You may be forgiven for thinking the ‘N’ in Route N95 stands for Napoléon, especially when you keep passing gilded imperial eagles on stone plinths bearing the legend ROUTE NAPOLEON. Actually, it stands for National as in Route National, but there is a strong connection with the Great Emperor (or Little Corporal, depending on your point of view).
For this 325-km (200-mi) journey from the French Riviera to Grenoble is the route travelled by Napoléon Bonaparte upon returning from Elban exile in 1815, determined to overthrow Louis XVIII. What followed is history – one hundred days that culminated in the Battle of Waterloo, which finally ended the Napoleonic era. He may have had other things on his mind as he journeyed north, but the comeback kid must surely have appreciated the rugged beauty of the mountainous landscape as he went, using a remote route unlikely to bring him into conflict with hostile Royalists.
Starting from Golfe-Juan, Route Napoléon passes through Cannes, where Napoléon’s party spent the first night, and up to Grasse with its sweeping coastal views. From there, the road winds to Séranon, where they slept. They proceeded via Castellane to Barrême through heavy snow on day three. On the fourth day it snowed again but they pressed on, taking lunch at Digne-les-Bains
before following the River Bléone to Malijai. On the fifth day they progressed through Sisteron (another mandatory French lunch stop!) and Tallard to Gap. The next day saw them complete the demanding stretch over the Col Bayard to Corps, from whence they proceeded via La Mure to a triumphal entry into Grenoble on the final evening. Today N95 is a scenic through road – but in Napoléon’s time it was no more than a series of mule tracks and rough trails through the mountains.
WHEN TO GO:
April to October
TIME IT TAKES:
it took Napoléon six days, but he didn’t have a car – allow one day, including stops (five hours non-stop).
Visiting traditional parfumeries in Grasse to learn the secrets of turning flower petals and jasmine into liquid gold.
Turn off at Castellane for a spectacular detour around France’s ‘Grand Canyon’ – the Gorges du verdon.
The long climb up the Col du Corobln near Barrême – It has been known to sort out the men from the boys during the Tour de France cycle race.
The quaint old town of Sisteron, crouching beneath Rocher de la Baume, an amazing pointed peak – check out the Citadel and 12th- century Cathédral Notre Dame et
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The N95 was officially designated as Route Napoléon, waymarked and opened In 1932