Cognac is situated in the Charente department of western France between Angouleme and Saintes. The name of Cognac is known the world over because of the brandy produced in the region, and the chance to visit the Cognac distilleries certainly attracts many visitors, but the town itself is also very interesting to explore with an attractive riverside and historical centre to discover.
Cognac can be seen as having two distinct areas: the bustling ‘modern’ town where you will find most of the shops, large boulevards and street-side cafes; and the old town which is much quieter and includes the castle and other historic monuments, most of the famous distilleries, and the Charente river.
The buildings in Cognac are mostly constructed from the local white stone that is found throughout the Poitou-Charentes region and makes the local architecture so distinctive and attractive.
Cognac ‘old town’, the medieval part of the town, is a region of narrow cobbled streets, hemmed in by attractive houses from the 15th to 18th centuries, and a multitude of brandy maturing warehouses along the riverside.
The part of Cognac to the east of here is more recent, and is a typical French town with numerous cafes, shops and other commerces and a lively atmosphere.
You can also explore the public gardens that occupy an extensive area (several hectares) in the centre of Cognac and have extensive plantings, a rose garden, water features, trees and flower borders, and a garden plan that follows the ‘English style’.
The gardens also contain several interesting buildings, among them the Town Hall, the grand 19th century building with a large staircase in front and a substantial campanile, and the Museum of Art and History. There are also several small buildings of interest in the park in a mix of styles, such as the little ‘gothic tower’ in the middle of a pond, a neoclassical orangery and a victorian style bandstand..
A third area of Cognac to explore if you have time is the extensive Parc Francois 1er to the north of the town centre and surrounded by a meander in the Charente river. There are lots of walks and trails through the forested park, with the path along the riverside the most popular.
You can also hire a canoe for a trip along the river or take an organised boat trip along the Charente in a traditional boat known as a gabarre.
Every summer Cognac plays host to the internationally acclaimed Cognac Blues Festival, which in the past has seen acts such as ZZ Top, Jamie Cullum, Seal, Hugh Laurie and many others. The whole town comes alive with the sound of music – a real must for Blues fans. www.bluespassions.com/index.php/fr/le-festival