Inspired by one of the year’s most anticipated films, Napoleon – which is currently in cinemas and explores the French Emperor’s legendary rise and fall – history buffs can embark on their own journey to discover the site of his final years in exile, on St Helena Island.

Considering that Napoleon had escaped exile previously, the British decided that St Helena, located in the South Atlantic Ocean over 1,931 km from Angola, would be inescapable, and they were right. The remote British Overseas Territory served as Napoleon’s prison for six years after his defeat at Waterloo. Arriving in October 1815, he resided at various estates on the 121-square-kilometre volcanic island under watchful guard by the British.

For travellers seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure steeped in history and unique natural wonders, visiting St Helena Island offers a chance to explore remnants of Napoleon’s daily life in exile before his death on 5 May 1821 at age 51. Plus, the island boasts many strong – and perhaps unexpected – links to South Africa.

Follow the Emperor’s Footsteps

The Briars

Napoleon’s first home on the island was the centrally located Briars, named after its surroundings of wild roses and briar bushes. Today, the home and grounds are available for the public to explore.

Napoleon was said to have been content at the Briars. However, everything changed for him with his relocation to Longwood House and the arrival of a new governor, Sir Hudson Lowe. Lowe sent Napoleon’s trusted companions away and restricted his movement on the island.

Longwood House

History buffs won’t want to miss visiting Longwood House, famous for being Napoleon’s final place of residence. Perched on a windswept plateau over 1,000 feet above sea level, Longwood House was chosen because of its secluded location, with few places to hide if he ever tried to escape.

Napoleon lived under British supervision during his time at Longwood House, and his movements and activities were closely monitored. He spent his days dictating his memoirs, engaging in intellectual discussions, and receiving visits from a small circle of followers and admirers. However, to avoid being constantly seen by others, Napoleon created sunken paths in the garden, which still exist today.

Today, the property has been preserved as a historic site and is open to the public as a museum. Visitors can explore the rooms and exhibits that showcase Napoleon’s fascinating life and exile on St Helena.

Napoleon’s Daisies
Napoleon spent much of his exile walking through the extensive gardens of Longwood House. At one point, Lady Holland sent Napoleon some daisy seedlings from Paris to cultivate at Longwood. These flowers blossomed quickly and spread out of control across the gardens. These blooms can still be viewed today!

Napoleon’s Tomb

Not far from Longwood House is Napoleon’s final resting place on St Helena – today empty after his remains were returned to Les Invalides, Paris, in 1840. The original burial site lies amidst willow trees in Sane Valley, chosen by Napoleon for its peaceful landscape. Though only a simple stone slab covers the spot today (it was left blank as governments fought over what was to be engraved), it represents a significant piece of history.

Consulate Hotel

For Napoleon artifacts, history buffs will delight in the Consulate Hotel back in the capital of Jamestown. The colonial-style hideaway brims with “a cornucopia of Napoleonica,” spanning framed prints, gilt sculptures, and life-size wood carvings handcrafted by a local islander. One highlight is an effigy of Napoleon standing on the second-floor balcony!

Other sites on St Helena

Other locations on St Helena outside of the French properties include Bertrand’s Cottage, Hutt’s Gate, New Porteous House, Montchenu’s Lodgings, Jamestown Barracks, Gumwood Forest, Masons’ Stock House, Rose Cottage, Plantation House and numerous fortifications and batteries such as the Longwood Boundary Wall. They are all accessible to visitors who want to walk in the footsteps of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Other famous exiles

It was not only Napoleon who was exiled to St Helena. On 25 February 1890, King Dinuzulu, the son of Cetshwayo kaMpande, the famous King of the Zulu Kingdom, arrived in St Helena and remained in exile until 24 December 1897. During this time, he stayed at Rosemary Hall in St Paul’s, Maldivia in upper Jamestown, and Francis Plain House in St Paul’s. Two of King Dinuzulu’s eight children are buried at St Paul’s Cathedral, a testament to the deep historical connections between St Helena and South Africa.

Some 6,000 Boer Prisoners of War were also exiled to St Helena during the South African War from 1899-1902.

Toast Napoleon with a Glass of History

No journey in Napoleon’s footsteps would be complete without raising a glass of his favourite wine during exile – the legendary Grand Constance from South Africa’s Groot Constantia estate.

Established in 1685, Groot Constantia became renowned for its sweet Constantia dessert wine prized by European aristocracy in the 1700s and 1800s. Napoleon famously enjoyed Groot Constantia’s Grand Constance until his death, regularly supplied to his Longwood residence by British merchants plying the South Atlantic trade routes.

Today, travellers can taste history at Groot Constantia’s Cape Dutch-style Manor House in Cape Town, home to a cellar dating back to 1791 that still produces Grand Constance from old vineyards. Take a wine tasting through the estate’s modern production facilities to sample Shaw’s Blanc, Pinotage, Merlot, and other varietals.

Win a holiday to St Helena Island:

Keen travellers and moviegoers can have the chance to experience Bonaparte’s legacy firsthand.

Book a Napoleon ticket using a Ster-Kinekor Club membership, Discovery Vitality or Edgars Club card and stand a chance to experience Bonaparte’s legacy firsthand, with the below prizes:

  • Grand Prize of return airfare, four nights’ island accommodations, meals, and selected activities for two travellers to St Helena, valued at over R80,000.
  • Groot Constantia wine estate visit and tasting for four people.
  • Constantia wine hampers.

The competition is valid from 20 November to 29 December 2023.

Read competition details here.

For Cape Town moviegoers, book to watch Napoleon in IMAX and stand a chance to win a VIP Groot Constantia Experience. Simply WhatsApp your booking reference or ticket number to participate.

Competition details here.