A secret staircase for Napoleon. A vibrant garden for Josephine.

The iconic “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” painting by Jacques-Louis David. Grand chandeliers, elegant checkerboard tile floors and a painted vaulted ceiling in the library. These are just a few of the treasures you can encounter when visiting the home of two of history’s most storied lovers: Napoleon and Josephine.

“Meanwhile, my sweet love, a thousand kisses; but do not give me any, for they set my blood on fire.”

“Believe me it is not in my power to have a single thought which is not of thee, or a wish I could not reveal to thee.” .”

“Soon, I hope, I will be holding you in my arms; then I will cover you with a million hot kisses, burning like the equator.”

These are just a small sampling of Napoleon’s intensely romantic love letters which he wrote to Josephine while away with the French army. Their ever-tumultuous, volatile love story is one of the fieriest romances the world has ever seen… and much of it heated up inside their magnificent home just a few miles outside of Paris. The couple first met at a dinner party thrown by Josephine’s then-lover and the de-facto governor of France, Paul Barras. He encouraged Josephine to use her charms on an instantly smitten Napoleon and they soon became lovers. Josephine had captured the heart of the man who eluded the armies of Europe. She was chic and stylish, a darling of Parisian fashionistas and the most powerful social circles in Paris. While on the other hand, Napoleon was short, rough around the edges and blunt. They were opposites in many ways but both were strikingly intelligent with an insatiable desire for power. Together, they’d find it.

After a whirlwind courtship, Napoleon proposed marriage in January of 1796. Days after they were wed, Napoleon left to command the French army near Italy. He begged his wife to join him for their honeymoon -- but why just honeymoon in Milan when you can purchase a lovely grand chateau?

Indeed, Josephine soon took to redecorating and remodelling the home, enlisting the help of renowned architects Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine to imbue the fashionable Neoclassical style of the day. The Château, along with the Tuileries, became the seat of the French government’s headquarters from 1800-1802. The Bonaparte’s were officially crowned Emperor and Empress of the French in 1804 (Napoleon famously crowned himself, breaking with tradition of being crowned by the Pope). Affairs, war and Josephine’s inability to produce an heir took their toll on the marriage. In order to produce an heir, Napoleon divorced Josephine in 1810. From the next room, attendants claimed to be able to hear Josephine’s inconsolable screams.

After the divorce, Josephine returned to Malmaison. Napoleon remarried and produced an heir (although the son died in his twenties), but he never stopped loving Josephine. Upon learning of her death while on exile in Elba, he locked himself in his room for two days. After he returned, he visited Malmaison and collected violets from Josephine’s beloved garden and wore them in a locket until his death. Napoleon Bonaparte’s last word as he lay dying? Josephine.

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