‘We admire his self-confidence’: what the French think about Napoleon

‘We admire his self-confidence’: what the French think about Napoleon

Four miles inland, the San Martino Villa was his country house. It’s misleadingly grand – the posh frontage and gallery were added post-Napoleon by the rich Russian husband of one of the emperor’s nieces – but offers a decent insight into his exile, lovely parkland, a nude statue of Bonaparte’s sister Pauline, a superb Egyptian room and a rare opportunity to buy Napoleonic tea-towels.

Where to stay: There will be fights to Elba from Pisa, Florence and Milan from February 2024. If loaded, head for the five-star Hotel Hermitage on a bay outside Portoferraio (minimum stay five nights, from £1,177). If on a tighter budget, try elbalink.co.uk.

Braine-l’Alleud

Napoleon met his Waterloo not so much at Waterloo as at Braine-l’Alleud, the neighbouring Belgian commune. We refer to “Waterloo” because that’s where Wellington was HQ’ed and from where he wrote his battle report. The inn in which he did so is now a first-rate little battle museum (£13) boasting, among much else, the prosthetic leg fashioned for Lord Uxbridge after his own was blown off (Uxbridge: “By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg.” Wellington: “By God, sir, so you have”). 

Over on the battle site itself, you must visit the new Memorial (£4) with all the bells and whistles of contemporary, interactive, multi-sensory museography. There are 226 steps to the top of the Lion’s Mound, so you might want to skip that in favour of the terrific 1912 wrap-around panorama of the battle, or a flip to Caillou Farm, where Napoleon spent the night prior to the battle. 

Or a visit to Hougoumont farm, where British troops proved outstanding in the toughest encounters of the battle. The farm bears the battle scars, exhibits and films tell the story and Vivien Mallock’s six-foot high sculpture commemorates the sacrifice (pass for memorial, mound, panorama and farm, £17).

Where to stay: Stay at the Hotel Van Der Valk in Waterloo (doubles from £77).

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