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We all know of Cognac for its famous alcoholic drink. It’s not brandy as any Cognac lover will tell you, it’s eau de vie, the water of life. There’s no real translation for it into English that conveys quite the same meaning.

Cognac is also a rather lovely town in the Charente department, where the pace of life is relaxed, the historic buildings are beautiful and the history is tangible.

5 Things to do and see in Cognac

Cognac tasting

You can’t go to Cognac and not try a tasting of the famous eau de vie. There are plenty of places to do it but one of the most unique and truly special venues is Chateau Royale de Cognac, home of the Baron Otard Cognacs.

It’s located on the river front, in a magnificent castle built on the site of a 10th century fort, in which the French King Francis I was born in 1494. As soon as you enter the castle you can smell the Cognac maturing in the cellars. Baron Otard, the founder of the house, bought the castle because he knew the thick walls and damp cellar over the River Charente would be perfect for the slumbering Cognac. He wasn’t wrong.

A fabulous tour and tasting can be had here and there’s a super boutique area where you can buy some to take home.

Wander the ancient cobbled streets

The old town is small but lovely and houses dating from the 15th century to the 19th century can be spotted in the cobbled streets. Pick up a walking route map from Cognac tourist office and follow the “King’s Walk” trail which takes you through the old town, pointing out the historic buildings which date back to the days of the salt trade that Cognac was famous for before it became known for eau de vie.

Take a break in the public park where there are peacocks strutting, ducks quacking and tinkling fountains to soothe.

Take a boat ride

The River Charente runs through the middle of Cognac, wide and gentle it’s perfect for a boat ride. Maison Hennessy include a solar powered boat ride in their behind the scenes tour, following in the ripples of the ancient wooden gabarre barges that used to carry the Cognac barrels up and down the river.

Take in a museum

Cognacians are proud of their famous product as you’ll discover when you visit the Espace Découverte en Pays du Cognac. Located in one of the oldest Cognac houses in the town, you’ll learn everything about the heritage and history of Cognac country. Right next door is the Musée des Arts du Cognac in a modern building with exhibits which retrace the history of eau de vie. Themed visits, lectures and workshops also take place here.

Wine and dine

There are lots of great restaurants in Cognac. Two of our favourites are: Le Bistro Claude and L’Atelier des Quais.

Le Bistro Claude serves superb fresh food picked by the chef and owner and made into an imaginative and utterly delicious menu, and of course there are lots of cognac brands to choose from.

L’Atelier des Quais doesn’t look like anything special from the front door on the bridge but it’s very misleading – this place is fabulous. Enter downstairs through the gates leading off the river and you’ll find yourself in a beautiful little courtyard. The restaurant is smart, bistro-ish and the menu is superb.

French Connections has lots of excellent holiday rentals in the Charente department – we love to help you make your holiday dreams come true

The French Connections team will be at The France Show in London 25-27 January 2019 and we have 100 tickets to give away!

We’re one of the leading websites for property rentals in France with gorgeous gites, beautiful B&Bs, enchanting chateaux and charming villas for rent. And, if you have a property you want to rent out – come and see us, we can help you get bookings for next year!

The France Show brings you the best of France, a real flavour of the best French food, wine, property, holiday ideas, travel offers and entertainment. The lovely cancan dancers will be there of course – and it’s all under one roof. It’s a great day out without having to travel to France!

There’s a French market, you’ll meet top French chefs and enjoy their fabulous cookery demonstrations, and, you can join tutored wine tasting classes where you’ll get to sample some of the finest French wines. Join in the workshops at the language and travel theatre and meet the experts.

There are some great presenters this year including Anthony Peregrine, the expert on France at the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Times – he’ll be entertaining you with his tales of authentic France and says he’s “enthusiastic about eating, drinking, watching rugby and recounting tales of kings and Cathars until listeners fall asleep”. And Ian Moore, author and comedian will be back to make you laugh with tales of his life and new B&B venture in France.

The France Show also hosts the largest French Property Exhibition in the UK.

Our very own Janine Marsh, author and travel writer, who writes our weekly blog will also be there, she’ll be chatting about life in northern France on the Flavours of France stage on Friday and Saturday.

We really look forward to meeting you there, stop by our stand and say hi!

GET TICKETS TO THE FRANCE SHOW

Just click on the link below to get your free tickets – it’s first come, first served so don’t delay, click away!

The France Show 25-27 January; 10am-5pm Friday and Saturday | 10am-4pm Sunday

Enjoy a great French day out in the heart of London – see you there!

Click here to get your tickets for FREE:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-france-show-2019-tickets-48331137734?discount=EX224

Tucked away in the vast vineyards of Bordeaux, lies Saint Emilion, a historic and picturesque, UNESCO world heritage site - not to mention one of the most famous wine villages on the world.

