Re­trac­ing Napoléon’s foot­steps… in style!

Two hun­dred years af­ter Napoléon made his epic jour­ney from the Riviera to the Alps, David Jack­son-Grose fol­lows the “Route Napoléon”, James Bond-style.

Provincial Living - - Contents -

Two hun­dred years ago, on 1st March 1815, Napoléon Bon­a­parte made his great come­back from ex­ile on the is­land of Elba. Ac­com­pa­nied by a troupe of sol­diers, as well as men who joined him along the way, the erst­while Em­peror marched the 330kms to Greno­ble in six days. This wind­ing route through the moun­tains is now fa­mous as the “Route Napoléon”.

Stretch­ing from the French Riviera to the French Alps, the Route is one of the world’s great road trips. It be­gins at Golf Juan and passes through Cannes, Grasse, Séra­non and Castel­lane, then on through Digne-les-Bains, Sis­teron, Gap, La Mure and Laf­frey, be­fore even­tu­ally end­ing in Greno­ble.

As beau­ti­ful as the five to six-hour car jour­ney to Greno­ble is, go­ing the whole way takes some com­mit­ment and can pro­vide a few lo­gis­ti­cal ob­sta­cles. If you travel only one third of the way to Castel­lane, how­ever, you will still ex­pe­ri­ence some of the re­gion’s ex­tra­or­di­nary scenery and history. Linger an ex­tra cou­ple of hours and you can also see the breath­tak­ing Gorges du Verdon – a sight that eludes most tourists.

Time to party

If you’re trav­el­ling to France this year, it’s the per­fect time to re­trace at least some of Napoléon’s jour­ney. The bi­cen­ten­nial fes­tiv­i­ties and com­mem­o­ra­tions com­mence on 26th Fe­bru­ary at Golf Juan (be­tween Cannes and An­tibes) and con­tinue at a num­ber of his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant stops along the Route from March till Novem­ber.

“Clas­sic” cars for a clas­sic drive

Most visi­tors choose to drive one or two hours along the Route be­fore re­turn­ing to the Riviera. If this sounds a lit­tle tame, you can spice things up by se­lect­ing a spe­cial means of trans­port…

When the jour­ney it­self is the des­ti­na­tion, an ex­cit­ing car can make it feel like a real ad­ven­ture. Who hasn’t al­ways wanted to tour this part of the world, James Bond-style, in a clas­sic con­vert­ible? It’s a once-in-a-life­time chance to feel like your favourite Bond star.

To my mind, it’s the only way to tour the leg­endary Route. I would highly rec­om­mend Rent A Clas­sic Car, run by Fabrice and

Linda Le Roy. The cou­ple has a pas­sion for leg­endary cars, and they’re quite will­ing to share it: they claim their clas­sic car rental costs are com­pa­ra­ble to the rental prices of “nor­mal” cars.

You can choose from an AC Cobra, Porche 356 Speed­ster, Porche 550 RS Spy­der, Con­vert­ible Ford Mus­tang, Fer­rari 308 GTS, “E” Type Jaguar, Austin Healey 100/6… just to name a few. They will even de­liver your car to you any­where be­tween Cannes and Monte Carlo.

Im­merse your­self in his­toric ac­com­mo­da­tion

If you want to spend a few days tour­ing the Route, Cannes to Grasse makes for a leisurely first day’s drive.

Af­ter land­ing in Golf Juan, Napoléon bivouacked in Cannes. The next day, he marched with 1,200 men through a num­ber of small vil­lages, in­clud­ing Le Can­net, Mou­g­ins and Mouans-Sar­toux, up into the hin­ter­land to Grasse.

One of Napoléon’s most fa­mous say­ings was, “An army marches on its stom­ach”. So, if you’re driv­ing his Route in a mod­ern sports car, why not show a lit­tle re­spect for history by stay­ing in an his­toric prop­erty with great lo­cal cui­sine?

Just 7kms to the east of Grasse is the Château de la Bégude in the vil­lage of Opio. Stéphane Coste and Ni­co­las Bois­son­nas’ pri­vate 17th Cen­tury castle is set in 220 hectares. It has 41 bed­rooms and suites, and an 18-hole golf course. The res­tau­rant spe­cial­izes in coun­try-style, yet so­phis­ti­cated,

“ter­roir” cook­ing. Napoléon would be proud.

