The dramaTic hisTory of rouTe napolÉon
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.