Route Napoléon, France

This Great Road was initially published in issue 104 of Total 911.

Simply put, the Route Napoléon deserves every plaudit that has so far been cast its way. It is a remarkable route to drive, and the fact that it resides in the south of France – making it a brilliant holiday destination in its own right – is surely all the excuse you need to get that vacation booked and cruise to Grenoble as soon as possible.

The full Grenoble-Grasse route on the N85 may satisfy the purist in you, but at 300 kilometres it’s a long day’s worth of driving and in truth the very best section of the Route Napoléon lies to the south between Digne-les-Bains and Grasse. The north section from Grenoble to La Saulce is 129 kilometres long, and while it’s peppered with some great little sections, it can be clogged with trucks and caravans.

Therefore, it’s well worth jumping onto the A51 at La Saulce for the 47 kilometre leap down to junction 21 (signposted ‘Nice par RN’); the N85 runs virtually parallel to the A51 here anyway so we’d suggest that it’s worth pocketing the time saved.

Route Napoleon 2

LOCATION: Grenoble-Grasse, Rhone Alpes-Provence Alpes Cote D’Azur, France

LATITUDE: 45.1900 N,5.7200 E-43.6589 N, 6.9258 E

LENGTH OF DRIVE: 186 miles (85 miles south section)

The Roc, Castellane

Ma Petite Auberge
8 Boulevard de la République
04120 Castellane
+33 4 92 83 62 06

After a quick 30 kilometre run down to Digne-les-Bains, things really start to get interesting, as the route climbs south out of town and the typically well-surfaced road starts throwing more curves into the mix. The scenery gradually changes too, with ever more impressive vistas coming at you as you traverse south.

The fast-flowing pace of the road affords plenty of overtaking opportunities before curling up like a tossed ribbon in the mountainous area north of Castellane, with numerous 180-degree bends challenging brakes and driver alike. A fast, clear run through here leaves you breathless, and a lunch break in Castellane is served by numerous restaurants.

There’s still another 60 kilometres to go before reaching Grasse, with stunning views to the coast as you reach the southern-most part and breathtaking combinations of fast open corners along the way. It really is a thrilling way to spend a couple of hours behind the wheel, and we would fully understand if you decide to turn right round and do it all again from the opposite direction.

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Comments (1)

  • Niko PetrHead

    You can also let the fun begin before Digne, and not have to drive through it : just after Mallemoisson, turn right on the D17 to Mezel, and then follow til D907 at the entarnce of Mezel, where you get back on the N85 near Châteauredon.
    It’s not not as well-surfaced and much tighter than the rest, but it’s fun, and scenic too! Most of the sportier section follows the railroad of the little “train des pignes” (pine railroad).

    Another idea (or even several ones for the price, because you can build many variants around that) : from Castellane, a nice circuit could be to head SW on the N85 to St Vallier (it’s where the driving fun ends – from Grasse, you see the Mediterranean but you’re stuck in traffic and road lights), then turn left on the D5 at the beginning of the village heading north through Caussols to the Col de Bleine (road’s not that big mind you!) and then through Aiglun and La Penne, you are in Puget-Théniers, where you can drive back on broader roads to St Julien du Verdon by the nicest part of the N202 (Col de Toutes Aures), and back to Castellane along the Castillon Lake (D955)