Sand, sun, shellfish and\u2026Cognac? It may seem like an unlikely mix, but the westernmost portion of France\u2019s famed Cognac region juts out into the Atlantic Ocean and creates a scenic \u201cCognac coast.\u201d\r\n\r\nHistorically, easy access to the Atlantic attracted France\u2019s brandy makers. That\u2019s even though the region\u2019s sandy soils were considered less hospitable to grapes than the chalk-rich soils of Cognac\u2019s central crus, or top vineyard growing areas.\r\n\r\nThese sandy conditions proved beneficial when phylloxera swept through Europe. The pest couldn\u2019t burrow to the vine roots through the unstable soil, as their tunnels would collapse, which kept the area unaffected largely from the epidemic.\r\n\r\nHarbor towns built around coastal ports thrived as merchants sailed Cognac and other goods away to thirsty buyers in England, America and beyond. Lighthouses and boats still line these waterfronts.\r\n\r\nThe sea air also yielded interesting options to mature Cognac, which led wily producers to build caves within earshot of the surf. Some of the resulting brandies almost read like a cross with Islay Scotch, another spirit with maritime influence, or otherwise show nuanced hints of salted caramel.\r\n\r\nToday, visitors can head to islands like \u00cele de R\u00e9 and \u00cele d\u2019Ol\u00e9ron, as well as the port city of La Rochelle, for a taste of coastal life and the unique Cognacs made there.\r\n\r\n\r\n\u00cele de R\u00e9\r\nThink of \u00cele de R\u00e9 as the Hamptons or Martha\u2019s Vineyard of France. It\u2019s a nautical-chic spot with miles of white-sand beaches to which the well-heeled flock. Many Parisians have second homes here, and, for celebrities, it\u2019s a low-key alternative to glitzy Riviera resorts.\r\n\r\nMany residents use bicycles to get around, filling baskets with produce from local markets. They navigate cobblestone streets into town and pass picturesque houses with terracotta roofs and shutters painted green or blue. Small restaurants line the harbor, where visitors sip wine and watch the boats as they glide along the water.\r\n\r\nCloser to the beach, small oyster cabanes\u2014cabins or shacks\u2014serve fresh bivalves. In the spring comes the harvest of tiny \u00cele de R\u00e9 potatoes, the only variety granted Appellation d\u2019Origine Contr\u00f4l\u00e9e (AOC) status. They\u2019re known for their mild maritime flavor, thanks in part to the seaweed used to fertilize them.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIn the late 1990s, Camus Cognac began working with local grape growers here. Although the Cognac house has been around since 1863, working with grapes in a variety of traditional Cognac crus, the endeavor was a daring move.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhen there is a storm, the sea is going under the vineyard,\u201d says Jean-\u00adDominique Andreu, chief marketing officer of Camus. \u201cThe earth is quite different, and of course, the wine [that becomes Cognac] doesn\u2019t taste the same.\u201d\r\n\r\nLaunched in 2005, Camus\u2019s \u00cele de R\u00e9 Fine Island bottling is made from grapes that are grown, harvested, distilled and aged on the island. The same is true for the \u00cele de R\u00e9 Double Matured bottling, although it\u2019s also aged at another facility elsewhere.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s a very pristine profile,\u201d says Andreu of the \u00cele de R\u00e9 Fine Island Cognac. \u201cYou definitely have the influence from the sea,\u201d which he claims lends an intense iodine note, particularly in the aroma.\r\nBottle to Try\r\nCamus Ile de R\u00e9 Fine Island Cognac; $52, 91 points. This \u201cfine island Cognac\u201d is reminiscent of creamy salted caramels. It has lots of rich caramel on the nose and palate, plus a light, mouthwatering saline note. It's soft and easy drinking, though it finishes quite spicy.\r\n\r\n\r\nLa Rochelle\r\nA short drive east from \u00cele de R\u00e9 is the coastal city of La Rochelle. The destination\u2019s main feature is the Vieux Port, or old port, which is the local gateway to the Atlantic Ocean.\r\n\r\nNot known as a beach destination\u00ad compared to the surrounding islands, La Rochelle has a bit more of a city vibe, ideal for tourists who seek historic and cultural attractions. Medieval fortresses, constructed during a 17th-century siege in the struggle between the Catholics and Protestants\u00ad (Huguenots)\u00ad, surround the city.\r\n\r\nBy 1890, the area was better known as a merchant hub with a commercial port accessible to larger vessels. The entrance to the old port is flanked by two imposing towers: Saint-Nicolas Tower and the Tower de la Cha\u00eene, the latter named because a chain would be strung between the two structures at night to close the port. Today, tourists and merchants are more likely to arrive via the La Rochelle\u2013\u00cele de R\u00e9 Airport.\r\n\r\nFor almost 150 years, Normandin-Mercier has brought its Cognac, made with grapes harvested and distilled in the Grand Champagne and Petite Champagne Crus, to La Rochelle to age. In 1872, founder Jules Normandin and his wife, Justine Mercier, built caves near here to take advantage of the cool, temperate climate and humidity provided by the nearby ocean.\r\n\r\nWhile it doesn\u2019t taste explicitly of the sea, \u201chumid caves give you mellow spirits,\u201d says Edouard Normandin. He, along with his sister, Audrey, represents the family\u2019s fifth generation to mature and finish the house\u2019s Cognacs in the La Rochelle region.\r\nBottle to Try\r\nNormandin-Mercier Fine Champagne Prestige Cognac; $98, 96 points. Nuanced and complex, this shows a floral lilt up front, segueing into more substantial vanilla and honey aromas. The palate is relatively dry, with cocoa and leather lightening to ginger spice and hints of tropical fruit. Fine Champagne region.\r\n\r\n\r\n\u00cele d\u2019Ol\u00e9ron\r\nA bridge that\u2019s less than two miles long connects La Rochelle to \u00cele d\u2019Ol\u00e9ron, France\u2019s second-largest island after Corsica and the southernmost island along the French Atlantic coast. It\u2019s also the wildest, mixing rugged beach, chalk cliffs, dunes and marshland that are prized by bird-watchers.\r\n\r\nVisitors can view and climb the iconic black-and-white-striped lighthouse at Chassiron or stroll among the brightly colored oyster-farming huts along the port in Fort Royer, some of which have been transformed into art studios.\r\n\r\nMany of the beaches are bordered by pine trees. About one-third of the island is wooded, perhaps a glimpse into how the greater Cognac region might have looked before the forests were cleared in the 1800s.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s not a coincidence that half of the Cognac crus are named for the perceived quality of the local wood: Fins Bois (fine woods) and Bons Bois (good woods). The island regions are part of the Bois Ordinaires (ordinary woods) designation, but the Cognac produced here is far from ordinary.\r\n\r\nIn particular, Augier, which specializes in single-variety and single-region Cognacs, harvests Ugni Blanc grapes grown on Ol\u00e9ron for its appropriately named L\u2019Oceanique bottling. The producer claims it prizes the location for the mineral notes and ocean influence it provides, and this bottling has a distinctive salted butter note and racy astringency not often seen in brandy.\r\nBottle to Try\r\nAugier L\u2019Oceanique Cognac; $62, 94 points. This straw-hued Cognac has a distinct buttered-popcorn scent. On the palate, that morphs into a salted butter note, with a saline influence reminiscent of some Scotches, coupled with vanilla, a juicy hint of pear, white flowers and a hint of lemongrass on the finish. The mouth waters with a racy astringency not often seen in brandy. Bois Ordinaire region. Made from 100% Ugni Blanc.