Campaign trail: follow Napoleon’s progress across Europe
20.11.2023 - 12:07
Napoleon was born in Ajaccio on 15 August 1769, the year the French took back Corsica from the Genoese and just a few months after the birth of Arthur Wellesley – later the 1st Duke of Wellington – in Dublin.
The Bonaparte family owned olive groves in Ajaccio as well as vineyards and grain mills. Napoleon left when he was nine, heading for Autun on the mainland to perfect his French, then went to the École Militaire in Paris. After his family was chased off the island in 1793, Napoleon renounced any special loyalty to Corsica.
Besides his birthplace, the Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio has a statue of Napoleon and his siblings in Place de Gaulle, a marble Napoleon dressed as a Roman consul in Place Foch, and a huge monument in Place d’Austerlitz. The Palais Fesch museum (established by Napoleon’s cardinal uncle) has a collection of Napoleonic art and curios: the “cave” where he used to go as a boy to dream of becoming Emperor, and the Naporama, 23 battle scenes in customised Playmobil figures. The gardens and arboretum at the Bonapartes’ country house, Des Milleli, are open to the public.
Hotel Napoleon has doubles from €62. Le Grand Café de Napoléon has sketches of his notable campaigns on the walls
Napoleon stayed in Nice on three occasions, each time having risen up the military ranks. From captain of the 4th artillery regiment in 1793, he was made artillery brigade general of the army of Italy a year later, billeted with Count Laurenti on what is now rue Bonaparte (a plaque above a shop commemorates his nine-month stay in 1794). Two years later and two days after marrying Josephine in Paris, Napoleon returned as commander-in-chief of the army of Italy and stayed on rue Saint-François de Paul (near Nice’s opera house) before he set off for the triumphant battles of his first Italy campaign.
Nice’s Villa Masséna museum has an exceptional collection of Napoleonic artefacts, including his death mask, a waistcoat, a snuff box and Josephine’s robes and tiara.
L’Abeille’s eco-friendly flats (from €130 a night) overlook the gardens where Napoleon met Laurenti’s daughter. The name and logo of the hotel celebrate the bee, Napoleon’s symbol of power
The Battle of Arcole, near Verona, was the high point of Napoleon’s first Italian campaign. Having galvanised his underpaid, underfed army by grabbing a tricolore and attempting to lead them across the bridge at Arcole, Napoleon cut off the Austrian army’s line of retreat after their attempt to lift the siege of Mantua. His success continued to the Battle of Rivoli, January 1797, after which the Austrians surrendered. The French marched on Vienna and Napoleon returned to Paris a military hero.
Arcole, known for asparagus and wine, has a celebratory obelisk built in 1810