Opening Doors At Hotel Chais Monnet

Meet One Of The Team's Best Ambassadors At This Gateway To Cognac Country

Pauline Cyrus

Assistant Front Office Manager, Hotel Chais Monnet

"Ready?" says Pauline Cyrus, adjusting a bright wool scarf over her trench coat. We are off for an afternoon in the countryside around Cognac to visit a family-run distillery, a century-old maker of organic beauty products, and the only producer of artisanal balsamic vinegar in France. All in a day's work for Pauline, the assistant front office manager at the Hôtel Chais Monnet in Cognac, whose portfolio of responsibilities includes finding and organizing authentic experiences to introduce guests to the region. As she settles into one of the hotel's vintage cars, a Citroen 2CV, for the ride, Pauline checks the route on her cellphone and smiles. "I love my job," she says.

Pauline Cyrus, Assistant Front Office Manager, Hotel Chais Monnet. Courtesy of Hotel Chais Monnet.

Lokale Empfehlungen

Authentic Experiences In Cognac Country, Exclusively For Guests Of Hotel Chais Monnet

Shortly after arriving at the Hôtel Chais Monnet, Pauline got started on researching the area and making contacts to help introduce the hotel to its new neighbors—and potential partners in hospitality. "There are so many fascinating aspects to this area," Pauline says. "Cognac production is a big part of the heritage, but it is only the beginning. I have found that once you start talking to people here, you find that they know their history and are so proud of it, and they love to share it—especially one on one."

Pauline Cyrus dug deep into the history and culture of the region to find the people, places and experiences that shape its special character. Here are five of her discoveries, some of the best things to do in Cognac, France.

Charente River Cruise

Sightseeing Along The Region's "Superhighway"

Cognac would never have become Cognac without the Charente River. Grape-growers needed the river to transport their wine to market through the port of La Rochelle. Later, distillers used it to receive equipment from the Netherlands to turn the grapes into Cognac, and to ship the finished bottles around the world. Today the Charente is no longer a superhighway for local commerce, but there is no better way to get in touch with the history of Cognac country than by taking a cruise in a gabarre, or river barge, past the towns and villages that grew up during Cognac's heyday. Pauline and her colleagues can arrange it, along with a picnic lunch and admission to sites that normally are closed to the public.

The Charente river is the backbone of Cognac country, winding past vineyards and chateaus. Courtesy of Hotel Chais Monnet.

Cognac Farmer's Markets

Shop With The Chef For A Taste Of The Region's Bounty

The Charentais region of southwestern France sets a nice table. Known for Limousin beef, Poitou-Charentes lamb, and Chalais veal, the region also benefits from proximity to the oyster beds of Oléron and the duck farms of the Périgord. The open-air markets in Cognac and in the nearby villages of Jarnac and Saintes are feasts for the cook's imagination. Sébastien Broda, the Michelin-starred chef who oversees the restaurants at Hôtel Chais Monnet, relishes the chance to introduce guests to "a culinary voyage of discovery." Guests of the hotel can sign up to accompany Sébastien on a morning trip to a market, followed by a master class in the kitchens preparing lunch to share.

Sébastien Broda, the chef at the Hotel Chais Monnet, will share his favorite markets with guests. Courtesy of Hotel Chais Monnet.

The Best Places For Cognac

A Private Tour And Cognac Tasting

Although four major global enterprises control around 80 percent of the world market for Cognac, there are still hundreds of independent producers who carry on the tradition started by their ancestors. One of Pauline's first tasks at Hôtel Chais Monnet was to establish contact with as many local Cognac producers as possible to see if they would be willing to host hotel guests for tours and tastings. "The response was fantastic," she says. As a result, if guests taste a Cognac they like among the more than 400 varieties on offer in the hotel’s bar, Le 1838, chances are Pauline can arrange a visit to the producer. "Cognac makers are passionate about their work," she says."

The Maine Gaillard distillery will welcome Chais Monnet guests for a private tour and tasting. Courtesy of Hotel Chais Monnet.

Where To Eat In Cognac

Take A Vintage Vehicle To Dinner

The French love a good road trip, especially in a car full of character that makes heads turn as you drive by. Hôtel Chais Monnet has three such cars–a 1954 Jaguar sedan and two Citroen 2CVs—that it makes available to guests for self-guided excursions. (Anyone whose driving skills do not include mastery of a dashboard-mounted stick shift can ask a member of the hotel staff to chauffeur them.) "The owner of the hotel loves cars, and he thought it would be something special, something very French, to offer our guests," Pauline says. And as long as you're out, finish the day with dinner out. Locals recommend the Bistro de Claude (35 Rue Grande; +33-5-45-82-60-32) in Cognac; start with the cold oysters with hot sausages, followed by the catch of the day.

A classic Jaguar sedan is available for guests to tour the region. Courtesy of Hotel Chais Monnet.

Handmade Products From Cognac

From Beauty Products To Balsamic Vinegar

At first glance, life in Cognac country seems quiet, but the area is a hive of entrepreneurial activity. In Bourg Charente, Féret Parfumeur is a family-run firm that has been making beauty products out of natural ingredients and marketing them to fashionable women since 1878. In Bouteville, a start-up, Compagnie de Bouteville (1 Rue Montmorency, Bouteville; +33-5-45-64-92-76) takes leftover wine from Cognac-making and turns it into award-winning balsamic vinegar sold in La Grande Epicerie in Paris and around the world. Pauline and her colleagues are happy to arrange visits to these and other local artisans for hotel guests, who will be warmly welcomed not as tourists but as future friends. "The best experiences here in Cognac are the ones that revolve around meeting people," Pauline says.

The Compagnie de Bouteville, near Cognac, makes artisanal balsamic vinegar. Courtesy of Hotel Chais Monnet.
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