Charente: Day 2

Day two was our only full day in Charente, so it was by far the busiest. We spent the morning and early afternoon in Cognac and the rest of the day in Saintes, a town about 30 miles away.

We began at a visitor’s center in Cognac, which gave us an overview of the history of the region. Afterward, we took a walk along the Charente river on our way to Otard, a cognac manufacturer.

Seeing this view, I thought I might want to move to Cognac. Later in the day, I decided against this.

Maison Otard is housed in Chateau de Cognac, also known as Chateau Francois Iere. Francois I, king of France, was born here. My history geek side reveled.

Although the salamander did not become the emblem of Francois I while he lived at the chateau, Maison Otard has decorated the walls with salamanders and insignias to commemorate his life at the chateau.

What I’ve always imagined the music room of my future chateau to look like. If the stone were replaced with wood, it would be perfect.

We took a tour through the chateau and learned about the cognac distillation process before enjoying a cognac tasting.

After the tasting was our lunch time. We were given two hours to grab lunch and explore cognac. My friends and I headed to the center of town, where we’d heard all the shops were. After walking down several cobblestone side streets, we heard music playing. Following it, we reached the main street. It was a Saturday afternoon at roughly noon and the area was completely empty. Not a person was in sight; the recorded music simply played. Every shop was closed. In a three or four block stretch, we found two open restaurants.

The bustling main street. After this, I decided there was no way I could possibly live in Cognac. In fact, I believe this is when I started saying “I’m ready to go back to Paris.”

We ate lunch at a rather cute cafe/restaurant. Food in Charente is significantly cheaper than Paris. And by “food” I mean coffee, which is what I’m really interested in anyway. After lunch, we took the bus to Saintes, which is an old Roman town.

The Roman amphitheater was gorgeous. It felt like something out of Northanger Abbey, even though I know that Gothic and Roman are distinctly different.

This adorable car was parked outside a patisserie in Saintes. I spent more time cooing over it than paying attention to the church we were supposed to be looking at. We couldn’t go inside because of extreme safety concerns. By that time, it was about 35 degrees and we had been outside for an hour and a half.

We drove to the other side of town to visit another abbey. I have no photos of it because I was too cold to take off my gloves to unzip my camera case. We were looking at the church exterior when it began to rain, so we went to explore the interior of the church. Upon our return outside, it began hailing. We took refuge in the church. By this time, we had been outside in the freezing weathers for two hours. I was very crabby. The hail stopped. We had been promised a café to warm up. Instead, we finished our tour.

When the tour ended, my friends and I hurried to find a café. To describe my mood as “cranky” would be an understatement. Then I had a hot chocolate, speculoos, and a Coke in a warm café with good friends for two hours and all was (almost) forgotten.

Our dinner was at a beautiful restaurant in Saintes. Because it was the feast of Saint Vincent, who is apparently a patron saint of wine, the restaurant had a special live cooking and wine tasting instead of appetizers. I had oysters, truffled risotto, foie gras, chardonnay, and Pineau des Charentes, which is a dessert wine. The rest of our dinner was equally delicious.

All in all, excepting some difficult weather, a very successful day.

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