Lying in the Bay of Biscay like a forgotten croissant, Île d’Aix (pronounced “eel dex”), just 2km long, has a population of only 200. It’s a romantic place – frequented by abdicating emperors, wild birds and hollyhocks. It’s also well-defended, with forts and ramparts. Over the course of history the island, particularly Fort Liédot, has often served as a prison, notably during the Crimean war and World War 1. The best time to visit is in spring or autumn, avoiding the midsummer crowds; hire a bicycle, cycle round the perimeter of the island in an hour or two, paddle in the sea, and enjoy lunch at Hôtel Napoléon.
Napoleon lived on Île d’Aix for three days in July 1815, planning his escape to America, only to find himself on the way to St Helena and exile. Now his former home, the Musée Napoléon, exhibits his clothing, art and arms. Napoleon’s white dromedary camel, from whose back he conducted his Egyptian campaign, is lodged nearby at the Musée Africain.