The opening of Hotel Chais Monnet is reason enough to plan a trip to Cognac in southwest France. Inaugurated in November 2018, the first five-star hotel in Cognac country is the result of a no-holds-barred metamorphosis of the Monnet family’s historic cognac warehouses (nota bene: Jean Monnet is considered one of the architects of the European Union). With a price tag of 65 million euros, Hotel Chais Monnet was the single biggest hotel project in France in 2018, and it’s a game-changer for the region. It’s the brainchild of owner Javad Marandi, who has invested in hospitality ventures like Soho Farmhouse and Sofitel Brussels. Here’s what we found on a recent trip.
The wow factor is real when you drive through the hotel’s gates in the pretty town of Cognac. Architect Didier Poignant oversaw the historic site’s ambitious transformation, and the results are astonishing. Contemporary elements like glass and metalwork blend harmoniously with ancient stone and hefty timbered ceilings. The vibe is vibrant and fun. Locals pack the tearoom, bar and brasserie; we saw a crew of regulars coming to take tea at the Angélique Café, where pastry chef Michael Durieux’s treats might include a cognac-infused mille-feuille. And in The 1838, a chic crowd gathered for the live jazz music that’s performed on weekends. Beneath a soaring vault of wood beams, the bar is stocked with more cognac references than any other bar in the world. Try The 1838 signature cocktail, concocted with cognac VSOP, homemade saffron syrup, lemon sparkling water and garnished with an oyster leaf in homage to the nearby coast.
The Chais Monnet is deeply connected to its setting. It’s a real celebration of French artisanal savoir-faire — down to the letterpress menus created in-house. (Printed with a vintage font and brimming with fun quotes, the bar menu is described as a “spellbook with cocktails and other surprising refreshments.”) In the gastronomic restaurant Les Foudres, which opened in January, diners have their choice between 30 bespoke knives, presented before the meal. Michelin-starred chef Sébastien Broda runs the show in this gorgeously renovated space, which occupies the “chai cathedral,” where cognac used to be aged in massive barrels. These original tonneaux were restored and suspended as statement pieces. (Some of these barrels had to be lifted by helicopter.) The menu is a celebration of the region’s bounty with ingredients sourced from less than 70 miles away.
The Jean Gabriel Monnet Suite has its own kitchen, dining room and large reception room. // Photo by Albane Photographe
But, by far, our favorite example of French craftsmanship is the unique breakfast you can order to your room, delivered in a mallet or traditional travel trunk. The hotel worked with top leather craftsmen to customize these “breakfast mallets.” When it arrives in your room, the server opens the lid to reveal just-baked croissants, farm-fresh yogurt, fruit salad, hot coffee and juice. More delicacies are tucked into each of the drawers. There are even eggs cooked to order.
This attention to detail is found throughout the hotel’s 92 guestrooms: Oak parquet floors crafted by local artisans, Fragonard products in the marble bathrooms and minibars stocked with French artisanal treats (like Compagnie Coloniale Tea, Charente craft beer and French waffles). Created to showcase the “belle elegance à la française,” the rooms are situated across four buildings, including the restored chais (warehouses) with original beams.
In the new contemporary building, you won’t find these historic details, but you have direct access (via the elevator) down to the spa and fitness room, without having to leave the building.
For those looking for a little more privacy, there are 13 kitchen-equipped apartments in a separate building (a three-night minimum stay is required).
Booking Tip: The most beautiful rooms are not necessarily the highest-priced room categories. Sure, the Presidential Suite is a showstopper, but No. 76, for example, is a romantic haven with two terraces and pretty beams above the bed. There are 11 suites in total and there are also connecting rooms for families traveling together. For VIP bookings, reach out to Anne-Sophie Diligent ([email protected]), director of sales and marketing. The general manager is Arnaud Bamvens ([email protected]), who previously managed luxury hotels for the Oetker Collection and Hôtels Barrière in Marrakech.
La Distillerie (above), helmed by chef Sébastien Broda, serves traditional cuisine. //Photo by Albane Photographe
If you can tear yourself away from the spa (treatments by Codage and sprawling wet facilities), there’s a world of discovery in Cognac. Worshipped in pop music and top nightclubs, cognac is famous around the world (in fact, most of the brandy is created for the export market). In town, the grandes maisons offer visitor experiences and tastings. Right next door, Martell has recently opened a not-to-miss contemporary art foundation complete with a rooftop bar boasting 360-degree views. What’s more, Hotel Chais Monnet has developed a number of local experiences like truffle hunts, boat tours, vineyard excursions in vintage cars and trips to Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurant by the sea.
And the hotel’s ambitions don’t stop there. Within the next year, Hotel Chais Monnet plans to unveil a rooftop bar, a contemporary art gallery, a kids club and a concept store with a cinema and a patisserie. The Chais Monnet is a boon for the local community, who love hanging out at this lively, luxe spot, and also for regional tourism, as the region had lacked a five-star hotel to cater to visitors. Previously, travelers on the wine route would pass directly from the Loire Valley to Bordeaux. But now there’s a reason to stay, and linger awhile, in this pretty town that was the birthplace of Renaissance king, François I.