Few historical figures have ever risen to the heights Napoleon I did. Like Alexander the Great or Julius Cesar in the Antiquity, Napoleon marked history and shaped our contemporary society in a way we often don’t even see.
As May 5, 2021 marks the bicentenary of his death, we wanted to explore with an extraordinary several-week-long trip his life and exceptional destiny and separate his critics from his admirers to see the reality behind the legend.
When we think about Napoleon Bonaparte, most of us usually think about the military genius and visionary leader heir of the French Revolution who raised to power by defeating all his enemies over and over and imposing himself as Consul and then crowned himself Emperor of the French in 1804. Yet, some think only about the despot whose thirst for power tore down republics across Europe with the blood of millions and reestablished slavery.
The problem is nothing with Napoleon is simple, especially when we look at him with our modern eyes (after all, he is close enough to us to dare compare with our contemporary times). He was the man who stabilised France and ended the terror of the French Revolution, and at the same time, he shut it down. Almost every aspect of his personality is a maddening paradox, which is probably why he is so fascinating. But if we want to better understand the man and his time, we must look at him with fresh eyes.
This is precisely what we want to do by exploring with a gigantic tour that will take us in the Emperor’s footsteps, from Corsica to Paris, from Milan to Madrid, from Austerlitz to Moscow and Waterloo and finally, Saint Helena. A tour made of several chapters, each one of them exploring a facet of Napoleon with the help of some of the most renowned experts in the world as well as heirs of the Imperial Family so you can grasp the complexity of one of the most influential figures in history while visiting what’s off-limits for everyone else.
The Napoleonic saga (and our journey) begins on the island of Corsica before it became French territory with a family of Italian origins descending from a minor Tuscan family who emigrated to Corsica in the 16th century. It was here, in this Corsica, that has been newly conquered by the French that Napoleone was born on 15 August 1769 while his parents were part of the Corsican resistance fighting the French to maintain the 14 years independence of the island.
During his youth, the future Emperor of the French was an outspoken Corsican nationalist and a supporter of the island independence from France. He spoke and read Corsican (as his mother tongue) and Italian and only began learning french when he moved to the mainland to study at a religious school in Autun and then transferred with a scholarship to a military academy at Brienne-le-Chateau when he was 10.
The Napoleon of the early years was routinely bullied by his peers for his accent, birthplace, short stature, mannerisms, and inability to speak French quickly and yet, despite becoming reserved and melancholic, his talent opened him the doors of the prestigious Ecole Militaire in Paris where he trained to become an artillery officer and graduate in 1785. Just 4 years before the outbreak of the Revolution that will change the course of history and his own destiny.
In the early years of the French Revolution, Napoleon joined his mentor Pasquale Paoli and got involved in a complex three-way struggle in Corsica between royalists, revolutionaries and Corsican Nationalists. However, he came to embrace the Revolution's ideals and became a supporter of the Jacobins, coming into direct conflict with Paoli's policy and aspirations of secession, ultimately forcing him and his family to flee to Toulon in 1793.
How does one go from being a simple captain on a small island to successfully take power in Paris with a coup d’état only 6 years later?
This is one of the chapters of the incredible saga of Napoleon Bonaparte we want to immerse you in. A chapter to discover all the characters who shaped Napoleon's destiny and the events that precipitated his ascension to power because, as you well know, this wasn't the work of a single man nor a matter of luck.
A chapter in Paris where we will be visiting several incredible places that never open to the public, like the tunnels of the Hotel des Invalides the mob stormed in search of weapons on 14 July 1789 or see precious treasures like the original of the Declaration of Human Rights and the obscure Constitution of the Year VIII establishing Bonaparte as First Consul, the first of the constitutions since the Revolution without a Declaration of Rights.
Our third chapter will take us to explore Napoleon's life and see him conquer power. From the moment he was appointed senior gunner and artillery commander of the republican forces in Toulon, we will see him rising in the army ranks with his bold military genius and incredible political intuition. This was, by no means, an easy journey. It was only when Paul Barras, a leader of the Thermidorian Reaction who knew of Bonaparte's military exploits in Toulon, gave him command of an improvised force to defend the Tuilleries Palace that his destiny was sealed. From the moment where he quashed the royalist insurrection of October 1795, it will take Napoleon only 4 years to become the First Consul (putting an end to the French Revolution) and then 5 more years to crown himself Emperor in Notre-Dame de Paris.
Napoleon's military career lasted more than 20 years, and out of more than 70 battles he fought, he only lost 8 (most at the end of his reign), making him one of the greatest military commanders of all times (if not the greatest). But why was he so brilliant, and how did he really win all those battles, often against armies surpassing his in number? We will try to answer this question with an incredible chapter that will take us to visit some of the Napoleonic Wars' battlefields with some generals and experts in military strategy to guide us.
From Nice (French Riviera), we will follow in the footsteps of the Army of Italy and see how their general defeated all his opponents and conquered all northern Italy. In the Southern Czech Republic, we will explore the Battle of Austerlitz (near Slavkov u Brna) and how this battle redrew the borders of Europe. In Spain, we will see through Francisco Goya's eyes the disastrous campaign of Spain and, finally, in Belgium, Napoleon's final defeat in Waterloo (we can extend this chapter to visit Egypt, Germany, Poland and Russia).
But Napoleon was more than just a military genius and an ambitious (and skilled) politician. He also profoundly in love with his first wife, Josephine and, out of that legendary love story, France saw the birth of the Empire Style that revolutionised the arts during his reign. With a chapter about Empress Josephine and the arts, we will explore all this and the profound changes Napoleon made to society and how his vision is still the backbone of France.
The last chapter of our Napoleonic Saga will take us to explore the end of his reign. His first exile to the Island of Elba (that we will visit), the reconquest of power without firing a single gunshot, the defeat of Waterloo and his last years exiled in Saint Helena. A journey through some of the most incredible years of the history of France (and the world) with fantastic private visits to famous palaces such as Versailles, Fontainebleau, Compiegne and the Chateau de Malmaison as well as cultural institutions such as the Hotel des Invalides where you will be able to see some incredible treasures no one else can, including the Napoleon Relics (3 legendary objects that have never been on display or showed in exhibitions).
Our last stop will be Saint Helena Island for a once in a lifetime experience. Here, on this tiny remote tropical island in the South Atlantic Ocean, 1,200 miles west of Angola and 2,500 east of Rio de Janeiro (one of the most isolated places in the world), you will have the incredible privilege of spending a weekend in Longwood house where Napoleon spent the last years of his life. It is here where Las Cases wrote the journal-memoire of the beginning of Napoleon’s exile: The Memorial of Saint Helena. During our stay in Longwood House, we will see how the fallen Emperor spent his last years reflecting on his life and reign before dying on 5 May 2021.
While dictating his memories to Las Cases, Napoleon said: “My life, What a novel!” and he was absolutely right. A novel we are turning into an outstanding trip to pull back the veil of the legend and discover the real man behind the myth - a man with his parts of light and shadow that forever changed the course of history.