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  • Writer's pictureDavid Viney

Napoleon Festival at Golfe-Juan

Enjoy a reenactment of a great moment in history; the 1815 landing of Napoleon Bonaparte in Golfe-Juan! Discover the Imperial Village with its period camps, its artisans and its many activities, and relive the great battles of Genoa and Marengo through historical reconstructions (complete with cavalry charges and artillery fire)!

Actor Frank Samson re-enacts Napoleon's landing at Golfe-Juan in 2015 © AFP News
Actor Frank Samson re-enacts Napoleon's landing at Golfe-Juan in 2015 © AFP News

A brief history of Napoleon

Let's start by clearing something up. The British tend to conflate their Napoleons. There were in fact three different men called Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon I (1769-1821) was a general in the French army who ended up as the emperor of France but died in exile. Napoleon II (1811-1832) was his son - who lived in Austria and never ruled France. And finally, there was politician (Louis) Napoleon III (1808-1873) - nephew of Napoleon I - who, after the revolution of 1848, was president of the French Republic from 1848-1852, then self-proclaimed Emperor from 1852 to 1870.

The British also tend to conflate their French Revolutions. There were, in fact, multiple "revolutions" between 1789 and 1799, with Robespierre's "Reign of Terror" (the bit with the guillotines) in the middle (from 1793-1794). In short, Napoleon I was the General turned usurper Emperor of France who emerged from that terror (whilst not particularly having been a part of it) and in the 'Napoleonic Wars' went on to conquer and rule over 90 million subjects across Germany, Italy, Spain, and Poland at the peak of the French Empire, in 1812.

Exile, Return & Defeat at Waterloo

After a misguided attempt to invade Russia in 1812, Napoleon's Grande Armée were routed, and a new coalition of Prussian, Austrian, and Russian forces fully defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig. After invading France and capturing Paris, they forced Napoleon to abdicate and exiled him to the island of Elba in April 1814 (whilst restoring the Bourbon monarchy to the throne).

Napoleon escaped Elba in February 1815 and landed at Golfe-Juan with 600 men and seven ships. He then famously marched through the Alps towards Grenoble and on to Paris. All the troops sent to arrest him (as an 'outlaw') instead joined him. By June, he had enlisted 300,000 soldiers and led just under half of them to meet the army of British, German, and Dutch troops (which had been assembled to definitively end his rule). Reinforced mid-battle by Prussian and Saxon forces, the Duke of Wellington completed a devastating defeat on Napoleon. And he was exiled again; this time to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic (where he ultimately died in 1821, aged 51).

The Route Napoléon

Inaugurated in 1932, the Route Napoléon is the (rough) route taken by Napoléon in 1815 on his return from Elba. It is now concurrent with sections of the routes N85, D1085, D4085, and D6085. The route begins at Golfe-Juan, where Napoleon disembarked on 1 March 1815, beginning the "Hundred Days" that ended at Waterloo. The road meanders from the French Riviera north-northwest along the foothills of the Alps to Grenoble. It is marked along the way by statues of the French Imperial Eagle.

The Route Napoleon
The Route Napoleon

Golfe-Juan, a historic shoreline

After landing, Napoleon took a short rest in what was then just a little fishing hamlet, Golfe-Juan (which he proclaimed this “land of the brave”). By the light of a lantern he declared “Victory will march at ‘the pas de charge’, the eagle fly in the national colours from steeple to steeple until it alights on the towers of Notre-Dame”. At the time, the proclamation induced fear in the monarchs of Europe. Fear which built each day of his march to Paris and with each set of troops he drew to his cause along the way.

The Golfe-Juan Napoleon Day - 2024

Every year, in March, there is a historical re-enactment of the landing of Napoleon at Golfe Juan (and the proclamation he then made).

Poster of the 2024 Flamenco Festival
Poster of the 2024 Flamenco Festival

Typically, the format includes napoleonic era soldiers in a camp and traditional crafts, including a working blacksmiths forge (for musketry), a medical/surgical exhibition, re-enactors of the landing itself, plus books, souvenirs, and even a temporary post office with first day covers, stamps and special franking.

Napoléon de retour à Golfe-Juan

Here is a short video (in French) from the France 3 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur TV channel, covering the 2018 iteration of the event (which should give you a good idea of what to expect):

How to Get there

  • By train: The Golfe-Juan station is just a 5 minutes walk from the event and is on the Marseille–Ventimiglia railway, between Cannes and Nice. The station is served by regional trains to Cannes, Grasse, Antibes and Nice. Buy your tickets in advance for reduced hassle. Timetables here.

  • By car: Tvia the A8 motorway, take Antibes exit n°44 then follow the RD 435 for Vallauris then the Golfe-Juan road signs.

  • By bus: Take line no. 200 Cannes/Nice “Lignes d’Azur” stop at Golfe-Juan (square Nabonnand). Alternativelye, you can also use the free shuttle buses arranged for the event (that go backwards and forwards between Vallauris and Golfe Juan.


  • The Vallauris Golfe-Juan Tourism website; best for info on the event


With stunning views, private pool, super-fast Broadband and modern air-conditioning, the villa Haute Vue is a large Holiday Home with pool in Montauroux; conveniently positioned for exploring both the interior of Provence and the highlights of the French Riviera. Sleeping 10/12 in 5/6 bedrooms, it is close to the beautiful perched villages of the Var and in easy reach of the beaches and sights of the sparkling Côte d'Azur.

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