Grenoble to Aix

On The Road Travel Essays

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Grenoble to Aix

(COURIER: Today, you have a very winding route; give the driver a big hand on various occasions; he is working very hard today. During the trip, watch out particularly that nothing heavy has been placed on the overhead racks.

Check on this personally, something is bound to topple off and can hurt someone. You may also have a couple of cases of dizziness, perhaps you should watch your group for such signs the day before and suggest to those concerned to take some motion sickness pill before starting from Grenoble. If there have been too many and violent cases of this, you may talk it over with the group leaders and suggest perhaps taking the direct route from Grenoble to Sisteron via the Col de la Haute Croix, which is not quite as winding. This second route will take less time and you can leave Grenoble an hour later.)

Grenoble - Gap This is the Napoleon Route, with the exception that Napoleon came, of course, from the South. He had landed in March, 1815 at Golf Juan near Cannes, and made his way via Grasse, Castellane, Digne, Sisteron, Gap to Grenoble and from there to Paris, to be in control of France for another 100 days before his final exit in 1815 at the battle of Waterloo (near Brussels).

From Pont-de-Clait on N 85, after approximately 17 km., you arrive at Vizille. (Here a castle was built in the 17th century which now belongs to the State of France and is one of the residences of the President of the Republic.)

You continue for about 10 km. and arrive at Laffrey. It was here that Napoleon was given for the second time, i.e., on March 7, 1815, the chance to reign.

Napoleon had been exiled to the Isle of Elba in 1814, but had been allowed to take with him into exile 400 of his most faithful men (mind you, none of his family went with him into exile) only an ex-mistress of his, a Polish Duchess who had a son by Napoleon, had come to Elba intending to stay with him. But she had been sent back by Napoleon, who was married then to the daughter of the Austrian Emperor, with whom he also had a son, Napoleon II. He had requested his wife and son, to join him at Elba and claimed that the Austrians did not let them do so, but in fact, his wife had no intentions of joining him; she had made other arrangements in the meantime (with a lover). You probably know that the tomb of Napoleon II, King of Rome, is also in the Invalides, and it is due to Hitler that he also rests here, as Hitler had made the arrangements for the remains to be brought from Vienna, to Paris. Napoleon II had died at the age of 21, having been brought up by his grandfather, the Austrian Emperor, but he had always been of frail health. Hitler meant this as a friendly gesture to Paris.

Once at Elba, Napoleon ruled here autocratically, retaining the title of Emperor. He also had ships built by his men on Elba, and took to the ships, landing at Gold Juan near Cannes on March 1, 1815.

Napoleon I was aware that the population of the Rhone Valley was hostile towards him, so he decided to make his way through the mountains. Therefore, from Cannes he went up to Grasse, and from there he had to make his way by mule-track (abandoning his carriages) towards Castellane, Bareme, Digne. From here he sent an envoy to find out whether the fortress at Sisteron was occupied and alerted to the fact that, Napoleon was at large; but to his relief, this was not so and he passed Sisteron without any difficulty, continuing to Gap.

From Gap, he took again to carriages until he reached Laffrey where he met with the Royal French Army that had been sent out from Grenoble to capture him.

The two camps met at the south end of the Lake of Laffrey on March 7, 1815 and all was set for battle. The troops took their positions, facing each other, the first row kneeling down, all rifles on the ready. Napoleon could see clearly that such a battle would be suicide for his now approximate 1,500 men, as they were faced by about 10,000 men.

He, therefore, stepped forward at the last minute, addressing the opposing troops calling them to join him, who was their leader. The opposite general shouted as answer "fire," but not one shot went off, instead like one man, they shouted "Vive Napoleon" and "Vive l'Empereur."

A bronze statue here showing the Emperor on horseback, reminds us of this event.

Having landed at Golf Juan March1, he arrived at Grenoble on March 7, at Lyon on March 10, and at Paris on March 20, which is an average mileage of about 30 miles per day (not bad for those times and routes).

All along the Napoleon Route, you will notice km. posts with the Imperial Eagle engraved thereon — the French are now very proud of Napoleon and will not miss an opportunity of pointing this out. Apart from this, you will find all along the route posters, markers, advertisements such as "Napoleon rested here. Why don't you?," "Relais Napoleon" and similar.

