Ceillac: Col Tronchet

 

Col Trochet view southeast
Col Tronchet view southeast

Col Tronchet (2661 m) above Ceillac is one of the mountain passes connecting the Queyras Region with the Ubaye Valley. It is possible to drive about 6 km in the Mélézet Valley to the very end of the narrow but paved road to a parking (not paved; at 1965 m elev.), used mainly for hikes up to the Ste-Anne Lake.

Start to Col Tronchet
Start to Col Tronchet
Climbing to Col Tronchet
Climbing to Col Tronchet
Col Tronchet in sight
Col Tronchet in sight

Starting in the forest, we ascended along the main trail to about 2100 m where a signpost showed the itinerary both to the lake and Col Tronchet. We continued straight, heading to the southeast and eventually reached wide Alpine meadows, following Torrent du Tronchet.


To our right, we had Tête de Girardin (2876 m), and a bit further to the west, another ancient optical telegraph post on the ridge. Incidentally, we had visited such a post on Crête des Chambrettes the previous day. To our left, the sharp relief of Rocher de l’Eissassa (3048 m) was the only summit in the Tronchet sector reaching 3000 m.


Tête de Girardin
Tête de Girardin
View to west from Col Tronchet
View to west from Col Tronchet
Descent from Col Tronchet
Descent from Col Tronchet
Descent from Col Tronchet
Alpine meadow by the Tronchet trail

Today’s goal had been visible in front of us since leaving the forest. Nearing the mountain pass, the meadows were replaced by rockier and steeper terrain. The solitude was remarkable. There was just a sporadic hiker on the trail.


The final ascent was quite steep and the trail was narrow. Once on the col, we had views both to Ceillac and to the Chambeyron Massif with several 3000+ peaks on the south eastern side of the Ubaye Valley. The trail continued down to Maljasset.

We descended back along the same trail.


Distance: 7,5 km 


Climb: 690 m


Duration: 3h 40


Map: 3537ET Guillestre and 3637 OT Mont Viso


Col Tronchet hike track
Col Tronchet hike track



Oven-braised chicken thighs

 

Oven-braised chicken thighs



This is a warming dish to be made in autumn and winter. The choice of ingredients is not very different from the classic coq au vin but whole grain mustard, moutard à l’ancienne, gives the dish a special twist. 

Make this in a heavy cast-iron pot, cocotte, such as Le Creuset.

2 servings

4 chicken thighs with skin and bone

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 handfuls of sliced mushrooms

About 4 shallots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tbsp. whole grain mustard

100 ml chicken stock

100 ml white wine

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh herbs to decorate


Preheat the oven to 200°C, roast.


Warm the olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Fry the chicken thighs on both sides until golden. Remove from the pot and set aside. 


Add the shallots, mushrooms, and garlic to the pot and cook for a few minutes stirring occasionally. Pour in the wine and chicken stock scraping up any browned bits. Stir in the whole grain mustard and return the chicken thighs skin side up nestling them into the mushrooms and shallots. Pour in any accumulated juices from the chicken. There should be enough liquid in the pot so that the chicken thighs are partly covered.  


Transfer the pot in the oven and braise uncovered for 40- 45 minutes. The chicken skin should be nicely browned and the meat very tender.


Serve the chicken with brown or black rice. Grind over some black pepper and sprinkle with chopped herbs.


Ceillac: Crête des Chambrettes

Optical telegraph post Chambrettes
Optical telegraph post Chambrettes

Situated in the Queyras Regional Nature Park, Ceillac is a true hikers’ mecca. A few days’ stay is just not enough to explore all the opportunities.

The following hike features a great loop above Ceillac, circling via the Chambrettes Ridge, Crête des Chambrettes

As late as in 1899/1900, the French army built a chain of optical telegraph posts* in the Alps. The purpose was to communicate between Nice and Lake Geneva (and beyond). One of these posts was built on Crête des Chambrettes on a spot where the ridge (2555 m) is narrow, only about 100 m from the highest point (2582 m).

