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Driving the Route Napoleon, France

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

In 1814 Napoleon Bonaparte, perhaps the most famous leader of France, had been banished to house arrest on the island of Elba, close to his birthplace, Corsica.

By early March 1815 he had managed to escape the island and made it safely to mainland France. Of course, he was on his way to Waterloo where he would eventually meet his downfall, but on arrival back in France his progress was unhindered.

The route he and a thousand men took that week is known as the Route Napoleon, now a 325 km stretch of modern road, the N85 winding through the spectacular mountains of Provence.

It took Napoleon a whole week, but today you can drive the entire route in about eight hours. Perhaps you’ll want to split it up into smaller sections and enjoy the fantastic scenery over a few days.

Just follow the sign of the brown eagle on the roadside.

Here’s our guide of how to retrace his footsteps:

  • After landing at Golfe-Juan, Napoleon and his men set up camp and marched to Cannes where they rested briefly on the beach. You can do the same, although the town is much more of a tourist destination today that it was in 1815!
  • Napoleon’s men then turned inland and walked through the night, I suggest you take a rest stop at Grasse and enjoy the a glass of wine among the charming back streets and public fountains. It’s the home of French perfume, so take some time to choose a new scent. Grasse also has amazing grottos and caves, well worth a visit.
  • The men didn’t linger there though. They stopped for a quick lunch break at St-Vallier-de-Thiey. If you choose to do the same, you should take a picnic and enjoy the amazing views over the valley from the picnic site.
  • Further on their trip, the men were invited by the Mayor to spend the night in the Château de Brondet – alas it’s now close, so you can’t do the same, but you can drive past it.
  • The men took refreshments in the small town of Logis du Pin. If you want to follow in their footsteps, I suggest skipping this town and waiting until you get to Castellane for lunch, where they also ate. Climb to the top of the Notre Dame du Roc to appreciate this beautiful place, including the appropriately named Napoleon Bridge. If you’re there on Saturday be sure to check out the local market.
  • After a night stop at Barrême and an early start the group marched along a difficult mountain trail through the barren Pré-Alpes de Digne. Fortunately for us, this is now mainly the D20 road and you won’t have to get out of the car. Just enjoy the views.
  • The next overnight stop took place the River Bléone at Malijai. Of course Napoleon didn’t sleep in the fields with his men – he spent the night at the Château. This is now the town hall and visitor centre – go in the check out the beautiful decoration and the exquisite and orderly French gardens.
  • Braced for resistance from the locals, the men next entered the town of Sisteron, but were in fact not challenged. They took a break there and if you want to do the same be sure to see the Citadel Museum, or even the Baden-Powell Scout Museum. What this is doing in Provence, nobody knows!
  • Later that night they arrived at Gap and set up camp. Apparently when Napoleon left Gap, the townspeople all went with him. The locals are indeed friendly today, but please try to leave as many behind for other visitors to the town.
  • If you’re driving the route, you can then follow it on to the end at Grenoble, via Corps and La Mure.

These beautiful towns and villages are all beautiful and each has something individual about it. Enjoy the trip!

Photo of Route Napoleon, France originally posted by Teosaurio

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About the author

Venere Travel Blog writer steve slack

Steve Slack is a writer and researcher based in London. He’s most often to be found either in a museum or in the bar. Or even museums which have bars. He writes about the wonderful world of south London for

3 responses to “Driving the Route Napoleon, France”

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  1. Simon says:
    October 3rd, 2008 at 07:13

    Steve Hi, I work abroad in Asia 7 months of the year, and this year I was fortunate to do the “Route Napoleon” and it was fantastic,I was just looking, browsing, reminising and saw your travel story, great, and then saw the dulwich view email, web, Iam off there in a wee bit for my second job which is problem solving for building comapanies, I used to build here, and then went abroad about 5 years ago, sounds great but it is a a kind of backpacker existence, which aint bad!
    And now off to Dulwich



  2. Steve Slack says:
    October 3rd, 2008 at 12:42

    Hi Simon,
    Thanks for your comments. Glad you like the piece and it brought back some good memories.
    Enjoy your time in Dulwich. I love it there – it’s a great place to live. Do stop by Dulwich Picture Gallery sometime for a moment of calm and relaxation.
    Yours, Steve

Comments on Twitter

  1. happy06295 (Happy GoLucky) says:
    November 17th, 2009 at 19:47

    Napoleon & 1000 of his closest men took this 325 km route through beautiful parts of France

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