The next township is La Mure (population: 7,000); anthracite is the source of livelihood for these people.

You now should admire the beauty of the landscape and talk generally about Napoleon. After 25 km. you come to Corps which is placed amidst a fertile terrace. Napoleon spent the night of March 6, 1815 here, but we will continue our route and are to get to Gap before we make our rest stop.

Around the area are many artificial lakes created for the production of "la huile blanche" (electricity). Also there are many holiday resorts for winter and summer around here in the mountains. Maybe you can see skilifts.

We have been following the Drac until St.-Bonnet, but we now are leaving our watery companion. To your left on a hill you will note a monument to the memory of the Resistance movement and from here you have a beautiful view to the East of the Champsaur Valley, and to the Northeast of the mountain Chaillol-le-Vieux.

Gap (Population: 25,000) This is an old frontier town where bronze-age, Gallo-Roman, medieval and modern times have all left their mark. Not far from here is a mountain pass (Montgenevre) which Hannibal crossed with his army and elephants. As he followed the Durance River to get to the pass in the Alps, it is likely that he and his troops took the same route that we are following today (in reverse of course) until Aix.

Point out, that you are traveling on very historic ground and that in Europe you just can't get away from history, as every little town, every river, and every mountain pass has its interesting story to tell. (Hannibal, Napoleon, Charles VIII all passed the Alps here at Montgenevre Pass — Charles VIII to invade Italy in 1494). On the Italian side of the pass is Sestriere.

From Gap you descend to the valley of the Durance, which you will now follow practically until arrival at Aix. Take the direct route N 85 and not via Serre Poncon. You pass near Tallari, which is dominated by a castle (begun in the 16th century) and boasting an ancient chapel of the Templars 13th century.

Continue on N 85 via La Saulce and the hydro-electric installations of Venetavon — continue along the Durance. How small and unimportant this river may seem to you, and you can rest assured that in summer and autumn it seems rather docile, but it used to be so powerful that it was the scourge of Provence, flooding the country at the end of each winter. Now the Durance has been tamed by dams and dykes.

Approaching Sisteron  Coming up to Sisteron you can see the fortress looming above the city (remember, coming from the North. this is practically the only point from which you see the fortress clearly, in case you want to make a photo stop). Later on you will pass right below it without a chance to see it from the bus. But just before you enter, you will see the little Railway line and chance may be on your side to see that the gates are hand-operated by a woman (which seems to fascinate Americans). The train looks like a little bus on rails.

Also, before entering Sisteron, you will see a rock (La Baume) jutting up from the bed of the Durance. Ask everyone to look out to the left of the bus (driver's side) and ask your driver to slow down, not stop, because here you can see one of the most surprising examples of the fact that the Alps were formed by internal pressure and folding bringing to the surface strata of the interior of the earth (greiss). Also the crust of the earth has been ridged up into a complex series of creases and folds further changed and carved by weathering and erosion. The folding process has caused some of the strata to run almost vertically. You see here at Sisteron clearly the hard layers with the softer rock washed out forming ridges.

Sisteron  Due to the situation of Sisteron in this impressive rift in the Durance valley it was called the "grandiose doorway dividing Dauphine from Provence." The town is set in tiers up the side of a steep and rugged hill crowned by the citadel which dates from the 13th century.

Continue through Sisteron and on for another 4 km. when to your left, you will see the Restaurant La Moulin du Jabron at Peipin (Hameau ""Les-bons-Enfants). Watch out for it, there is parking right in front, but it is easy to by-pass it at first. Lunch has been ordered for 12:30 - 13:00 hours.

Sisteron to Aix (100 km) After lunch, continue on N 85 to Chateau Arnoux (castle of 14th century to your right, church 17th century). Here watch out that you take the route to Marseilles.

We follow the majestic valley of the Durance. You will note dykes and power dams. The stream widens and flows between stone-covered flats seldom touched by floodwaters.

Manosque (Population 20,000) at the foot of the hills is covered by olive trees, early fruits, fruit trees, etc.

Ste Tulle imposing hydro-electric installations. When crossing the Durance near the confluence of the Verdon, you leave Haute-Provence by the Defile de Mirabeau.

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