I woke up rather late after a late call back to the States the night before, so I wasn’t planning to wander too far from “home.”  Plus, my adventure into Poitiers involved a very near miss with a deer (like swerved into the other lane and still barely missed it).  I did realize that I have no idea what to do if something like a deer collision were to happen in the middle of the night here.  It also made me determined to figure out if the main N10 highway runs closer to town!  I don’t mind doing 90 KPH on crazy country back roads during the day, but I think I’m done with it at night because, well, deer collision.

After looking out at the grey and dreariness going on (and the river getting awfully high on it’s banks (overflows are open), I decided that I should check my list of weekend ideas against the weather.

I’ve discovered that I’m somewhat ideally located.  A little over an hour SW is Cognac, 2 hours SW is Bordeaux, 2-3 hours N are the Chateaus of the Loire Valley and less than 2 hours W is La Rochelle on the Atlantic Coast.  Winning by virtue of being closest (about an hour), and with nice weather projected, was Cognac.  As I was driving along the aptly named “Route de Cognac,” my GPS tells me to take a left . . . which I did, somewhat dubiously.  For the third time, I found myself routed onto a tiny one lane road (two directions of traffic though) meandering through the countryside.  On the upside, I saw some of the actual Cognac vineyards!

I freely admit that I know virtually nothing about Cognac, so I thought I’d head to the little Musée des Arts du Cognac after reading online that it is a great introduction to Cognac.  When I first started through the museum, I was afraid that my lack of general interest/knowledge about alcohol was going to make it a miss for me.  I did think this Cognac bottle from 1850 was pretty interesting though!  There was a whole series of bottles showing the evolution of different styles, brands and labels.  The ancient equipment on display was interesting too, but at this point I was pretty happy it only cost 4 Euro!

The exhibit then had videos (with a free English translation on an audio guide) and the one area started talking about how Cognac is made – how the acidity of the type of grapes and alcohol volume make it perfect for distilling, how the Dutch were the ones who really pushed the market for distilled wine, etc.  Then, it explained how a Cognac has to be grown in a specific region (with even differences in the region creating more of a lavender flavor in Cognacs from the Borderies, but more white peach in the Champagnes and Fine Bois areas (see map below).  This type of information seemed much more interesting – what it is that uniquely makes a “Cognac.”

Then, it was time to go down an old flight of stairs (love how they reuse old buildings as museums in Europe!) and see the display of how Cognac is advertised differently by region.  Lots of Western symbols and red used in Asia, the knowledge of how Cognac is made sells itself in Europe (with simple designs) and young Cognacs in flashy bottles for America, where we don’t properly drink Cognac as a digestif straight, but instead put it in mixed drinks.

 
 



After checking out a display about the paper advertising for Cognac through history (with impressive examples) and an area about how making glass bottles has transformed over the history of Cognac, it was time to wander around the city.  I hadn’t realized that Cognac tastings are not like wine tastings in Oregon and you generally need to book your tour in advance!  I found one place that had a final tour that was still being offered, but the remaining tour was only in French.  I thought I could make better use of my time by seeing what the city had to offer and sampling some Cognac at dinner.  Given the stuff is made near here, it isn’t hard to find!

One of the great things about these little European towns is that you can find something to photograph virtually anywhere.  A school building, an old church packed so tightly into a narrow city street that you can only photograph a narrow slice of the front (capturing the stunning window), random homes in Cognac that look like they belong in a Bavarian village and old castles that are owned by the Cognac families for tasting rooms & tours.

Further exploration of the city led me to Cognac’s Hôtel de Ville, which contrary to what it sounds like is NOT a hotel.  The Hôtel de Ville is typically the town administration building.  In Cognac, it is surrounded by a lovely public garden area with a fountain.  Similar to what I discovered about where the locals go in Marseille, Cognac felt like a ghost town until I reached two areas – the Hôtel de Ville gardens and a pedestrian street closed to cars and lined with shops, where it appears the whole town was shopping and dining in cafes on a late Saturday afternoon.

I wrapped up my time in Cognac by taking a walk through this lovely remnant of an old city wall?  Hard to say, but it is common to see portions of ancient structures that are still incorporated into the design of the city (walls, aqueducts, etc).  Through the gates was a lovely river walk along the Charente River.

Having not eaten since breakfast, I decided it was time to head back and stop in at a restaurant recommended by the owners of the cottage.  It was 30 min away in the direction of Cognac, so a great location to pair with my trip!  On my way there, I suddenly saw what appeared to be the turrets of a castle on the horizon.  As I drove past it and over the river, I had to stop and take a photo . . . not as castle-like, but this view just perfectly summed up a drive through rural France – tiny roads in the middle of nowhere, when suddenly you come upon a city and something like this is just hanging out there:

The restaurant was worth the recommendation!  I decided that, since I’m eating most dinners in and typically a sandwich meal at lunch, that once a weekend I would have a nice meal out.  Auberge de l’Argentor served me delicious spicy chips and garlic olives with my aperitif.  I haven’t really been drinking since I arrived in France – one glass of sparkling wine on Friday at lunch (it’s the norm here), so after my tour of Cognac, I felt like I should try the product of the region.  The aperitif I had was perfect!  It was then dinner hour, so I ordered my entrée of hot chèvre salad and waited to see what EXACTLY would show up.  

First, a tiny little starter came out that was some type of veggie drink (very tasty) and a caramelized veggie (aka legume) crostini.  Then, the entrée (in French, an appetizer) came.  It was incredibly good, although I had no idea what some of it was.  The patties under the chèvre seemed almost like a fried chickpea patty?  Something along those lines.  My plat (main dish) came shortly after the entrée was complete.  The photo makes the steak look smaller than it seemed (actually, I couldn’t finish the fries because I was so full) and the carrot quiche slice was quite tasty.  The sauce is a peppercorn sauce that is quite common in this region as well.  Very nice presentation and the food was the best I’ve had in France.  I keep thinking that I’ve had *really* good food here, then I find somewhere even better.  No wonder France is known for their food!