Hôtel Chais Monnet & Spa is a converted cognac distillery on the banks of the River Charente, with butter-soft interiors in an oak-beamed mansion and a fine-dining restaurant in the barrel-lined cellar. There’s an ultra-modern edge too, though – architect Didier Poignant’s striking glass pavilion sits above the pool and spa, and there’s a rooftop garden beneath a lattice of iron girders. The old cooperage has been transformed into a cocktail-shaking jazz bar, and there’s a brunch-serving bistro in a former warehouse refitted by local carpenters.
A terrace is handy for room service in the sun, and request a room with original oak beams for an extra dose of ooh lah lah. The sumptuous Junior Suites have a living space furnished with a plush sofa and fauteuil armchairs.
The heated pool (open from 7am to 9pm) is long enough for lengths and has a bubbling Jacuzzi at one end. On sunny days, swim out to the open-air section.
The impeccable spa (open from 9am to 8pm) and beauty salon offer a full suite of treatments, including massages and body scrubs using Codage and Kos products. There’s a fitness room, hammam and sauna, too.
A journal, for taking tasting notes on the many cognacs you’ll sample – not that we’re necessarily saying you won’t remember…
There are four rooms designed for wheelchair users, and all buildings at the hotel are accessible.
All ages welcome. Extra beds and cots can be added to all suites.
The Presidential (Jean Gabriel Monnet) Suite comes with a kitchen, dining room and living room, as well as butler service to keep even the most demanding ankle-biter happy.
The brilliant kids club is open every Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 5pm during the summer season. There's also a dedicated nanny who has a whole host of fun activities up her sleeve; although 48 hours notice is needed.
Borrow bikes to explore the local area, or take a short drive to several family-favourites nearby. Head for the Paléosite de Saint-Cesaire for archaeological intrigue and a ten-hectare park, Les ânes de la Rêverie for donkey walks and horse riding, or Cep Enchante for fun and games in a vineyard. And for water sports lovers, you can canoe or paddle board to your heart's content on the Charente river, just ten minutes' walk from the hotel.
The 25m indoor-outdoor swimming pool is heated.
Highchairs and baby-changing facilities are available at both restaurants, but don’t expect fish fingers on the menu – even youngsters order from the grown-up selection.
Book a babysitter at least eight days in advance.
No need to pack
Paints and crayons – the hotel has plenty at the ready, for the mini Monets amongst you.
Snag a table outside at La Distillerie, and enjoy a typically lengthy French lunch in the sun.
Dress down for La Distillerie, and up for Les Foudres.
Chef Marc-Antoine Lepage oversees two tantalising restaurants: La Distillerie – a buzzy, lantern-lit brasserie – and fine dining options Les Foudres, open just for dinner, where gourmet creations are served up in an intimate underground chamber lined with time-worn cognac barrels. Lepage sources farm-fresh produce from across southern France – expect creamy Poitou goats cheese, legendary Echiré butter, and fines de claire oysters from the Atlantic coast. On Saturdays, book in for the table d’hôtel, a seasonal set menu devised by the chef each week. If you’ve any appetite between meals, pop into Angélique Café for just-baked cakes and pastries from the talented pastry chef, alongside Le Parti du Thé tea and a bespoke blend of Merling coffee.
Live jazz takes centre stage under the vaulted ceiling at Le 1838, which is housed in the maison’s old cooperage (and open every evening from September to April from 5pm to 1pm). The cognac connoisseur can pick from several hundred local varieties behind the bar, or mix it up (literally) in a cocktail – go for The Road Jack if you like the sound of Cognac VS, white Pineau des Charentes, lemon thyme syrup, floral honey and a dash of sparkling water. And up at Rooftop Guinguet (named for the outdoor dance halls that fluorished in France in the Roaring Twenties), watch the sun set over the Cognac landscape, expertly mixed cocktail in hand.
La Distillerie is open daily for breakfast (6.30am to 10am), lunch (12pm to 2pm) and dinner (7pm to 10pm). Les Foudres serves dinner from 7pm to 9.30pm from Wednesday to Sunday. Angélique Café is open daily from 10am to 6pm.
La Distillerie's menu is available as room service during restaurant hours seven days a week; on Fridays and Saturdays, dinner from Les Foudres can be served in your room for a gastronomic feast with extra privacy.