What to see and do in Saint Emilion

Wander: Every corner is a photo opp here, it’s seriously pretty, a town of terracotta roof tops, medieval architecture and cobbled streets lined with wine shops, wine bars, restaurants, galleries and boutiques. It’s an easy town to discover on foot – as long as you don’t mind hills. It’s traditional to climb the steep hill in the centre of the village, but make sure you wear flat shoes, you really won’t want to go up or down this cobbled challenge with heels on! There is a central railing part of the way and hardly anyone makes it without clinging on at some point, even the locals are respectful on this hill. You’ll get the most beautiful views from the bell tower or the square above the church – simply stunning.

Vineyard on the edge of St Emilion

Tour the Vineyards: Surrounded by miles and miles of beautiful vineyards, you can just stroll to the outskirts of town to take in the sight but better still, take a tour and see the vines up close and learn the history of the area. You can book a guided tour with the tourist office or a tuk tuk, Segway or ebike tour – all roads lead to the vineyards. There are more than 1000 wine makers here spread out over 5,500 hectares producing 2.5million cases each year – cheers!

Take a break: There are around 40 restaurants in the town ranging from snack food to Michelin starred. Push the boat out at the Logis de la Cadene – Chef Alexandre Baumard and his team prepare utterly exquisite food in a gorgeous location for a memorable dining experience, though its not formal or stuff, just delicious. On a hot day, buy an ice cream and dip your feet in the ice-cold waters from the natural spring that flow into the ancient wash house where town folk once gathered to launder their clothes. Enjoy a bit of shade and tranquil ambience with a glass of wine at the 14th century Cordeliers Cloisters, a listed Historic Monument. Nibble on one of the famous Saint Emilion macarons, they’re very moreish and perfect for keeping your energy up as you saunter the streets, visit the vineyards and drink in the delectable sites.

Discover the history of the monk Emilion, after whom the town is named: You’d never know from looking at the monolithic Church (the largest in Europe) in the main square that it hides an incredible secret. You’ll need to book a tour at the tourist office to get inside this now private venue to discover the cave where Emilion, a humble man of God, arrived in the 8th century. It’s also the location for what was the town’s catacombs and don’t be surprised to see a bone or two still sticking out of the ground! It’s a fascinating place, the sense of history is evident, and very cool on a hot day – well worth booking up for (at the tourist office).

Wine tasting: You can’t really visit Saint Emilion and not do a wine tasting – there’s loads of choice, so just pick what appeals. If you want to have a really fun tasting and learn loads while drinking some of the best and mostly organic Saint Emilion wines, head to Le Wine Buff St Emilion, 2 rue du Marche, where you’ll meet Paddy O’Flynn, an affable Irishman whose been in Saint Emilion for decades - and what he doesn’t know about wine doesn’t count. Enjoy a wine tasting, the most delicious tapas in a shady courtyard and get a bottle or several to take home from the excellent selection in store.

There’s also La Maison du vin close to the tourist office which holds workshops, wine tastings and has a very good boutique of wine.

Top tip: Head to Saint Emilion tourist office first and pick up a map and lots of info about the town.

Reims, the capital of Champagne is small enough to walk everywhere, big enough to offer something to suit just about everyone. And, of course, it’s a place where the bubbles pop!

Stellar Cellars in Reims

You can’t go to Reims and not visit a Champagne house and the biggest and one of the best in town is Champagne GH Mumm & Co. (pronounced “moom” as in “took”). Walk through their hallowed doors and you’ll enter the world of myth, celebrity and champagne glory. It began in 1827, a company of three brothers whose legacy is a legend. George Hermann, the son of one of the brothers, gave the company his name: ‘GH’, and its motto “only the best”. GH may be long gone, but his philosophy lives on. Take a tour to discover the history of the company and of Champagne.

Head a little way out of the centre to visit Champagne Ruinart, the oldest Champagne house in existence. They also offer a tour which is fascinating and takes you under Reims into the chalk quarries where the Champagne matures. They don’t have a shop as such but a boutique where you can order from an iPad and someone will nip to the cellar and bring your bottles up – superb!

There are thousands of different flavours to Champagne - some might only be subtle, but others are really widely different. It depends on the blend, the terroir, that impossible to explain French word that means soil, climate, and a few other things. It depends on the ageing and the cellar master and experts who decide how much sugar, yeast and wine to add. It’s complicated and rigorously controlled for the hundreds of Champagne houses who produce around 320 million bottles each year.

Taking a tour will enable you to learn fascinating facts and of course get to taste the results of hundreds of years of perfecting the drink that has become synonymous with luxury, celebration, love and happiness.

Raise your glass in Reims

At the Boutique Tresors de Champagne (2, rue Olivier Métra), artisan Champagne producers club together to provide the most delicious fizz, more than 170 varieties. It’s the perfect place for a Champagne tasting, workshop. to buy bottles to take home and to discover more about the bubbles and the provenance of the production.

