If you’re looking for South of France road trip ideas, look no further than the Route Napoleon. This road trip will allow you to combine sight-seeing with a historical twist. Following Napoleon Bonaparte’s 1815 march from Elba to Grenoble, you’ll get to dive into the culture and history of southern France. Given that the route avoided large cities, you’ll get to see the more rural regions of France and enjoy the tranquility and beauty. This trip can take as long or short as you like depending on how many stops you make, so you can use this basic road trip route and adapt it to suit your schedule. Ready for a road trip sud de la France?
The History of this Road Trip
Napoleon had been exiled to Elba, and the start of this road trip marks his escape and march north to seize power. He headed to Cannes on the 1st of March, and began to head north to Paris, utilising smaller roads and villages to avoid being caught by the royalists. He was met favourably, with many royalist forces joining him instead of arresting him. He reached Grenoble on the 7th of March, shot down the wall and was met with tears and praise, presented with pieces of the broken gate in lieu of a key to the city. The 10th of march saw Napoleon reach Lyon, staying there for four days before continuing on his journey. He reached Fontainebleau on the 19th, and strolled in as if he had never left. Sadly, his triumph ended there when he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled to St. Helena… but it sure was an impressive trip!
Day 1 - Cannes
Your road trip through France may differ slightly to Napoleon’s as you’ll be driving the route - preferably in a motorhome- and beginning in Cannes. You can either drive or fly into Cannes, and spend at least a night there. If you plan your trip well, you could be there for the famed film festival, and if tickets are too expensive you can settle for spotting celebrities around the town! Stroll along La Croisette, one of the most iconic streets in France, running along the seafront for a mile. Be sure to stop for a nice drink there, making the most of the sunshine. Visit the Marché Forville any day but Monday to enjoy a traditional French daily market, picking up local produce and seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables, which you can picnic on after hiking La Croix-des-Gardes!
Staying at: Camping Parc Bellevue. You’ll have public transport options directly to Cannes and the beach, with a supermarket only 2km away and a restaurant and snack bar 100m away! You’ll be perfectly located to enjoy Cannes fully.
€32 for two people/night
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Day 2 - Cannes to Grasse
Cherish a final seaside breakfast and then drive north to Grasse, which should take you about 40 minutes depending on traffic. This town on the French Riviera is known for its long-established perfume industry, so be sure to visit the Musée International de la Parfumerie and get a sample for friends back home. Grab some lunch at Le Plan Food Truck for a Grasse-specific experience, then head to the Grasse Cathedral. This 13th century Catholic cathedral is filled with historic artefacts, including paintings by Rubens.
Staying at: Camping la Paoute. Get a good night’s sleep at this quiet location, and enjoy a nice splash in the pool to finish your day.
€27.20 for two people/night
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Day 3 - Grasse to Castellane
If you’re able to tear yourself away from the medieval beauty of Grasse, you can drive the hour long road to Col de Val Ferriére via the ‘Route Napoléon’ - perfect! This will be a gorgeous drive, so plan in time to stop and take photos, as you’ll be ascenting through stunning nature with a view of the natural park. You could even stop at Saint-Vallier-de-Thiey for lunch, as Napoleon did under an elm tree. You’ll find a plaque marking the spot. Stop at Col de Val Ferriére for a stroll to enjoy the views, or if you’re in a hurry just continue to Castellane, which should take another half hour. Park your van and then head to Verdon Gorge, where you can either hike along the dramatic cliffs to the Point Sublime lookout, or go white water rafting. If you’re a fan of automobiles, you’ll also appreciate the Musée des Citroën, if not you can head to the Notre Dame du Roc Chapel for a stunning view of the town.
Staying at: Aire de Camping - Car La Halte Napoléon. Very appropriately named for our road trip! Walking distance to the centre, so you can enjoy a nice glass of Pinot Noir with dinner - or two!
€5.50 for two people/night
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Day 4 - Castellane
You could keep driving, in which case you can skip to day 5, but we would recommend taking your time and enjoying another day in Castellane. When considering South of France road trip ideas, we find relaxation to be a vital part of it, which is something you lose when you’re ticking as many places off rather than actually visiting them. So take another day, enjoy a croissant and a cup of coffee in town, take a stroll and visit the local shops. Visit the Musée de la Résistance to dive into the history of this region and their role during the war. Then head to Lac de Castillon, a stunning reservoir in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. You can hike around, following one of the numerous trails, and then cool off with a swim - paradise!
Staying at: Aire de Camping - Car La Halte Napoléon. Wouldn’t it be nice to not pack up and move again? Enjoy this tranquil campsite for a second night.
Day 5 - Castellane to Digne
The hour drive to Digne will be a beautiful one, descenting and taking in the beautiful panorama of the mountain ranges and wide plains below. If you’re a fine arts fan, you can head to the Musée Gassendi for an impressive collection of oil paintings and sculptures. If the weather permits, head to the Bléone to enjoy hiking or biking alongside the river. If you’re looking for a greater challenge, why not spend the afternoon tackling Montagne du Cheval Blanc? This limestone mountain is renowned for hiking, and will take you through lowland forests, sheep pastures and more. What could be more rewarding than watching the sunset from the top?
Staying at: Aire de Camping - Car Digne Les Bains. It can be hard to stick to a budget throughout a road trip, so having a few free overnight options is always useful. This simple parking at the sports centre is only 4km away from the center, and will allow you to catch some sleep and hit the road early the next morning.
