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Spotlight on COGNAC The town of Cognac in the Charente department, south west France makes for a great visit. Especially if you love cognac. And historic towns, gorgeous countryside, sitting at cafés watching the world go by says Janine Marsh Cognac The name cognac is famous the world over for the fine French brandy made from white wine grapes. And, as you’d expect, cognac the drink is a major part of visiting the town of Cognac. There are several important cognac houses and a dedicated museum plus discovery centre. The origin of cognac dates back to the 16th century when Dutch settlers visited to purchase salt, wood, and wine. As the long journey home made preserving the wine difficult, they started to distil the wine into eau-de-vie and they realized a second distillation made for an even finer, more elegant and very drinkable product. This is essentially the birth of brandy. The word “brandy” comes from the Dutch word “brandewijn” which means burnt wine. Brandy can be made all over the world, but only brandy made in the Cognac region of France and under the strictest guidelines, can be called “cognac.” It is made from white wine, using only very specific types of grapes grown in one of the six crus surrounding the town of Cognac in the Charente and Charente-Maritime regions of France. It’s distilled twice and aged in casks for a minimum amount of two years. Cognac the town Cognac is a pretty town with a “City of Art and History” label. It’s easy to spend a day here wandering it’s ancient streets, taking in the sights, relaxing by the river and indulging in the local cuisine. The town has a feeling of peacefulness, prosperity and good living.
A great starting point is Place Francois 1er, a big square, lined with shops and bars. It’s a great place to grab a coffee, or cognac and watch the life of Cognac going on, before you start a walking tour of the town. It’s named after King Francis 1 of France, who was born here in 1515 (more on that later). It has in its time had several names and was even the site of a pig market for a while. You can take a guided tour with the tourist office or just amble. It’s not a big town and easy to see on foot. There are some beautiful old houses, fabulous shops ranging from gourmet food to fashion and art. The Jardin Public makes for a great picnic spot with its pretty fountains and peacocks wandering about. There’s a Museum of Art and History in a beautiful building with a collection of paintings and sculptures as well as a Museum dedicated to cognac, Le Musee des Arts du Cognac If you want to know about cognac the drink as well as the region, the Museum of the Arts of Cognac is a great place to start. You’ll discover all there is to know about the creation of cognac and the area in which it is made. There are thousands of objects to bring the story to life as well as a rather fascinating selection of posters and labels. Nip next door to the Discovery centre to find out all about the heritage of Cognac and the Charente area. You’ll get a great overview of how cognac came to be, the different areas of cognac production, the vineyards, landscape and villages. Then continue your walk down to the riverside. Wide open spaces, beautiful old warehouses and some of the major cognac houses are in this part of the
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