Hôtel Chais Monnet & Spa is on the banks of the River Charente in the mediaeval town of Cognac, in southwestern France.
Fly into Bordeaux airport (British Airways, Easyjet and Ryanair have routes from nine cities in the UK), then head inland by car to Cognac. The 130km journey takes around two hours; a private hotel transfer can be arranged for €280 each way. You can also fly into La Rochelle-Ile de Ré Airport (there are routes from six cities in the UK), then head inland by car to Cognac; the 110km journey takes around 90 minutes.
You can take high-speed TGV trains to Angoulême from Bordeaux (35 minutes), Paris (two hours) and Strasbourg (six hours). Angoulême station is 45 minutes from the hotel by car; a hotel transfer is €95 each way. There are also trains connecting Angoulême Station to Cognac Station, which is five minutes from the hotel by car.
There’s a ready-made road trip from Bordeaux, taking in the wine regions, rolling countryside and Cognac – just make sure you’re not the only designated driver. At the hotel, pull up at reception and leave your wheels with the valet.
Worth getting out of bed for
Go for a morning dip in the indoor-outdoor pool, cleanse your pores in the sauna and steam room, or work off last night’s brandy extravaganza in the gym. Pick a prettifying Codage or Kos treatment at the spa, or plump for the signature ‘Aroma of Chai’ massage and facial. Between lunch at La Distillerie and dinner at Les Foudres, take afternoon tea courtesy of the pastry chef at Angélique Café. Later, there’ll be live jazz and cocktails at Le 1838.
Cognac is not just about cognac, you know. Pineau des Charentes is the local fortified wine – try it as an apéritif, or stop at one of the many small-scale producers to find out how it’s made. Swap grape for grain at Brasserie des Gabariers (39 Rue de Bellefonds), a microbrewery specialising in hop-heavy pale ales and craft lagers. The Charente river is best experienced by boat – book a tour through the hotel concierge, and cruise through the picture-perfect valley, stopping at sleepy mediaeval villages and fairytale châteaux along the way. If you go as far as Angoulême, you’ll find the self-proclaimed ‘Comic strip capital of the world’ – check out the Comic Strip Museum for the full story (board). And for water sports lovers, you can canoe or paddle board to your heart's content on the Charente river, just ten minutes' walk from the hotel.
When in Cognac…you’re practically obliged to tour the cognac houses. Start with Hennessy (Rue de la Richonne, 16100), and compare it to Martell and Rémy Martin.
There’s nothing quite like a proper French crêpe, and that’s exactly what you get at Crêperie L’Olympia (34 Rue du Canton) – stick to the classic Suzette or complète, or experiment with savoury fillings such as pan-fried scallops and grilled shrimps. You don’t get a lot of choice at homey Chez Aristide (38 Rue Aristide Briand), but you can’t go wrong with the menu du jour. La Rôtisserie de Philippe (3, Allées B. Guionnet) does the simple things best – succulent chicken, basted in a secret sauce, and roasted on a spit (there’s a deli counter too, for takeaway picnic-fillers). Les Pigeons Blancs (110 Rue Jules Brisson) is a former coaching inn turned riverside restaurant, concocting beautifully presented dishes including duck foie gras with fig chutney, and truffle-infused veal medallions.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this luxury hotel in France and unpacked their brandy and blue cheese, a full account of their Bordeaux break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Hôtel Chais Monnet & Spa in Cognac…
Hôtel Chais Monnet & Spa is a bit like a good brandy: it’s got contrasting but complementary layers, a great backstory, and it’ll leave you pleasantly light-headed. The hallmarks of its past are proudly preserved – there might be an ancient oak beam above your bed, or a repurposed barrel by your table in restaurant – but the once-industrial complex has been given a up-to-the-minute makeover. Descend in a glass lift to the subterranean spa for a Codage treatment or swim in the pool, then book in for dinner at Sebastien Broda’s visionary gourmet restaurant, Les Foudres. A dedicated pastry chef bakes fresh cakes for afternoon tea each day, and in the evenings you’ll be joined by locals for live jazz in Le 1838. Cognac (in hundreds of variants) is definitely on the menu, but it’s up to you how you enjoy it. Straight-up – the old-fashioned way, or mixed up in a house cocktail – for a modern twist on a timeless classic.