The Charente region is located slightly north of Aquitaine and gets its name, like the majority of French regions, from the river it crosses. The Charente region’s economy has grown greatly due to the wine trade – in particular from the production of Cognac and other liqueur wines, most notably Pineau des Charentes. This trade still makes up a large proportion of the areas agricultural business as the drinks remain internationally renowned and are exported all around the globe.
If you’re hiring a canal boat on the Charente River then a must see is an insight into this industry. Thankfully due to increased interest we’re seeing more and more places of interest for tourists.
Pour yourself a Cognac, get comfy and read on to find out the best places to visit whilst on your canal barge holiday.
An introduction to the drink Cognac…
Cognac is a type of brandy first created back in the 17th century using a process of double distillation. This method consists firstly of distilling in white wine to obtain a ‘broth’ (about 30% alcohol) before going through a second process of distilling. At this stage four liquids of different concentrations are obtained (named: head, heart, seconds and tail) decreasing in order of alcohol concentration. It is the ‘heart’ concentration that will be preserved in oak barrels to start the ageing process that leads to the finished cognac.
Cognac gets its name from the city it is produced in and today is a very important part of the Charentais identity. There are plenty of producers of cognac in the region with some located very close to the waterways meaning it’s easy to plan a visit as part of your boating holiday itinerary. Below we highlight some of the most prestigious cognac producers/houses...
Courvoisier in Jarnac:
Courvoisier Cognac © Nicols
Founded at the beginning of the 19th century, the Courvoisier house is one full of history. Once visitied by Napoleon in person it later became an ‘official supplier’ of the imperial court of Napoleon III. Courvoisier Cognac was also served during the inauguration of the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1889 at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
The house is open to visitors and offers different options based on duration. These range in price from 12 to 250 € per person – but with everyone enjoying entrance to the museum and of course a tasting of their cognac! Located at about 50m from the banks of the Charente River the museum is very easy to get to on foot – simply moor your canal boat on the river bank.
Booking required – please contact:
Tel : + 33 (0)5 45 35 56 16
Website : www.courvoisier.com
Courvoisier Cognac © Nicols
Hennessy in Cognac:
Dating back to 1765, Hennessy is now the world leader in cognac and is enjoyed in over 130 countries around the world. Located close to the Charente River, once again it is easy to get to from your canal boat. Simply moor up, cross the road and you’re there!
Four different types of visit are available ranging from 16 to 120 € per person. An educational tour can be enjoyed looking back at the history of the house and covering the distillation process.
Hennessy, rue de la Richonne, 16100 Cognac.
Tel : 05 45 35 06 44
Martell in Cognac
Founded in 1715, Martell is the oldest of the cognac houses and recently celebrated its 300th anniversary. Its success is predominantly down to the ‘Cordon Bleu’ cognac which was first sold in 1912. Today you can buy a bottle for around 120 €.
Located just 300m from the Charente River it is another easy to reach option by mooring your canal barge along the river.
A tour of the cellars lasts for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. Please note no pets allowed.
Martell & Co, Avenue Paul Firino Martell - 16100 Cognac
Tel : +33 (0)5 45 36 33 33
Enjoy a glass of cognac © OUZOUNOFF Stéphane
Baron Otard in Cognac
The Baron Otard house is another steeped in history. Founded in 1795, it enjoys an interesting location within the fortress that Francois 1st, one of France’s most illustrious kings, was born.
The fortress provides perfect cognac conditions – the thickness of the walls and humidity of the cellars are ideal ageing conditions. You can enjoy four different types of visit ranging from 10 to 120 € per person with every visit including a guided tour and cognac tasting at the shop.
Maison Otard : 127 Boulevard Denfert Rochereau, 16100 Cognac
Tel : 05 45 36 88 86.
Caves at Baron Otard ©Charente Tourisme
Rémy Martin in Cognac
The Rémy Martin house is another famous name and also located in Cognac. Producing since 1724, their drink that is most famous is the ‘Cognac Fine Champagne’ which is created using a blend of Grande and Petite Champagne grape to give perfection.
Visitors can enjoy a tour plus a number of fun activities ranging from cognac tastings and cocktail making to pairing drinks with chocolate!
Maison Rémy Martin, 20, Rue de la Société Vinicole – 16100 COGNAC
Tél. : + 33 (0)5 45 35 76 66
The Cognathèque in Cognac
If you don’t have time to visit all of the cognac houses on your boating holiday but would like to buy a few bottles – either to enjoy for the rest of your canal boat break in Charente or as gifts for those back home – then we highly recommend you head to Cognathéque. Although not a producer of cognac, for over 25 years it has been the largest exhibitor of cognacs in the world with nearly 450 cognacs and 50 pineaux. You can learn about the history of cognac and participate in tastings as well as stock up!
Cognathéque is easy to get to as just a few hundred metres on foot when mooring your Nicols canal boat at the port of Cognac.
La Cognathèque, 10 place Jean-Monnet- 16100 COGNAC
Tel : 05 45 82 43 31
The Cognac Arts Museum:
If you’re interested in getting a broader understanding of the economic, technical and industrial history of the town of Cognac then a visit to the Cognac Arts Museum. Located in the heart of the old town it features an exhibition across more than 1600m2 including the exciting adventure “liqueur des dieux” (translated as ‘the liqueur of the gods’!).
For more information visit the website: www.musees-cognac.fr
A history of Pineau des Charentes
Pineau des Charentes first appeared in the second half of the 16th century. It is a liqueur wine – the main ingredient being cognac!
The story is that Pineau is the result of an accident! Legend has it that a winemaker accidentily dropped grapes into a barrel of cognac and on realising his error, left the barrel in the corner of his cellar. Several years later when the barrel was needed after a strong harvest it was discovered that inside a clear and colourful fruity drink had been created...and Pineau des Charentes was born.
Perfect together – Charentais melon
and Pineau des Charentes©O.Friedrich
Brillet in Aireaux
What makes this house unique lies in its original, and some might say unusual, ‘Belle de Brillet’ drink which is a liqueur blending the flavours of cognac and the Williams pear (note the shape of the bottle!). This drink is popular with female drinkers due to its softness compared to other more conventional liqueurs.With links originating back to a family of wine producers in 1656 in the heart of the Cognac region, the Brillet house was officially founded in 1850. Although a well known producer of cognac, Brillet also produces other drinks including the Pineaus des Charentes.
A pontoon on the banks of the Charente River makes mooring your canal boat nice and easy and leaves you just a few hundred metres from the Brillet property. Visitors are welcome Monday to Friday from 9am to 7pm or at weekends by reservation.
Maison Brillet, 16120 Les Aireaux.
Tel : 05 45 97 05 06.
To get great cognac you need great barrels!
There’s no questioning it. Without the oak barrels there would be no cognac.
The wood of the barrels plays an essential role in the production of cognac. One of the best places to learn about the barrels, including seeing how they are made, is Moine Freres.
For more information visit the website: http://www.moinefreres.fr/circuit-du-chene/
The job of a Tonnelier © Charente Tourisme
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*Please drink responsibly and in moderation.