From Grasse to Golf Heaven

From Grasse, Napoléon and his men fol­lowed small trails and mule tracks through the hills to Séra­non. As you drive from Grasse through Séra­non, you re­ally start to ap­pre­ci­ate the chal­lenges they faced in this moun­tain­ous ter­rain.

Around an hour and a quar­ter from Grasse, just be­yond Séra­non, spoil your­self by tak­ing another well-de­served break in a pic­turesque set­ting. Turn west on the D6085 and, af­ter about 10 min­utes, you’ll find your­self at another beau­ti­ful “golf château” – the 18th Cen­tury Château de Taulane.

Set in 340 hectares, this also has an 18-hole golf course, which is rated as one of Frances’s top 10. There are also a heated in­door pool, sauna, spa, jacuzzi and gourmet res­tau­rant.


Back on the Route Napoléon, travel another 35 min­utes and you’ll come to the me­dieval vil­lage of Castel­lane at the base of a steep cliff. Napoléon trav­elled through here on the af­ter­noon of the third day of his march.

Castel­lane is 724 me­tres above sea level and the plateau over­look­ing the vil­lage – “The Roc” – is a fur­ther 184 me­tres up. The Roc has been oc­cu­pied since the Mid­dle Ages. Town in­hab­i­tants would take refuge up there from pos­si­ble in­va­sion. The chapel – NotreDame du Roc – still stands to­day and dom­i­nates all it sur­veys. If you’re feel­ing ad­ven­tur­ous, it will take you about 25 min­utes to hike to the top from the town cen­tre… and yes, it’s worth it!

The most beau­ti­ful canyon in Europe

Most tourists who travel along the Route Napoléon are obliv­i­ous to the fact that Castel­lane is the per­fect point at which to take a lit­tle de­tour to visit the Gorges du Verdon. This deep val­ley (as low as 700m in parts) is one of Europe’s most spec­tac­u­lar sights.

Fol­low the signs from Castel­lane to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, lo­cated in a deep ravine at the other end of the gorge. Then, back­track a lit­tle be­fore re­turn­ing, around the other side of the gorge, to Castel­lane.

Al­low a cou­ple of hours to visit the gorge, so you have time to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the un­for­get­table views.

De­ci­sions, de­ci­sions…

On your re­turn to Castel­lane, you can con­tinue north to­wards Digne-lesBains and make your way to Greno­ble – the end of the Route Napoléon. On the other hand, you can sim­ply turn back to the Riviera. Ei­ther way, you can now tick off two items that de­serve to be on ev­ery­one’s list of “must­sees” in France – the Route Napoléon and the Gorges du Verdon.

Use­ful links:

For de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about bi­cen­ten­nial com­mem­o­ra­tions of Napoléon’s re­turn from Elba, visit val­lau­

For in­for­ma­tion about the Route Napoléon, visit route­

To rent a “Clas­sic” car for the jour­ney, visit Ren­ta­clas­s­ic­

To stay at Château de la Bégude, Opio, book di­rect via or via Ho­tels & Pref­er­ence (ho­tel­spref­er­ or Chateaux & Ho­tels Col­lec­tion (chateaux­ho­ Prices start at €120 per dou­ble room.

To stay at Château de Taulane, La Martre, visit Prices range from €159 per dou­ble room, in­clud­ing break­fast. In 2015, it will be open from 11th April to 1st Novem­ber.

Stretch­ing from the French Riviera to the French Alps, the

Route [Napoléon] is one of the world’s great road trips.

Statue of Napoléon Bon­a­parte

Back in time...

Who hasn’t al­ways wanted to tour this part of the world, James Bond-style, in a

clas­sic con­vert­ible? Rent A Clas­sic Car’s Porche 356 Speed­ster over­look­ing Castel­lane

Château de Taulane

Back in time... … spoil your­self by tak­ing [a] well-de­served

break in a pic­turesque set­ting.


Photos: - Oleg Zna­men­skiy, Fo­tografiecor, Ele­narts, ph­bcz

This deep val­ley… is one of Europe’s most spec­tac­u­lar



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