Many visitors don’t realize that this unassuming town of some 20,000 people is about more than just a drink. Though the air is perfumed with the sweet scent from the distilleries, business goes on as usual in the cobbled streets, some of which still sport a few half-timbered houses from the Renaissance.
If you’d like to visit a distillery, go to its main office during regular business hours and request a tour, or visit the tourist office for assistance. On a tour, you’ll see some brandies that have aged for as long as 50 or even 100 years. You can have a free taste and then purchase a bottle or two. As far as we’re concerned, Otard offers the most informative and insightful tours, partly because of the sheer majesty of its headquarters, in the late-medieval Château de Cognac, 127 bd. Denfert-Rochereau (www.otard.com; tel. 05-45-36-88-86). The tour is half historical overview of the castle, half technical explanation of cognac production. Parts of the château are appropriately baronial (King François I was born here). Tours last about 1 hr. and cost 11€ for adults, 5€ for students 12 to 18, and are free for children 12 and under. From April to October, tours depart at frequent intervals daily. During November to March, you need to contact them in advance to arrange the tour. Call the tourist office or the company several days in advance for exact schedules.
Other distilleries that conduct tours include Hennessy, 1 quai Hennessy (www.hennessy.com; tel. 05-45-35-06-44; 18€; Apr–Oct daily , with regular tours between 9:45am and 5pm; Nov–Mar Tues–Sat tours at 10:45am, 2, and 4pm); Camus, 21 rue de Cagouillet (www.camus.fr; tel. 05-45-32-28-28; 7€, master sommelier class where you blend your own cognac 160€; May–Sept Mon 2–6pm, Tues–Sat 10:30am–12:30pm and 2–6pm; tours at 11am, 2:30, 3:30, and 4:30pm); and Maison Rémy Martin, 20 rue de la Société Vinicole (www.visitesremymartin.com; tel. 05-45-35-76-66). Here you can take a variety of tours of the estate, the cellars, a combination of the two, or enjoy various themed tastings. Priced from 20€, the most elaborate package costs 250€ for a 2-hr. class that gives an insight into their iconic Louis XIII cognac. There is also a cocktail-making class for 110€. For all tours, call in advance for reservations.
If you’re short on time, a good retail outlet is La Cognathèque, 8 pl. Jean-Monnet (www.cognatheque.com; tel. 05-45-82-43-31), which prides itself on having the widest selection from all the region’s distilleries, large and small (some 400 different cognacs).
The Musée des Arts de Cognac is in the town center at place de la Salle Verte (www.musees-cognac.fr; tel. 05-45-36-21-10; July and Aug Tues–Sun 10am–6:30pm; May, June, and Sept Tues–Friday 11am–6pm, and Sat and Sun 1–6pm; Oct–April Tues–Sun 2–6pm). This takes you through the history of the trade coupled with more modern exhibitions, often incorporating local artists. The museum also has a good boutique. Entrance is 4.50€ for adults, 3€ for students. Admission is free for anyone 17 and under.
Within a 15-min. walk lies the Musée d’Art et l’Histoire de Cognac, 48 bd. Denfert-Rochereau (www.musees-cognac.fr; tel. 05-45-32-07-25; July and August Wed–Mon 10am–6:30pm; May, June, and Sept Mon and Wed–Fri 11am–1pm and 2–6pm, and Sat and Sun 1–6pm; Oct–April daily 10am–noon and 2–6pm). Located in a gorgeous building classified as a historic monument, it has exhibits on popular arts and traditions, and a fine art collection. Your ticket to the Musée des Arts de Cognac includes entrance here (and vice versa).
Cognac has two beautiful parks: the Parc François-1er and the Parc de l'Hôtel-de-Ville. The Romanesque-Gothic Eglise St-Léger, rue de Monseigneur LaCroix (tel. 05-45-82-05-71), is from the 12th century, and its bell tower is from the 15th. Admission is free; it's open daily 8am to 7pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.