Cognac Country with a Twist – Jarnac, France
Slightly off the beaten track of gourmet travelling, Jarnac is a hamlet filled with activities to interest the gourmet and the family traveller alike, from handmade chocolates, to world-renowned cognac houses such as Courvoisier and Louis Royer. Located between the more well-known towns of Cognac and Angoulême, the Charente river runs through the heart of Jarnac, making it the perfect summer vacation spot.
Jarnac, due to its President son, is full of cultural intrigue, most of which can be found in L’Espace Culturel de L’Orangerie. For starters, there is the Donation François Mitterrand, a collection of gifts the President received from all over the world, throughout his term in office. There is also a collection of French architectural exhibits, including tributes to the Louvre, Opera Bastille etc, an exhibition centre, and a library containing a small collection of English-language books, and internet-connected computers.
Guided tours of Old Jarnac Town, including St. Pierre (Peter) church with its 13th-century crypt, are available starting from the tourist office. The mayor of Jarnac makes a special effort to encourage the arts in his town, with international artists in residence, and many small festivals such as the chocolate festival in October, and the Christmas markets in December. Like most French towns, Jarnac has a daily fresh food market, which is a wonder for any foreign visitor.
Jarnac is home to many of the world’s finest cognac houses, although not all open their doors to the public. But cognac houses offer just a part of the cognac-making process. In Jarnac you can also visit the coopers (barrel makers) who are so essential to the region, as well as the local viticulturists (people who grow grapes). Many of these viticulturists produce their own pineau (a mixture of eaux-de-vie, or spirit of Cognac, with grape juice to produce a sweet and potent drink rather like a very hearty dessert wine) and cognac, and are more than happy to show you around their operation. You may even be lucky enough to be given a free sample of their wares.
The birthplace of the much-celebrated ex-French President, François Mitterand, Jarnac is also home to another much-celebrated French production Cognac.
Courvoisier The Cognac of Napoleon
One of the first things that you will notice when you enter Jarnac, is the magnificent Chateau de Courvoisier, which dominates the town center. Courvoisier, the holder of many international prizes for cognac, bases its operations in Jarnac, and is responsible for much of the tourism in the area. In the summer months, Couvoisier offers a tour of its museum daily from June to the end of August from 11am till 7pm, and excluding Saturdays in May and September. The tours are offered in both English and French, and are very informative, including a detailed exploration of the history of Courvoisier, the House’s links with Napoleon, the cognac-making process, and audio/visual presentation. The tour is summed up with a rundown of Courvoisier’s merchandise (some exclusively sold in the museum boutique, available nowhere else in Europe), as well as a gift of a Courvoisier sample. A must for every cognac lover.
Located further down the river Charente from Courvoisier, Louis Royer provides a different cognac experience. The tours are given in French and English, and the guides are very friendly and informative. Although the visitor is impressed by the sheer size of the Louis Royer cellars, the tour lacks the interest and sophistication of Courvoisier, but makes up for this by joyfully pouring out sample after sample of their range. Unlike Courvoisier, you cannot take these samples with you, but you can sure enjoy yourself at the time. Louis Royer has diversified its production also, so you may taste different products. Also, visits to Louis Royer are free.
Louis Royer House of Cognac has a unique attachment to Jarnac, as the mayor of the town, Jerome Royer, is an executive of the company.
As mentioned above, boutique vendors often viticulturists often sell their own range of cognac or pineau. They are usually more than happy to show visitors around their operation. The boutique vendors are a pleasure to visit, to see small-scale, authentic cognac production. The Freres Moine (Moine Brothers) are at the top of the “to visit” list, offering a barrel-making demonstration, free pickup from the Tourist Office, and liberal cognac tasting.
Jarnac plays host to a number of activities over the summer, the most popular being the vast variety of sports on offer. In addition to the playground, swimming pool and basket ball courts to be found at the camping ground, there is kayaking/canoeing, cycling along the many tracks into surrounding towns, walking, horse riding, fishing, tennis and golf, but to name a few. Boat hire, to explore the length of the Charente River, is also available.
The Surrounding Region
Cognac: Hosts other Cognac Houses such as Remy Martin and market leader, Hennessy. A beautiful old town, with traces of the old town walls still visible, Cognac is a town famous for its luxury goods and exclusive residents.
Angouleme: Location of the internationally famous Comic Festival, Angouleme is a large and lively town, with a “happening” social scene. Well worth a visit.
Bassac: A tiny hamlet, whose abbey offers excellent tours, as well as spiritual retreats.
Campgrounds: Take advantage of beautiful weather, basketball courts, swimming pool, playground, and its location next to the Charente River provides opportunities for kayaking etc.
House Boat: Up and down the Charente river, rented out by Crown Blue Line.
Chateaux: Several beautiful old chateaux in the area now offer B&B-style accommodation.
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