The dra­maTic his­Tory of rouTe napolÉon

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Driven -

The 200-mile Route Napoléon is one of Europe’s great­est roads and its stun­ning Alpine scenery is backed up by an equally epic his­tory.

The jour­ney from Nice to Greno­ble roughly fol­lows the one taken by Napoléon Bon­a­parte in 1815. He’d re­turned from ex­ile on the Mediterranean is­land of Elba with a small army and one mis­sion – to over­throw Louis XVIII and re­sume the job of run­ning France, fol­low­ing his ab­di­ca­tion the pre­vi­ous year.

Af­ter land­ing at Cannes on 1 March, 1815 he and his 1200-strong army headed north through the Alps, avoid­ing the Rhône Val­ley and in­evitable cap­ture by the king’s troops. In­stead, the for­mer em­peror took his men along the small tracks across the moun­tain­ous ter­rain.

It took a week for Napoléon and his men to reach Greno­ble, and when they got there the King Louis’s Fifth Reg­i­ment was wait­ing for them. Rather than sur­ren­der­ing, Napoléon dis­mounted from his horse, faced them alone and chal­lenged them to kill the ‘em­peror’. In­stead they sided with him, and marched with his troops all the way to Paris to suc­cess­fully chal­lenge the monarch.

Napoléon’s reign lasted just 100 days be­fore be­ing ex­iled again – this time to the At­lantic is­land of St He­lena – but the route he took on his jour­ney to power still ex­ists in its mod­ern form as parts of the N85, D1085, D4085, and D6085.

It might not take your clas­sic seven days to com­plete but it’s still a chal­leng­ing drive with plenty of gra­di­ents, and in the win­ter it’s well worth pack­ing a set of snow chains to deal with the tricky con­di­tions.

But the trade-off is sub­lime scenery and some of the best roads you’ll find any­where in Europe – and it’s only a few days from the UK. We’d def­i­nitely rec­om­mend a visit.

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