Napoleon Trail

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Napoleon Trail

The Napoleon Trail in Wallonia, Belgium, follows the historic route that Emperor Napoleon and his army travelled to meet opposing armies at the battle of Waterloo.

A spectacular route for history lovers, you can follow in the footsteps of Napoleon and see history unfolding as he led his troops to one of the bloodiest battles of 19th century Europe.

As well as being a journey through history, this trail shows you unspoilt countryside landscapes, charming villages and small towns that make up Wallonia.

Highlights
  • Follow the path Emperor Napoleon took on the days leading up to the battle of Waterloo.
  • Countryside landscape where little has changed for centuries.
  • Quiet villages and bustling towns.
  • Gentle, easy terrain.
Walk Map
About the route

The Napoleon Trail is a journey that tells a story, not just of Napoleon, but of the men who served under his command.

As well as seeing the places where the Emperor stayed or spoke with local people, you can also see where the troops camped.

All along this route are signs and panels that tell of the particular history of the area you are in.

The trek begins just inside the French border in the village of Hestrud, where a young villager tried to convince Napolean to turn back.

The route goes through notable places of interest: Beaumont, Chateau de Fosteau Biercee, Thuin, Ham-Sur-Heure, Jamioulx, Fleurus, Ligny, Quatre-Bras de Baisy-Thy, Vieux Genappe, and Waterloo.

Finishing at Waterloo, where 50,000 men and 10,000 horses were killed or injured in the battle, is a poignant end to the trail.

  • Travel

The beginning of the trail is at Hestrud is on the French side of the French/Belgium border.

If you are flying from abroad, the nearest international airport is Brussels South Charleroi.

There is another airport in Brussels, closer to the trail at Waterloo.

There are bus services that run to and from Brussels and Waterloo, taking approximately 1 hour 15 minutes. You can also get a bus from Brussels to Charleroi.

As Hestrud is a village, you will need to check local timetables for public transport options. Or, you can hire a car from either of the airports in near Brussels.

  • Length

The Napoleon Trail is 94 kilometres long and is a known cycle route as well as being a path for hikers.

On foot, it takes 5-6 days to complete, but depends on how much you want to hike per day.

  • Grade and difficulty of the walk

The terrain in Wallonia is gentle hills and level ground, so it is an easy hike for people of average fitness.

As this route is mostly for cyclists, much of it follows roads. Navigating from place to place is essential, as there is not a clear hiking trail as such.

However, finding quiet footpaths to your next stopping point is part of the fun of this hike.

There are many places where you can enjoy Wallonian hospitality. Places to stay, eat and drink are plentiful along the route, as well as shops where you can buy food for your hike.

  • Experience

You do not need any hiking experience to enjoy the Napoleon Trail, but you do need to be fit enough to hike for a few hours per day.

If you are not having your bags shuttled to your next overnight accommodation, you will need to be fit enough to carry it with you.

Map reading skills are essential to navigate from point to point.

  • Permits

No permit is needed to hike the Napoleon Trail. Donations are welcomed at most museums.

  • Guided or Self-Guided

There are guided tours available at many of the historic sites, rather than an organised tour of the length of the route.

However, you may be able to arrange to have your bags transported to each stop through local companies.

If you want to complete this route from start to finish, you will need to be able to find your own way to each of the historic sites.

Thankfully, there will also be other hikers and cyclists along the route, so there are people you can ask for direction if you get stuck.

best time to walk

It is possible to walk the Napoleon Trail all year round.

The best time to walk is during spring, summer and autumn, as these bring the best temperatures and weather conditions.

Each seasons has its own advantages, such as spring being a time of new growth, summer being drier and warmer, and in autumn you can enjoy the colour of the landscape.

Winter is often cold, and there may be frost and snow on the ground.

Yet, this can still be a great time to hike the Napoleon Trail as long as you have warm accommodation after your day’s hike.

A typical itinerary would be:

This 5 day itinerary covers an average of 19 kilometres per day.

However, in order to fully learn the details of the history along this route, it is a good idea to allow for shorter days and rest days so you can spend time at some of the historic sites.

Day 1:
Hestrud to Beaumont

Day 2:
Beaumont to Jamioulx

Day 3:
Jamioulx to Ligny

Day 4:
Ligny to Quartre Bras

Day 5:
Quatre Bras to Waterloo

Accommodation

There are plenty of accommodation options along the Napoleon Trail.

Hotels and B&Bs, holiday cottages, hostels and camping are available, but will depend on what area you are in.

It is best to book in advance, especially in the summer months.

What to do

There are over 150 monuments and museums with artefacts from the era and information about the life of Napoleon and his army.

See the tower at Salamandre where Napoleon’s army camped overnight. There is a small museum and room dedicated to Napoleon’s passage.

Tour the town of Thuin. It has two world heritage sites and an historic centre. It was also the site of friction between French and Prussian troops a few days before the battle of Waterloo.

Ligny is the site of Napoleon’s last victory, where his army defeated Prussian troops. The museum at Ligny was once a farmhouse and field hospital for the 157,000 men that took part in the battle, two days before the battle of Waterloo.

Visit The Ferme du Caillou museum at Genappe. This was Napoleon’s headquarters the night before the battle. You can see where he slept and the table where plans were made.

At Waterloo, there are guided tours of the battlefield available. Lion’s Mount is a manmade hill built to commemorate the place where The Prince of Orange was wounded.

Aside from the historical points on this route, there is also beautiful natural habitats for a variety of plants and wildlife.

At a glance
Skills RequiredHiking, Walking
Difficulty 2/5
Starts at Hestrud, 95740, France
Finishes at Waterloo, 1410, Belgium
Length of route 94 Km
Average time to complete 5 - 6 Days
Possible to complete sub-sectionsYes
Highest pointUnknown
Permit requiredNo
Equipment neededPoles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots
Countries visited France, Belgium

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