Visit Pol Couronne’s Champagne shop and tasting bar in the shadow of the cathedral (11 Cours Jean-Baptiste Langlet). Utterly delicious bubbles in a fabulous location where you can also learn the art of sabrage (opening a bottle with a sword), take a workshop and learn about the fizzx.

Culture Vulture in Reims

The best place to start is at the UNESCO listed Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims. You can’t overestimate the importance of this gothic masterpiece, it’s a truly symbolic emblem of France and a place of enormous history. This is the place where Christian France is said to have begun. A plaque inside the church marks the spot where on Christmas Day in 496 AD bishop Remi baptised Clovis, King of the Franks.

Dining out in Reims

Foodies should head to rue Porte du Champ de Mars (a nod to the city’s Roman past and the huge Roman triumphal arch which remains, an incredible monument) for fabulous gourmet food shops and the covered market Halles du Boulingrin (open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday mornings). If you’re there on a weekend or peak visiting season, try to book in advance as the best restaurants get booked up quickly.

Champagne is enjoyed with lunch, dinner, supper, as an aperitif and a digestif!

As officially the sunniest place in France, with the greatest number of sunshine hours (264 days), Marseille makes for a terrific year-round destination.

There’s heaps to do in this colourful city on the edge of the Mediterranean and in the last few years its been cleaned up, spruced up and tuned up with new museums, shops, restaurants and bars. Best way to find your bearings: Take a tour. You might like the “petite train”, there are two routes, the Notre Dame de la Gare one is best and saves you climbing some very steep hills. Pick up a city pass from the tourist office which will give you coverage on public transport, entry to major attractions and includes a guided bus tour or boat ride – it’s a bargain.

Here are 5 of our Marseille must-sees

Vieux Port – the old Port of Marseille

Anchors clanking, Wedgewood blue sky, turquoise waters, wide boulevards lined with restaurants that are teeming with people lingering over coffee and pastries in the morning, long long lunches, afternoon refreshment and late late dinners. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking no one goes to work in Marseilles since bars, cafes and restaurants around the Port seem to be permanently buzzing! Watch the fishermen selling fresh fish direct to the public from the quayside, admire the fabulous Norman Foster-designed Miroir Ombriere, an enormous mirrored shade and soak up the ambiance in one of the most exciting areas of Marseille.

Eating and Drinking: Around the bay is very picturesque and tends to be pricier. Head off the main tourist tracks to experience real Bouillabaise, the ubiquitous fish dish of Marseille and expect to pay around 40 Euros a head, it’s worth it, a memorable dish.

Vieux Ville – the old town of Marseille

Head up to Le Panier, the old town to explore the little lanes, boutiques and art galleries. It’s a great place for lunch (not for dinner, the choice is less).

Notre Dame de la Garde

The view from the Basilica is simply breath-taking as you see Marseille spread out below and around you. You can easily pick out the white dome of the football stadium where the local football team Olympique Marseille play, but what really strikes you is the way the town looks almost Roman, with terracotta roofs galore and pastel coloured buildings that reflect the sun. Here, with the smell of pine trees, is an air of tranquillity despite the hordes of tourists staggering around with selfie sticks. You almost feel as though you’re on the edge of a bowl in which Marseille is contained.

They say in Marseille that La Bonne Mère, the gold statue atop the Church, looks after believers on the way up, making sure they’re safe climbing those hills and stairs, struggling to reach her and praise her. Apparently she takes no notice on the way down so watch your step!

MuCEM

Unveilled in 2013 to mark Marseille’s role as European Capital of Culture, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations is a waterfront spectacle crafted by local Algerian-born "starchitect" Rudy Ricciotti. Linked by footbridge to Fort Saint-Jean, a maze-like 17th century stronghold constructed for Louis XIV. MuCEM is a spectacular sight with its fishnet style concrete walls. A terrific permanent collection, superb temporary exhibitions, café at Fort St-Jean and cookery school and gastronomic restaurant on the roof of MuCEM run by 3 Michel star chef Gérald Passedat. Don’t miss this one.

Relax on the beach

You could head to the Calanques National Park by boat from the Vieux Port (about 40 mins) or by bus. The turquoise coloured crystal-clear waters that are the stuff of dreams. Situated between Marseille and Cassis, this place has wow factor in bucket loads, great for swimming, walking, boating or just drinking in those magnificent views.

Or relax on Marseille’s city beaches. We like La Corniche, a picturesque seaside roadway that meanders along the Mediterranean coast. This 5 km stretch includes a three-kilometre segment that was renamed in honour of President Kennedy. Head down to the area below the Corniche where you’ll find rocky inlets and sandy beaches and the Vallon des Auffes, a little fishing port that retains a traditional feel with little huts and some really great restaurants – here is where you’ll find some of the best bouillabaise.

Nip over to our rentals pages to find your dream holiday area in the south of France…