Cognac as a region is known for its luscious, premium spirits but has always lacked a hotel that can provide its influx of luxury-minded tourists with a comparable hospitality experience…until now. We visit the region’s first five-star hotel, Hotel Chais Monnet, to find out how this game-changer is doing a few short months after its opening.
Located in the heart of Cognac within a two-hectare site once dubbed the Industrial Heritage of France “wasteland”, Hotel Chais Monnet is a bizarre fusion of old school, rustic French charm and dynamic contemporary design. Architect Didier Poignant (Hotel de Crillon, Royal Monceau) has melded a mansion dating back to 1838, cellars and a barrel cooperage with connecting glass and striking metalwork to create a luxury hotel that speaks to the location’s industrial roots within wine and cognac production, whilst catering for the comfort-driven traveller.
Hotel Chais Monnet – The Arrival
We drive up to the hotel entrance after a decadent day out with Hine Cognac (read our article about our incredible experience with them here), and are quite ready to unburden ourselves of luggage and relax into the evening.
A sandstone arch gives way to an atrium flanked by water gardens that directs us towards the glass box reception at the centre of the complex. As we enter, we’re confronted by an impressive feature staircase spirals around a cylindrical glass-walled lift – a quite unexpected turn of events given the region’s penchant for tradition. Gently patterned stone floor, broken up by abstractly decorated, earth coloured rugs, and old wooden ceiling beams add organic materiality and warmth to the design palette.
Just beyond the reception area, we spy a huge glass extension, wrapped with an unusual lattice of rust-red industrial-style metal beams. This, we are told, holds the majority of 92 guestrooms and suites as well as the spa, indoor pool and the newly opened rooftop bar.
We make our way down the corridor to the left towards our room – a huge affair with glass doors looking out onto the covered barn car park. Inside, warm neutrals and exposed wooden beams continue the design conversation started in the reception and speak to a rustic yet sophisticated setting. A feature rug, bed throw, curtains and cushions all carry reassuring textural patterns whilst little touches such as a soft mat on either side of the bed, intended to stop sleepy risers from getting cold feet, put comfort at the centre of the aesthetic.
The bathroom features both a large glass-enclosed rain shower and a separate bath. A WC is placed behind a small door opposite, so that sharing guests can maintain their privacy without hindering their partner. Fluffy dressing gowns embellished with the golden Chais Monnet crest are also happily received and dangerously comfy.
We don said robe and, after grabbing a handful of the chocolate covered raisins left as a welcome gift in our room, pull aside the sheer privacy curtain over the glass doors and wander out onto a small private terrace, simply decked out with two chairs and a small table. Taking a seat in the sun, we relax into our new residence, feeling entirely at home and a little indulgent.
Dinner – La Distillerie
However, our lounging cannot last forever and, feeling peckish, we somewhat reluctantly change our robe for more publicly accepted attire and proceed down to the La Distillerie for dinner.
Located in a former ageing cellar, La Distillerie is a modern brasserie with criss-cross wooden beams, characterful stone pillars and a gently contemporary tiled floor, that opens out on to a large terrace intended for al fresco dining. Chef Sébastien Broda has created a seasonal menu made up of locally sourced produce. Dishes on offer are traditional French favourites with a modern twist.
We start with the Trout Ceviche with Fennel and Peach. Incredible, thick chunks of trout combine with fresh fennel bitterness and a light rocket spice. Super juicy peach slices bring out the fish’s natural sweetness and temper the fennel – the perfect start to a beautiful meal.
Charolais’s Beef Tartare with French Fries and Homemade Barbecue Sauce follow shortly afterwards and is a faultless classic. The quality of the meat is apparent from the first mouthful and Tabasco is on hand for self-catered spice. We approach the sauce with care but are thankful that its tomato-esque qualities out-sing the usual American-style BBQ sweetness.
Completely full, we agree to forego dessert, until a three-tier trolley of seductive patisserie delights is wheeled up to us. We cave and select a pleasant tiramisu topped with melting scrolls of gianduja.
It would not be right to end our first night in Cognac without a glass or two of its namesake spirit so we head to Le 1838 for a nightcap.
Bar – Le 1838
Located in Maison Monnet Cognac’s former cooperage, Le 1838 boasts over 400 different cognacs from more than 40 producers (as well as a large selection of other spirits, wines and cocktails).
The vaulted roof presides over an open-plan bar of impressive volume, filled with Chesterfield leather sofas and plush, vibrantly coloured armchairs. Above the bar, an illuminated mezzanine library of rare bottlings calls new arrivals towards it. As we move towards the bar, we pass a Baby Grand piano on a slight elevation and notice an array of brass instruments dotted around, giving the atmospherically lit venue a cool jazz bar vibe.
Whilst immediately enamoured by the design and how a cosy feel has been created in such a vast space, the star of the show is definitely the cognac list. We are completely taken aback by the choices on offer, ranging from well-known houses to smaller producers and rare expressions. Luckily, expert bartenders and fellow guests are on hand to help us out.
Camus Ile De Ré Fine Island Cognac has been developed using grapes grown on an island off of the west coast of France. The proximity to the sea imbues the cognac with a gentle saline quality that sets it apart from any other cognac we’ve ever tasted. It’s sweet-savoury character and minerality make it a must-try for anyone who thinks cognac is only thick, fruity sweetness.
Delamain Vesper XO Grande Champagne is a very different but entirely stunning special cuvée comprising cognacs aged for an average of around 35 years. With that said, it is more approachable that expected of a barrel-aged spirit of its years. Ripe banana, baking spices and earthy rancio flavours are met with candied lemon, ripe figs, raspberry and maple syrup. Whilst there is a fair amount of sweetness and tannin, it remains refined and elegant.
Our final sip of the evening comes in the form of a 100% Folle Blanche Augier Le Singulier Cognac. The singular use of the highly aromatic grape varietal instils the dram with fragrant, floral honeysuckle and fresh white peach. Vanilla, white pepper and a whisper of salinity follow, to culminate in a gorgeous cognac that is slightly reminiscent of a Speyside whisky.
To Bed and Farewell
We finish off our drink and head to bed, sad to leave Le 1838 with its easy charm and wealth of cognac still to be explored, yet excited for the trip to Maison Hine Cognac that the next day would bring.
Hotel Chais Monnet has truly set the benchmark for relaxed and authentic luxury in Cognac and has opened up the doors for a whole new class of hotels within the region. It’s welcoming atmosphere, tactile aesthetics and local produce encapsulating the heart of Cognac, make it the choice for anyone planning a gastronomic trip to the area. We’ll certainly be back.
Hôtel Chais Monnet, 50 Avenue Paul Firino Martell, 16100 Cognac, France
Price start from €220 (£199.85).