ROUTE NAPOLEON - N85
Scenic Drive Road from Mediterranian to French Alps
On March 1st of 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte landed on a white sandy beach on France's southern shore of the Mediterranean from 10 months exile on the Island of Elba with a rag-tag fleet of seven boats and 1,200 loyal soldiers. The people of France were dissatisfied with King Louis XVIII, and Louis had stopped paying the annual 2 million Francs the former Emperor had accepted for his "retirement stipend". Within a week, faster than news could travel, the returned Emperor Napoleon and his men marched across the French Alps to Grenoble, then to Paris. The little colonel now returned Emperor ruled for another 100 days before his final defeat at Waterloo after reinvading Belgium (See Waterloo).
The road from the French coast to Grenoble followed by the returning warrior king and his men is now famously known as the Route Napoleon or Napoleon road. French national road N85. It was designated the Route Napoleon as a scenic touring road in 1932. The primary highway through the French Alps from Italy would be closed for much of the winter, so a lower route was designated. The Route Napolean runs from Golfe Juan, the sandy cove where Napoleon placed his boot after returning from Elba, through Cannes, Grasse, Castellane, Sisteron and Gap to Grenoble. Parts of the road are windy and twisty, but all of it is quite beautiful. Rocky crags, slopping hillsides covered with flowers, snowcapped peaks in the near distance close enough to touch. A section outside of Grasse provides a panoramic view from the hills to the French Riviera coast. After Castellane the road winds through the Natural Park of the Gorges of Verdon, the “Grand Canyon” of France. Between Sisteron and Gernoble the Alps are every present, but the road stays low enough to travel through a chain of beautiful towns and villages.
Golfe Juan, where the route begins is a less visited spot on the French Riviera, one SCNF stop from Cannes. Pablo Picasso was a long time resident of Golfe Juan and the National Picasso Museum is located in the Renaissance era Castle of Vallarius. Golfe Juan and Vallarius are the same city connected by a narrow valley. Vallarius is known for its ceramics and the Ceramics Museum is also in the Castle museum.
Cannes is of course known for its Film Festival (see Cannes Festival on a Budget) but is a year around glamour destination on the French Riviera with its grandd hotels on the “Crosette”, gleaming harbor of yachts and white beaches of topless sunbathers. Grasse is known for its perfumes. Perfume began in the 16th Century in Grasse with a scented glove to cover the smells of growing cities. Grasse, with its hillside of flowers became a center of perfume production (see Fragonard), with small streets lined with pink houses and wrought iron balconies, the Villa Fragonard and the International Perfume Museum. Castellane lies underneath the Notre Dame du Roc, a church high on an impossible mountain cliff (see Notre Dame du Roc). Digne-les-Bains has been known since Roman times for its pure air and water and recognized as the lavender capital of the world. Sisteron is nestled between the ramparts of the ancient city guarding the rocky pass and marks the boundary between Provence and the Dauphine regions. The magnificent French fairy tale Castle favorite of the Dauphin (heir to the throne when they still had them) Chateau Vizelle was once the southern residence of French Presidents and now houses the Museum of the French Revolution. Grenoble is perhaps best known for hosting the winter Olympics in 1968 with Jean- Claude Killy, but is the undisputed capital of the French Alps at the joining of the Drac and Isere Rivers and a popular ski town.
The Napoleon Road can be followed from the South where it begins or can be intersected from Aix-en-Provence or Avignon and followed either north to Grenoble or south to the Cote d'Azure with many little towns and villages to visit for a croissant and glass of wine, and a number of markers along the way commemorating the steps of Napoleon's march. You don't have to take the week it took the Emperor and his soldiers. The route can be driven in about 8 hours but plan to make a stop-over or a few days to enjoy it. A day trip can alo be made from the coast up to Castellane then over to Aix-en-Provence and back. © Bargain Travel Europe
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