The first five-star hotel in the brandy-making town of Cognac, Chais Monnet offers a modern take on traditional French luxe.
A complex layering of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of eaux de vie, cognac is one of the worldâ€™s most covetable spirits. Small wonder, then, that its namesake town in southwestern France draws throngs of serious collectors and brandy aficionadosâ€”the birthplace of King FranĂ§ois I is home to barrel rooms by the likes of Hennessy, RĂ©my Martin, and Baron Otard. Yet for all the wealth the destination attracts, Cognac has lacked high-class accommodation to match the standards of its tipples and deep-pocketed visitors.Â
Enter HĂ´tel Chais Monnet, Cognacâ€™s first five-star property and a shrine to the spirit that helped make the town so culturally, gastronomically, and economically important. Set on the banks of the Charente River, it revolves around a trio of refurbished mid-19th-century stone buildings (now connected by a glass atrium) that once served as the warehouses and barrel cooperage of the Monnet Cognac house. Also on hand is a purpose-built guest wing dubbed Ceps (â€śVineâ€ť), where French architect Didier Poignant pays homage to the regionâ€™s famous industry through rust-hued latticework that nods to the grapevines covering the surrounding hills. The rooftop is home to a kitchen garden with an alfresco bar planned for summer months; downstairs are guest rooms and a spa and wellness center with a heated indoor-outdoor pool.
While the accommodations in Ceps are supremely comfortable, the pick of the hotelâ€™s 92 rooms and suites are located in the old buildingsâ€”huge, character-filled guest quarters with exposed wooden beams, honey-colored oak floors, and patios overlooking immaculate lawns. There are more exposed beams in La Distillerie, a brasserie set on the top floor of the former ageing cellar, while below is an astonishing space fitted with tables surrounded by towering barrels. This is the heart of the â€ścathedral cellar,â€ť where maturing brandies were once stored and where chef SĂ©bastien Broda now helms fine-dining restaurant Les Foudres, showcasing local produce including walnuts and foraged mushrooms.Â
Brodaâ€™s meals alone are reason to linger. But cognac aficionados will also want to spend time sampling the vast collection of aged brandies in the hotelâ€™s jazz bar, which inhabits the former cooperage. Outdoor excursions are another draw. The knowledgeable concierge team at Chais Monnet can organize bespoke experiences such as touring the countryside in a Citroen 2CVâ€”roof rolled backâ€”or a bike ride and picnic amid the grapevines (33-517/223-223; doubles from US$273).Â
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This article originally appeared in the February/March 2019Â print issue of DestinAsian magazine (â€śRaising The Spiritsâ€ť).