GR58 above Ceillac
GR58 above Ceillac
Near Col de Bramousse
Near Col de Bramousse
Col de Bramousse
Col de Bramousse
Above Col de Bramousse
Above Col de Bramousse

We started from Ceillac (1640 m), followed the GR58 long distance trail passing the Ste-Cécile church where we headed north and soon ascended quite steeply in the Bois de Cheynet Forest towards Col de Bramousse (2251 m).


From the col, we forked right (east) along the GR58 variant, and continued the ascent, now above the tree line. Ignoring the detour to the Jean Grossan lookout point, we entered the southern flank of the ridge and climbed to the small stone hut tower restored in 1997. The views from here were simply stunning. The northern flank was precipitous.



Jean Grossan lookout point
Jean Grossan lookout point
Cristillan Valley
Cristillan Valley
Peaks south of Ceillac
Peaks south of Ceillac
Ceillac seen from Crête des Chambrettes
Ceillac seen from Crête des Chambrettes
Eastern Crête des Chambrettes
Eastern Crête des Chambrettes






We descended along the main trail to the east as far as to Col de Fromage (2301 m; a major crossroads of trails) where we forked right and descended along GR5/58 back to Ceillac, passing the hamlet of Villard in the Cristillan Valley.


Climb: 920 m


Distance : 12,4 km


Duration: 4h 50


Map: 3537 ET Guillestre Vars.Risoul PNR du Queyras (or 3537 OT)


* https://www.envie-de-queyras.com/guide/poste-optique-des-chambrettes



Near summit of Crête des Chambrettes
Near summit of Crête des Chambrettes
View west from Crête des Chambrettes
View west from Crête des Chambrettes
Return from Col Fromage
Return from Col Fromage

Crête des Chambrettes hike track
Crête des Chambrettes hike track

Spaghetti with mackerel and cherry tomatoes

 

Spaghetti with mackerel and cherry tomatoes


Mackerel is a good source of heart- healthy omega- 3 fatty acids. Being low in the food chain, it accumulates much less toxins and heavy metals than tuna or swordfish. If you find fresh mackerel fillets in your shops, this is a recipe to try.

2 servings

2- 3 mackerel fillets

10- 12 cherry tomatoes, halved

3 shallots, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tsp. small capers

Olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

Whole wheat spaghetti for 2 servings

A good handful of chopped basil


Preheat the oven to 200° C, roast. Roast the mackerel fillets, skin side up, for 10 minutes. Remove the skin and cut the mackerel into smaller pieces. Set aside.


Meanwhile cook the spaghetti according to the advice on the package.


Warm 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and sauté the cherry tomatoes, shallots, and garlic for 10 minutes. Add the capers, black pepper and the cooked and drained spaghetti and mix. Fold in the mackerel pieces and basil. Divide into bowls and serve.


St-Dalmas le Selvage: Around Tête de Cristel via three mountain passes



Col de Cime Plate
Col de Cime Plate

It is possible to make a loop around Tête de Cristel (2726 m) via three mountain passes: Col de la Braïssa (2599 m), Col de Cime Plate (2728 m) and Col de l’Escuzier (2487 m). Part of the itinerary runs in the Alpes de Haute Provence department.  It turned out to be a fantastic route in a pristine and tranquil Alpine environment. Note that one of the passes was higher than the peak we circled!


We have previously hiked to Col de la Braïssa (2599 m) and back from Refuge de Sestrière (2000 m; signpost #57) above Saint-Dalmas le Selvage.


From Nice, we drove north along the M2205 road in the Tinée Valley, turned left soon after Saint-Etienne de Tinée to St-Dalmas le Selvage (M63 road), drove through the village and continued along a narrow albeit paved road towards Col de la Moutière. We reached our starting point, Refuge de Sestrière, bordering the Mercantour National Park in about two hours.


Near Refuge Sestrière
Near Refuge Sestrière
Larch forest above Refuge Sestrière
Larch forest above Refuge Sestrière
Vallon de la Braïssa
Vallon de la Braïssa
Col de la Braïssa
Col de la Braïssa
Towards Col de Cime Plate
Towards Col de Cime Plate

The ascent to Col de Braïssa (signpost #59) in Vallon de la Braïssa took about 1 h 50, first in a magnificent larch forest. From the col, we headed north where the steep southern face of Col de Cime Plate was visible. We were in a complete wilderness. Mobile phone coverage was non-existent. We only saw marmots and vultures. Before Col de la Braïssa we met a few hikers, here none. The trail was marked with cairns here and there. The final ascent to Col de Cime Plate required some surefootedness along the zigzagging trail.


