18 € for the main course – dessert) which is justified by the setting. The terrace is pleasant on sunny days.
The map with all the addresses
You will find on this map all the addresses mentioned in this article as well as some interesting points of view to photograph the city.
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Many thanks to the Martell Foundation and the agency l’Art en Plus for their invitation. Thanks to Destination Cognac, Mathieu Perrono and the teams at Maison Martell for their warm welcome.
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