If you have ever been to the old town of Cognac in western France, you will be sure to have visited one of the producers of the world-famous brandy which carries its name. During the maturing process of cognac, some of the strong spirit evaporates from the oak barrels into the air – termed locally as ‘The Angel’s Share’!
Representing about 2% of the cognac inventory, this is equivalent to an unbelievable 22 million bottles! Enough to give the angels a very good party! But why should the angels have all the fun? Back down on earth, there are some quite amazing places where fun can be had a-plenty, with perhaps more wholesome spirits.
Right in the heart of Cognac is one of the most fabulous and quirky hotels in which I have ever stayed − a little corner of heaven in the town that makes the most famous brandy in the world.
Chais Monnet is a 5-star hotel and spa, where contemporary luxury is infused with the rich heritage of the original cognac storage buildings, now expertly distilled into one of the leading hotels of the world. Ultra-modern architecture merges seamlessly with old brick, stone and wood, with immaculate taste and attention to detail. A serene and peaceful atmosphere reigns throughout, exemplified by walkways bordered by water features, complete with ornamental fish.
This is a place to put in your notebook, diary or virtual planner, whichever you may normally use for your future project stuff. In my view, it is unquestionably the best place to stay in Cognac or the surrounding area. Apart from the wonderful rooms, the relaxing, peaceful atmosphere, the attention to detail and a choice of on-site locations for drinks and eats, what really sets this hotel apart is the level of customer service.
As a wine journalist, educator and consultant, I have been fortunate enough to stay in many top hotels throughout Europe. In several, I have had the experience of the staff making you feel as if you are privileged to be allowed to stay in their establishment. At Chais Monnet, the opposite is true: you are made to feel that they are the lucky ones to have you to stay. Genuine smiles and genuine top-notch service.
The restaurant ‘Les Foudres’ is a veritable temple of gastronomy. The dining room is set in the shadow of massive 100-year-old cognac barrels and is an eclectic balance of formality and informality. The creative and refined cuisine uses fresh, local produce, and Chef Lepage has been deservedly awarded a Michelin Star this year.
For a simpler, yet delicious, meal, the spacious brasserie, La Distillerie, is open for all-day dining. You’ll find generous, flavoursome dishes, including the best Caesar salad I have ever tasted. Apart from the indoor tables set in the many nooks and crannies of the old stone building with its massive wooden beams, there is an extensive outdoor patio area for dining al fresco, weather permitting.
To add to these characterful eating places, there is an equally astonishing rooftop bar called La Guinguet’ on the fourth floor of one of the hotel buildings. Chic, modern and sophisticated, it’s the ideal place for a pre-dinner cocktail, watching the sun set over the old, tiled roofs of the town of Cognac.
And yet there is more! The Jazz Bar 1838 is housed in the building where cognac barrels were coopered in times past, and offers a choice of 220 different cognacs, served at the classic cocktail bar or on a comfy sofa. Visit on a Friday or Saturday evening for an unforgettable experience of live jazz and cognac cocktails.
A stay at Chais Monnet Hotel and Spa – don’t forget the spa in the beautiful wellness centre – not only allows you to fully relax with great food and drinks, but also permits you to explore a world of gourmet experiences. Visits can be arranged to the nearby cognac houses, including Château Royal de Cognac, home of Baron Otard Cognacs and birthplace of one of France’s illustrious kings – François I.
It’s a place to forget the troubles of the world and refresh the spirit – in more ways than one!
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine journalist, writer, educator and consultant. With experience in the wines and spirits industry spanning several decades, he is a member of the prestigious Circle of Wine Writers and an International Wine Judge.