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Day 6 - Digne to Sisteron
Follow the N85 for about 45 minutes and you’ll find yourself in Sisteron, on the banks of the River Durance. Spend your morning soaking up culture, visiting the Citadelle de Sisteron, a hilltop fortress spread across 10 hectares and dating back to the 12th century. You’ll be able to gaze across the entire town, before heading to the Sisteron Cathedral next. This Roman Catholic church is now part of the Church of Notre-Dame des Pommiers and is a national monument. Then visit the core of this region, the Durance, and either stroll along it or try your hand at fishing!
Staying at: Camping Les Pres Hauts. This simple site is the ideal stop after a long day, and being 2.5km from the center ensures you are walking distance but getting some peace and quiet. You can also make use of their pool to escape the summer heat.
€22.90 for two people/night
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Day 7 - Sisteron to Gap
Follow the A51 to Gap, the highest commune in France at 750m above sea level. To get a sense of this mountain environment, you should head to Domaine de Charance, a château set in 220 hectares of stunning scenery. Through dozens of walking trails you’ll explore the various terrains and features, including a lake, deep forest rock formations reaching 2,000 metres and meadows of rare flowers. To truly learn about the Hautes-Alpes region, including the art, history, archaeology and traditions, you can visit the Musée Muséum Départemental des Hautes-Alpes. One of the highlights is the stéle de Briançon, an inscribed tombstone from the turn of the 2nd century, consisting of white marble and breathtaking carvings. In the evening, you can stroll around the Old Town, and enjoy dinner on one of the many terraces.
Staying at: Camping Alpes Dauphiné. This green campsite provides spacious and shaded pitches, and the close proximity to a forest is ideal for walking enthusiasts. They also offer bread service, so breakfast will be made simple!
€24.20 for two people/night
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Day 8 - Gap to Corps
As you finish the 45 minute drive to Corps, you may spot the Massif du Dévoluy on your left, a mountain renowned for winter sports with a flourishing ski resort. Depending on the season you’ve chosen to embark on this road trip, you could take a detour there for a few runs and some aprés ski. Corps is a great place for walking, so lace up those shoes and dive into the impressive beauty of this region. A particularly stunning stroll is along Canal du Beaumont, a shaded woodland path that is quiet and tranquil, with the calming water flow relaxing you even further. Enjoy a delicious lunch - brie better be on the menu! - and then head to the Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette. This sanctuary is the second most important pilgrimage destination in France, and in 1846 it is said that an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared in tears to two children. Nestled between mountains, you’ll struggle to find a more beautiful location. There is an audio-visual display twice a day explaining the history of La Salette, as well as masses and meeting with pilgrims.
Staying at: Au Stade du Tennis. After an eventful day, you’ll surely be looking for somewhere close and easy to rest your head. This free overnight parking will provide you with exactly that, as well as a gorgeous view to wake up to!
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Day 9 - Corps to La Mure
Head on the N85 for just over half an hour, and you’ll reach the gorgeous town of La Mure. The best parts of this area are outside, so slap on some sunscreen and let’s go! If you enjoy watersports you should head to Lac de Monteynard-Avignonet, an artificial water reservoir where you can try your hand at windsurfing and fishing! If you prefer your activities to be above water, then throw caution to the wind and try bungee jumping at Pont Ponsonnas. If you’re not sick of hiking yet, you can head to Sénépy, a mountain renowned for easy trails and stunning views. It overlooks the Drac River valley, the Monteynard lake and the Trièves plateau. Prefer to spend one of the final days of your road trip through France relaxing? Then grab a beach towel and good book and drive over to Lac de Pétichet for a relaxing afternoon at the beach.
Staying at: Aire de Camping-Car La Mure. Only 500m from the center, you’ll find this relaxing and spacious campsite. With a bakery right next door, you can start your morning right with a fresh baguette, the only true way to fuel yourself for a road trip sud de la France!
€8 for two people/night
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Day 10 - La Mure to Grenoble
The final day of the Napoleon Road Trip! Cherish the last drive to Grenoble, which should take around 45 minutes. You’ll pass stunning lakes, picturesque villages and mountains on your way. You could also take a small detour and stop in Chaîne de Belledonne, for one of the most beautiful hiking spots, a great place to enjoy your packed breakfast! The valley of Grenoble is like nothing you’ve seen before, and your first major city since leaving Cannes. You have a wide array of museums to pick from, including the Natural History Museum, the Museum of the Old Bishopric, the Grenoble Archaeological Museum, Musée de Grenoble and the Museum of the Resistance and Deportation of Isėre. Perhaps you’ll need another day here! Enjoy lunch and a spot of shopping at Place Victor Hugo - those gifts won’t buy themselves- and visit the Grenoble Cathedral for a gorgeous example of Romanesque architecture. Then take the Grenoble- Bastille cable car up to the mountain fortress of Bastille. This 19th century military fort is complete with a watch tower, dungeon and superb panoramic views of the region. A stunning way to end your day, and your road trip.
10 days through the breathtaking beauty of southern France, through villages and along roads that you probably never heard of before, and would’ve never thought to visit. Follow the momentous footsteps of Napoleon on a unique road trip sud de la France, all in the comfort of your campervan. If you're looking to save more pennies in your budget, consider wild camping. Need the wheels for your trip? Look no further than Goboony, the motorhome sharing platform. Do you have any south of France road trip ideas that you’d like to share, or experiences of your own journey? Let us know!