Welcome to the Route Napoleon Motorcycle Ride Report. This article will help you plan your next ride along 200 miles of gorgeous French twists and turns all the way to the Med and Monaco.
The Route Napoleon is legendary in motorcycle touring circles. The 200 miles of sweeping tarmac follow the route taken by Napoléon when he came out of exile and made his way from the Mediterranean coast to Grenoble. This ride report follows that route from north to south, starting in Macon and ending in Monaco. If you’re thinking of riding there, then this report will help with your planning. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments at the bottom and we’ll get back to you.
- Route miles: 200
- Fuel cost: £25
- Time needed: one-day
- Best time to go: May and September. July and August can get very hot.
- Best hotels: Ibis Budget South in Macon and Odalay City Apartments in Beausoliel, Monaco.
I first rode this route back in the late ’90s on a Honda Blackbird. I was blown away by the views, the super smooth tarmac and fast open stretches interlinked with picturesque small towns. The route itself has many road numbers and you will swap between the N85, D1085, D4085 and D6085, but it can all be done without touching motorways or toll roads.
The last time I rode this route, we weren’t even supposed to be doing it, we were supposed to be going to the Alps. However, having ridden through France intending to head to Chamonix, we were made aware of snow and plummeting temperatures in the mountains so decided to make a run for the sun! A route was hastily thrown together, marked on the maps and loaded onto the sat-navs and off we went.
We stopped overnight in Macon at the cheap and cheerful Ibis Budget, Macon Sud. After a few beers and an early night, we were up early for the 310-mile ride to Monaco.
Starting from Macon
Leaving Macon, we headed to Grenoble and then picked up the N85. The first 15 miles from Grenoble are fairly straight forward down to Laffrey (passing the 3 lakes to your left) and on to La Mure where the fun begins. The next 40 or so miles between La Mure and Gap are fantastic. The road rises and falls with the terrain and the views are stunning.
The section between Gap and Digne pretty much hugs the A51 motorway and some say you may as well use the motorway as it is quicker, but my suggestion would be leave Gap on the D900 and head for Selonnet and on through Le Vernet and La Jarvie to Digne. Similar mileage but a much better route in my humble opinion.
On the Gas
From Digne head to Barreme where the N85 becomes the D4085 and takes you down to Castellane. This is a seriously fast section if you want to ‘play’ but don’t get it wrong because there’s initially mile after mile of roadside trees before the road opens up, flows, dips and crests and those trees would stop you very quickly… and very painfully! Caution is the order of the day. Approximately 5 miles before getting to Castellane you will pass ‘Le Bistro du Col’, a roadside restaurant. When I was last there, it was owned by a bike mad Italian who couldn’t have been more helpful in regards to local routes, places to stay and biker meeting places…. swing by if you have the time!
At Castellane you could make a detour to the stunning Verdun Gorge or ride the spectacular route around the Lake of Sainte-Croix, both are well worth the detour, but if not, get back on the D4085 for the last 50 or so miles down to the Med, passing through Grasse on the way. Grasse is known for its long-established perfume industry and there is a museum to celebrate this as well as tours to the large perfumeries. If perfume isn’t your thing, you could visit the former Roman Catholic cathedral in the old town instead.
The official end (start) to Route Napoleon is at Antibes, however, as an alternative, why not head for the sheer luxury and over indulgence of Monaco!
Monaco is a beautiful place, filled with beautiful people, luxury properties and expensive cars. It really should be experienced at least once to see what a great place it is. I’ve been quite a few times now and the last few we have stayed in Odalys City Apartments in Beausoleil. These are actually one street out of Monaco and officially in France, which makes them much cheaper!
We paid £100 a night which included garaged parking for the bikes. Food and drink wise, Monaco is what you want it to be, dinner in the café de Paris was a bit of a stretch for us but pizza and a few beers in the town with the locals wasn’t much more than you’d pay in the UK. Try La Bambi Pizza Restaurant on Rue Princesse Antoinette.
Of course, no visit to Monaco is complete without a walk around the marina to see the amazing yachts moored there, lots with a full crew just waiting for their millionaire owner to turn up and set sail.
Route Napoleon offers so much and rarely fails to deliver. If the weather is good – and it usually is given its location – the ride is simply stunning. When you’re ready to leave Monaco, you can either retrace your steps back along the Route Napoleon or head north by The Route De Grand Alps….now that’s another fantastic route….
About the Author
Ian Speight has been riding motorcycles for 40 years with extensive touring experience in the UK and Europe. As an ex-police motorcyclist, Ian now works as a motorcycle tour guide and also owns and runs Ian Speight Advanced Rider Training.
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