WORDS BY CRAIG FARRELL – LA COLLECTION
The word Cognac conjures images of a different time. But the type of Brandy which can only be produced in this South-west region of France is making a comeback. And not only thanks to Jay-Z – the city now has it’s first five-star hotel.
Although a household name in Australia and the world, Cognac remains a sleepy town, full of charm but without the hustle and bustle of its larger nearby neighbour, Bordeaux (1 hour 30 minutes drive away).
Cognac does indeed owe its reputation to the famous local product, but it isn’t the only element to a visit to the region. The birthplace of King Francois I has a rich history and heritage that goes way beyond the world-famous spirit. The river Charente and Saint Jacques Towers, the Chateau of Cognac, and Saint Leger Church are just some of the sightseeing highlights within the city.
American rapper and husband of Beyonce, Jay-Z has developed a taste for Cognac – so much so he recently launched his own brand of the beverage. He makes regular trips to check in on its progress, and when in town he checks in to the only five star hotel in the region – Hotel Chais Monnet & Spa.
The Chais Monnet is one of the most impressive industrial sites in France. Created in 1830 on more than two hectares in the city centre, the property has been a rich part of the country’s history. From its past as a trading house to the rebirth of this majestic hotel, Hotel Chais Monnet & Spa represents the perfect ‘a la Francaise’ lifestyle. It is a unique place, combining rich heritage and modernity. Close to the most beautiful cognac houses and the historical heart of the city, the hotel promises a wonderfully authentic French experience.
There are all the things you expect from a luxury hotel: a lavish spa with 24 metre indoor/outdoor pool, a Michelin starred chef in charge of the cuisine, huge bedrooms which pay homage to the property and area’s history, as well as a vast program of activities to ensure you make the most of your visit. Most activities will involve leaving the hotel, but I suggest starting within the grounds of the property – with a visit to the warehouse turned jazz bar – where a selection of over 200 Cognac varieties are on offer.
Hotel Chais Monnet & Spa, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, houses 92 luxuriously appointed rooms and suites, the Michelin-starred restaurant ‘Les Foundres’, a contemporary brasserie, and a jazz bar housing over 200 varieties of Cognac.
The activities on offer during a stay in Cognac are seemingly endless. There’s certainly a focus on wining and dining, however if something more fast-paced is your style – the Chais Monnet team can arrange ballooning, riding, or even your own (temporarily) Ferrari or Lamborghini to explore the stunning countryside.
Here are my top five experiences in the region;
- Explore the famous Cognac houses: No visit to Cognac is complete without a visit and tasting at one of the famous Cognac houses. Discover the history and current day distilling process at your choice of Remy Martin, Martell, Hennessy, Camus and more
- Discover the Charente: Float down the Charente in one of the last traditional barges left on the river. “The Gabarre” was used to transport cognac barrels from the vineyards to the La Rochelle harbour in order to be exported all around the world. You’ll discover Saint-Simon village and it’s surrounds from the river.
- Picnic in the vines: How you get to the vines is up to you. Choose from a traditional bike, e-bike, drive yourself or arrange a transfer in a vintage Citroen 2CV. Hotel Chais Monnet will arrange a delicious lunch for you to enjoy between the vines at a nearby vineyard
- Chateau of Cognac: Visit the historic birthplace of King Francois Ist, and marvel at the Renaissance and Middle Ages architecture.
- Explore further afield: The Grand Cru vineyards of Medoc and St Emilion, the cellars of Bordeaux, and the picturesque seaside town of La Rochelle are all within a short distance of Cognac.
Cognac is a wine-based spirit produced solely in the Cognac area of France. To be considered Cognac, it must be made from white grapes from one or more of six approved growing regions. Cognac must go through a double distillation process and the liquid that results from the distillation process is called eau-de-vie (water of life). Cognac must be aged at least two years in French oak barrels.
Hotel Chais Monnet & Spa is a member of La Collection‘s portfolio of pure luxury properties around the globe, with member properties including Domaine de Murtoli, Myconian Collection, The Belles Rives, the Domaine de Fontenille, the Alpina Gstaad, le Domaine des Etangs and the latest addition, Blue Palace, A Luxury Collection Resort, Elounda Crete, along with preferred partners: Hotel du Cap Eden Roc and Château St Martin.