It all began along the river Charente, in Cognac: the town’s fabulous history is closely linked to the history of its "brown gold" - “the liquor of Gods” - as Victor Hugo used to call Cognac.
Once upon a time there was a rural town on the Charente riverside that gave its name to an internationally acclaimed liquor : Cognac.
Take a stroll along the Charente quay, a perfect departure spot for visitors who wish to discover the story of this town and its precious beverage. The city and its famous liquor are inseparable : in fact you can see « the angels’ share » (the small amount of alcohol which evaporates as the beverage matures in its cask) on the town’s walls: as it evaporates, a microscopic brown mushroom develops, causing the town’s walls to darken.
During the 15th century, the region produced wine. The Dutch, who had settled here to dry up the marshes, began distilling.
However, it wasn’t until the 17th century that double distillation was invented, and Cognac created. Thanks to Anglo-Saxon merchants such as Martell and Hennessy, the delicious beverage was sent out to conquer the world : first the New World, then Asia…
Today, Cognac is sold in over 160 countries and is savoured in different ways : in China they add water to their Cognac and drink it with dinner. In Australia, it is added to cocktaills. In Russia, in well off families, it replaces vodka and people drink it pure. Some, such as Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, have even been said to smoke cognac-filled cigars!
How does one reach the gates to paradise in Cognac country ? Simply by visiting a Cognac house: Martell (the oldest great Cognac House), Camus, Hennessy, Remy Martin, Otard (in the castle of King François the 1st), Courvoisier (Napoleon’s Cognac), Meukow…
Each has its own saga and surprising layout : magical places, themed exhibitions, and even a mini-cruise on the Charente, and last but not least, Cognac tasting! Before setting off to discover the area’s vineyards on your bicycle, or taking a river cruise, be sure to visit the Cognac Arts museum, in the centre of the town’s old quarters.
Learn everything there is to know about Cognac-making and the associated trades : cask-makers, designers and great artists presented in a series of posters, tags, boxes and caskets. History lovers, do not miss the castle where King François the 1st was born, St Jacques gateway with its two round towers overlooking the river, old merchants’ houses, “la maison de la Lieutenance”, Saint Leger Priory, Recollets convent, city hall and its public garden…
Further information about Cognac
The peaceful river Charente flows through the old provinces of “Angoumois” and “Saintonge”. From its riverbed in Limousin, past the lakes of Haute-Charente, on to Rochefort and the ocean, the Charente valley is just waiting to be explored, by car, or by boat/bicycle (departing from Angouleme).
The river Charente used to be a very important communication route. It was used by gabarre (long, flat-bottomed) boats, to transport Cognac liquors, paper from Angouleme, and carving stone from Saint-Savinien to the ocean. One the way back, they’d carry salt and spices inland.
The Charente is much more peaceful toady. Its splendid valley boasts many gems, just waiting to be explored! A collection of elegant castles, Romanesque churches, picturesque villages… Do not miss the villages and cities of Angouleme, Cheteauneuf, Vibrac, St Simon, Bassac, Jarnac, Bourg-Charente, Cognac, Saintes, as well as Taillebourg, Port d'Envaux, Crazannes, St Savinien, Rochefort, Fouras and Port-des-Barques.
Angouleme is a must, along the river Charente ! The town dominates the valley, offering visitors incredible panoramas. Its historical centre is quite charming : its tiled roofs and southern lighting have been known to remind visitors of Italy! Angouleme is France’s cartoon strip capital ! Both a festival and museum are dedicated to comic strips and there are popular French comic strip characters painted on many of the town’s walls (Gaston, Lagaffe, Titeuf, Boule et Bill…).
Further information about Angoulême
The artistic, Gallo-Roman southern city of Saintes, along the river Charente, charms visitors with its rich Romanesque and gallo-Roman heritage.
Further information about Saintes and Saintonges