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Discovering the Route Napoléon, with Anthony Moss

Arguably one of the finest road trips in Europe, the Route Napoléon has become one of my favourite French journeys.

Winding through blissful roads, enjoying breathtaking scenery, and taking in a slice of Napoleonic history along the way – driving in France doesn’t get much better than this.

Here, I explore everything that makes this famous road so remarkable, my picks for the best cars in which to enjoy it, and one or two recommendations for post-driving indulgence.

A French riverside town located below a large cliff surrounded by green valleys

Image: Adobe Stock Images/Simon Gurney

A brief history of the Route Napoléon

In March 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte was a busy man. Along with his army, he escaped exile in Italy and landed on the south coast of France. He wasted little time in marching towards Paris with the intention of overthrowing the French monarchy.

Part of his significant journey north was inaugurated as the Route Napoléon in 1932 – a stunning 325-kilometre stretch of driving from the resort town of Golfe-Juan on the south coast to Grenoble in the foothills of the French Alps.

An orange Lamborghini Huracan rounding a forest road bend in France

Image: Ultimate Driving Tours

My experiences of the Route Napoléon and why it’s one of my favourite journeys

This is a journey I have taken often, yet Route Napoléon always finds new ways to delight me. It may have taken Napoleon a full week to travel north, but today, you can drive the full route in around eight hours.

I’m enamoured with this route because it has everything a driver’s road should, with smooth surfaces, sweeping cambered corners, and inviting straights. Plus, as it’s a highway that connects villages and towns, it tends to be quieter than the freeways of the area, which are often packed with heavy trucks.

There’s also something magical about the scenery along Route Napoléon. The route connects the Côte d’Azur with the Alps and offers so much variety, including lakes, rivers, lavender fields and dramatic mountain views. Eight hours on this road passes very quickly.

A red Lamborghini Huracan Spyder leads a convoy on an Ultimate Driving Tours experience

Image: Ultimate Driving Tours

My ideal car for this journey, and why

With generous corners and open straights, this route brings out the best of any supercar. However, because a Route Napoléon road trip is relatively lengthy, I tend to opt for a spacious and comfortable GT.

With this in mind, my pick would be our brand-new McLaren GT, which we will debut on our signature European Supercar Tour this year. It has plenty of power, is very comfortable, and astonishingly, it even has more trunk space than some small SUVs, which means it swallows overnight bags with ease and even fits a set of golf clubs.

You may also want to consider a convertible to take advantage of the gorgeous weather in the south of France. The Lamborghini Huracán or Ferrari Portofino are always prime choices for sunkissed day trips, while the Porsche 911 GTS Cabriolet – a convertible with liberal trunk space – would be perfect for this journey.

Azure river water running along the canyon floor of the Gorges du Verdon

Image: Adobe Stock Images/Didier

The beautiful and varied landscapes of the Route Napoléon

If variety is the spice of life, then the Route Napoléon is a very flavourful drive indeed. Heading south, you begin by weaving through many beautiful towns and villages, full of rustic charm.

These are towns that Napoleon himself visited on his travels and you’ll find houses and castles where the iconic commander stopped for lunch or spent the night; Le Château de Malijai in the commune of Malijai in Provence being one of the best known. Wherever you are on the route, you will be reminded of its origins due to the French Imperial Eagle statues that pepper the roadside.

This history is gripping, yet it’s the natural scenery that really wins my heart. My favourite section is winding up through the Alps to encounter the region’s famous balcony roads, before dropping into Provence for some time among fragrant lavender fields, sparkling lakes and the beautiful waterways that follow the route.

One thing that also stands out is the number of trees that line the roads as you drive in and out of towns along the route. These distinctive Plane trees give the long straight roads incredible character and enhance the beauty of the drive.

Take a slight detour from the route around two hours northwest of Cannes and you will be rewarded with one of the highlights of the Route Napoléon: Gorges du Verdon. At around 700 metres deep and with enchanting turquoise waters flowing through, Europe’s biggest gorge is France’s answer to the Grand Canyon and the perfect excursion.

An aerial view of a large French country estate with manicured lawns and gardens

Image: Ultimate Driving Tours

Stunning accommodation and dining experiences nearby to elevate your adventure

A thrilling day of driving certainly warrants an evening of relaxation, so thankfully, at either end of Route Napoléon, an array of exceptional luxury hotels and restaurants are available.

If you end on the south coast, the five-star Carlton Cannes is a worthy choice. This Belle Epoque grande dame exudes opulence and is located in a convenient place to explore this illustrious resort city. Here you can enjoy the humble Mediterranean flavours of Provençal cuisine, or go more upmarket with a trip to La Villa Archange in the north of the city for two-Michelin-star dining from Bruno Oger, official chef of the Cannes Film Festival.

In Grenoble, you are equally spoiled for high-end dining choices, with the flawless dishes from Michelin-star chef Stéphane Froidevaux at Le Fantin Latour an unforgettable experience. You can then spend the night at the upscale Park Hotel in the centre of the alpine city, with an elegant ambiance and an excellent location next to the expansive Paul Mistral Park.

After completing the Route Napoléon on our luxury driving tour of Provence, we venture a little further out to Château de Fonscolombe, a five-star historic hotel in the heart of Provence. Beyond its luxurious accommodations and gastronomic delights, this magical château offers a range of activities and amenities, including wine tastings and wellness facilities such as a spa and swimming pool. The perfect way to relax after a thrilling day of driving.

A convoy of supercars crosses a large river in France

Image: Ultimate Driving Tours

Discover beautiful France as part of an unforgettable luxury odyssey

Whether you prefer a solo adventure or an exciting group trip, the Route Napoléon is an unmissable driving road.

You can join us for our luxury driving tour of Provence in 2025, where we encounter part of this legendary route in a handpicked selection of the world’s finest supercars. In the day, we explore the beauty of the region, punctuated by evenings in the best boutique hotels and fine-dining restaurants – not forgetting a weekend at the Monaco Grand Prix to round it all off!

If you want to learn more about this luxury tour or any of our bucket-list driving adventures, speak with our friendly travel concierge team today.

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