XXO doesn’t stand for some flavor of a hardcore adult movie but rather for a cognac classification, meaning extra extra old.
One of my favorite cocktails, back when I was drinking, was a French Connection (two parts cognac, one part Amaretto Disaronno, ice and dash of lemon juice). The town and region of Cognac is just a few hundred kilometers from our house in France. So few, that I thought: “Pourquoi pas?!”. I am still waiting for my beloved Brompton to get released from “imprisonment” in Saudi Arabia but I am tired of waiting. Being without Greengo for the past six months triggered a pent-up thirst for cycling, if not for cognac.
I decided to go on the spur of the moment on last Friday. I dusted off Crush, Julie’s orange Brompton. It took me a couple of days to prepare; I haven’t cycled for six months and my last multi day trip was a few years back, so I was a bit lost on what to bring. I grabbed my camping gear and a few gadgets, for the rest I figured I’d wing it. On July 4th I took off towards Cognac.
Day one. Castelnau to Thenon or Ambition vs Common Sense
Ambitiously, I decided to make the 250km trip in three days. My common sense whispered: “You haven’t cycled for a long while and your legs will probably suffer”. But it was too late – I had booked visits to a couple of distilleries, and had bought the train tickets back home. Therefore I had to make it to Thenon, my first overnight stop, roughly 90km away.
The area I was cycling is hilly; not big ones but very many. I was OK for the first fifty kilometers but then it hit me: my legs weren’t pushing hard enough and my pace, already quite slow, slowed down to a crawl. I eventually made it to the campsite but I was exhausted. I hope my legs will recover, at least to a certain degree.
Today in numbers:
89 km — distance cycled
324 m — max elevation
14 years — the minimum length of aging of cognac within French oak barrels to qualify for the XXO classification
Day 2 – Thenon to Verteillac or Deep South West
I slept in a tent for the first time since my trip in New Zealand four years ago – if turning and tossing for a big part of the night can be called “sleep”. It takes getting used to. I obviously didn’t rest well enough but my legs felt OK in the morning.
I plotted my route on www.cycle.travel, and they sent me through the French backcountry. Yesterday and today I cycled by the smallest roads, passing villages consisting of only a few houses. In these places villagers overwhelmingly voted for the right wing parties whose posters I could see throughout. Not unlike in the US Deep South.
The only big town I passed was Périgueux, the regional capital of Perigord. The historic center was pretty with a cathedral, cobblestone streets and even remnants of a Roman amphitheater.
Overall, the road was flatter and thus easier on my legs.
One more push tomorrow to make it on time for the first cognac distillery visit!
Today in numbers:
85 km — distance cycled
2319 — calories burned
4 — official classifications for cognac: VS, VSOP, XO and XXO
Day 3 – Verteillac to Cognac or Happy Camper
Last night was cooler than the previous, which brought a lot of condensation in the tent. It was a reminder how unpleasant it could be to get up when everything is moist and then you need to pack your wet gear.
When I started to pedal the air was still quite cool so I was shivering a bit but just until the first climb. The closer I got to Cognac the less climbs there were which brought me in a good mood. Then, when I reached my destination, I had nice fat burger and a beer (note – no ice cream) and I felt even better. Then there was a visit to Maison Baron Otard for cognac tasting – the visit was OK but the cognac was excellent. Afterwards I swung by Brard-Blanchard to taste pinaud. By the time I got to the campsite I was a very happy camper. At the moment there’s a Jazz Festival in town, so there was live music at the campsite. Cherry on the top!
Tomorrow I will have another cognac tasting before catching the train back.
That was my brief but spectacular take on Cognac.
Today in Numbers:
91 km — distance cycled
$156 760 — price of the most expensive bottle of cognac: Croizet Cognac Cuvée Léonie 1858
Day 4 – One for the road or as the Russian saying goes – Na pososhok
Before leaving the region I had a final cognac visit/tasting scheduled. This time at the smallish distillery of Bache-Gabrielsen where I literally rolled in on my Brompton. This tour was in English so I understood everything as opposed to yesterday. It’s a young distillery, just 120 years old. The visit was informative and its cognac tasting was generous. Basically, anything you want to try. I did try most of what they had to offer, including Hors D’Age, which in this case was 50 years old. I could not resist and left with a bottle of their XO cognac and a bottle of Pinaud.
After one for the road, or more like five, I started my long and winding way home: train to Angoulême, car sharing to Périgueux, another train to Brive-la-Gaillarde and yet another train to Saint-Denis-près-Martel and the last 20km by bicycle. Ouf!
Cognac trip in numbers:
292 km — distance cycled
7h 30m— return trip
300 — or so cognac producers in the area, most of which we’ve never heard of
72 % — alcohol content in eau-de-vie after double distilling