The department of Charente is home to two of France's most delightful regions: Bordeaux and Cognac. Known for having some of the best French food and drink as well as a delightful array of sights and sounds, these two wine regions have something for everyone.
You can experience the world of wine at the Cité du Vin
Sleek and futuristic, the Cité du Vin in Bordeaux looks more like a tech or science center than a museum about ancient arts. But indeed, this modern structure is a tribute to one of France's oldest traditions: winemaking. Located between the river and the city, this creative museum takes visitors on a world tour of the history of winemaking, from ancient times to the present. The tour culminates at the top of the curving building with a 360° panorama of Bordeaux, and of course, a wine tasting of delights from across the globe.
You can taste some of the best beverages in France
The regions around Bordeaux and Cognac are renowned the world over for their wine and brandy, and it makes perfect sense to head to the source in search of the best ones! It's easy to find the typical deep, Bordeaux reds and velvety Cognacs, but you'll also run into some surprises that you might not find at your local wine shop. Pineau des Charentes is a local drink found only in the Charente departement, which includes both Bordeaux and Cognac. It's a fortified wine made by mixing grape juice with Cognac liquor, and then maturing it. It's not something you get to try every day!
It's the only place you can find real Cognac
Brandy can be found everywhere, but there's only one Cognac. Like many products in France, Cognac is protected by an AOP label, or appellation d'origine protegee. This means that anything called Cognac must be cultivated, harvested and bottled in this region in France. While it might seem over-the-top at first, it's with good reason. The soil here is very specific, and also very diverse. There are six different types of soil found in the Cognac region, each lending different flavours and aromas to the end result. Even slight changes in the composition of the earth can alter the flavour of the wine. Think about that while you're heading to a tasting!
Bordeaux has six wine routes to choose from
Bordeaux is home to six wine regions in total: Bordeaux; Médoc; Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Fronsac and Libournais; Blaye and Bourg; Graves and Sauternes; and Entre-deux-Mers. While the list may seem overwhelming it's more than manageable thanks to their easy connections to the city of Bordeaux. And also, you can't go wrong with your choice! There are plenty of organized wine tours to choose from, but you can just as easily plan your own trip. All you need is a car or bicycle, a map of the routes, and maybe a few tasting reservations here and there!
Cognac is the height of luxury
This ancient city is the gateway to the region's distilleries. Situated on the Charente River, it's not the largest city in the region of Cognac but it may be the most charming. The Château de Cognac is a medieval castle that presides over the city. It was destroyed in the 12th century but rebuilt in the 15th, and it offers tastings from its generous cellar.
The city of Cognac is also unsurprisingly home to the most famous names in Cognac. Remy Martin, Martell and Hennessy all have their houses here, and their roots in the city date back all the way to the 1700s. The Martell Foundation also houses a number of fascinating modern art installations. As if tasting some of the biggest names in Cognac and touring a massive castle wasn't enough, you can even stay in a 5-star hotel that was once a wine cellar!
There's always something happening in Bordeaux
Animated and lively, the city of Bordeaux has experienced a renaissance in the last few years. Its waterfront has been transformed into a trendsetting promenade of cafes, bars and greenery and it's also home to the aforementioned Cité du Vin. The city has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its decadent 18th century architecture, and the Esplanade des Quinconces is the largest downtown square in Europe. Bordeaux is also an excellent shopping destination with everything from high-end boutiques in the Bordeaux Triangle to the busy flea markets of the Saint-Michel district. And there's a festival or event for almost every month of the year! Most notably the Bordeaux Wine Festival takes place every two years, bringing together all of Bordeaux's many wine connoisseurs.
You can walk through history in the many villages
Wine isn't the only reason to visit these regions. The smaller villages and towns around the major cities are beautiful in their own right and many have found themselves on UNESCO's World Heritage list. The town of Blaye is located on the banks of the Gironde Estuary, and the ancient medieval walls of its fortified citadel are worth visiting in and of themselves. Saint-Emilion is beloved by tourists from near and far thanks to its beautiful architecture and medieval monuments. It's vineyards were also the first vineyards in the world to be classified as a World Heritage site. Saintes is a small Cognac-producing town that's usually a start or end point for most of the wine routes in the Cognac region. Replete with sunflower fields and Roman ruins surrounded by green pastures, what's not to love?
Cognac is the second largest wine region in France
Did you know that almost 98% of France's Cognac is actually exported? It may not be as popular or famous as other regions, but Cognac is actually the second biggest wine region in France after Bordeaux. There are five wine routes to choose from here, taking you through charming villages and towns with plenty of opportunities to taste the nectar for yourself. Bike is an excellent way to tour the region, but it can also be done by car, and plenty of smaller producers are more than happy to let you taste their wares with or without a reservation. You can even find tasting and cooking courses if you're looking to really hone your skills!