La Route Napoléon, where travel meets history

Holidaymakers who enjoy driving around Europe usually prefer to avoid the ‘beaten tracks’. If you are not making a bee-line for your Europe destination, it is more than likely you prefer to explore the quieter, back roads that allow you to enjoy culture and tradition rather than see it whizz by as you fly down a motorway. But there are often exceptions to this truism, after all the route used for a road today is often chosen because that route has long been recognised as an efficient route between two points. This is certainly true for part of the French Route Nationale 85, that part that goes from Cannes to Grenoble.


La route Napoléon as it enters the town of Gap from the south.

A 325 km section of the N85 motorway from Cannes to Grenoble is also known as la route Napoléon, as this was the route taken by Napoléon in 1815 on his return to France from his exile on the island of Elba. This journey marked the start of the Hundred Days of Napoléon, that ended with his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium. There followed the restoration, for the second time, of the French monarchy in King Louis XVIII on July 8 1815, and the exile of Napoléon to the island of Saint Helena, where he died in May 1821.


A close up of the stele and gilded eagle at the southern entry to Gap, photographed above.

If your Europe travel planning involves what at first might seem like boring, monotonous motorway journeys, you might consider doing some further research on that route. You never know, someone, somewhere back in the mists of time, might very well have been along that road too.


The stele on La route Napoléon that commemorates Napoléon’s stop in the foothills of Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur.

The photographs used in this post have been taken from Wikimedia Commons.

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About Thomas Dowson

Hello, I am Thomas Dowson - a freelance writer and archaeologist living in Normandy, France. My field of expertise is prehistoric art - such as the cave paintings in the Dordogne and South Africa. But I am becoming passionately interested in France more generally, and Normandy in particular, and what this country and one of its very well known regions has to offer people with all sorts of tastes and desires. In 2005 I exchanged a university archaeology lecture room for a Bed & Breakfast in Normandy. More recently I started the Archaeology Travel website; sharing my expertise and love of archaeology and travel with others who also want to explore the many different pasts around the World.