Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Emperor Napoleon & Fine Wine In St Helena

St Helena's most famous resident was Napoleon Bonaparte, exiled here by the British after his final defeat at the battle of Waterloo. He was sent to a converted farmhouse known as Longwood, a damp residence in the wettest part of the island, which he constantly complained about. With his small entourage he lived there until his death in 1821.

Longwood House is now owned by the French Government, along with several other key locations associated with Napoleon's time here. We took a guided tour of the restored house, accompanied by a knowledgeable local guide. It is kind of spooky to be in the room where he died, then where he lay in state, then where his autopsy was conducted.

I was more interested in the wine cellar, now a simple gallery of paintings and drawings from the period.

There is some controversy surrounding his death, with some claiming he was poisoned, while the autopsy concluded that he died of stomach cancer - as did his sister and father.

Whatever the cause, he certainly enjoyed fine wine - he had a standing monthly order for 18 liters of Vin De Constance, an intensly beautiful desert wine made in the hills above Cape Town.

Our good friends on the catamaran Ceilydh gifted us a 500ml bottle of the wine, which is still in production and is still winning awards. We shared the bottle with the Ceilydh crew after dinner in the anchorage, accompanied by sauteed and flambeed local bananas, saluting the Emperor and acknowledging his very fine taste in wine.

When he passed, Napoleon was interred in a beautiful valley that is also now a significant monument owned and administered by the French Government, despite the fact that his body was removed and re-interred in Paris some 20 years after his death.

The entire saga of his defeat, imprisonment, eventual death and associated controversy has made the Emperor Napoleon one of the islands biggest tourist attractions. For many it is an emotional pilgrimage - we visited Londwood House, and the grave, with French cruising sailors who were very moved and grateful to see something so significant in their national history.

The Emperor Napoleon's Tomb In St. Helena

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