Col de Cime Plate marked the highest point of today’s itinerary. Seasoned hikers might wish to Climb to nearby Cime de la Plate (2770 m). Cime de la Bonette (2860 m) was visible in the north. Col de l’Escuzier, our third mountain pass today could be seen in front of Tête Ronde (2590 m). We descended quite steeply into Vallon de la Braissette, with Tête de Cristel on our right-hand side, and the Braissette Lakes to the left.


There was no marked trail on our map to our last col but a clear path leading there was visible. From the main trail, we forked right at 2434 m elev. and followed the path along a grassy incline to Col de l’Escuzier.  Vast grassy slopes with some streams and ponds comprised the eastern flank of the col. In places, there were rocky precipices. We now headed east, avoiding the wet and steep areas. We joined the paved road at about 2300 m elev. and descended along it to our starting point. Traffic was minimal, but we met a few tourists driving carefully and some sheep farmers driving not so prudently!

Nearing Col de Cime Plate
Nearing Col de Cime Plate
View north from Col de Cime Plate
View north from Col de Cime Plate
Ascending to Col de l'Escuzier
Ascending to Col de l'Escuzier
Col de l'Escuzier
Col de l'Escuzier

Climb: 850 m

Duration (active hiking): 5h 15  

Distance: 14 km

Map: 3639 OT Haut Tinée 1 Auron

Three cols hike track
Three cols hike track


Open vegetable sandwiches with goat cheese

 

Open vegetable sandwiches with goat cheese


These tasty small open sandwiches make a light lunch served with some green side salad. You could add some hummus with the salad.

2 servings

4 small slices of soft and fresh rye bread

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 shallot, sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 red bell pepper, sliced

1 green bell pepper, sliced

2 tasty tomatoes, sliced

4 slices of low- fat goat cheese


Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan. Sauté the vegetables until soft.


Divide the vegetables on the bread slices and top with goat cheese.


Isola 2000: Lac de Tavels

 

Lac de Tavels

Hiking maps show no marked trails to Lac de Tavels (2240 m).  Situated 4 km southeast of Isola 2000 inside the Mercantour National Park, the lake is surrounded by several beautiful peaks close to the Italian border. Tête du Claus, north of the lake is the highest at 2897 m.


The lake (there are actually two but the smaller one was dry during our visit) is much less visited than the Terre Rouge Lakes above Isola. The shortest itinerary from Isola 2000 goes via Col Mercière (2342 m). More demanding unmarked routes via Italy involve steep mountain passes.


Footbridge above Isola2000
Footbridge above Isola2000
Shortcut above Isola2000
Shortcut above Isola2000
Towards Col Mercière
Towards Col Mercière
Signpost at Col Mercière
Signpost at Col Mercière
Vallon Mercière
Vallon Mercière

We took the shortest route to Col Mercière via ski slopes, then passed a big water reservoir before joining the wide gravel track up to the Col. The trail via Vallon du Terre Rouge (signposts #91, 92 and 95) is more interesting but a bit longer.


The southern flanks of Col Mercière and Tête Mercière comprise vast Alpine meadows, also used as pasture ground. We followed the winding wide marked trail, although there were both man and animal made paths on the incline, making shortcuts possible. 


We descended about 300 m vertically in Vallon Mercière, finally in the woods. At a sharp bend (44°10'01.6"N 7°11'44.7"E) at about 2070 m elev., we located the path to the lake. We forked left, and found out that the narrow trail had been marked with cairns. We ascended steeply to the lake. We were met by complete tranquillity. The landscape was pristine but very rocky.

Trail south of Col Mercière
Trail south of Col Mercière
Chamois in Vallon Mercière
Chamois in Vallon Mercière
Steep climb to Lac de Tavels
Steep climb to Lac de Tavels
Approaching Lac de Tavels
Approaching Lac de Tavels
Just before Lac de Tavels
Just before Lac de Tavels

After a break we wanted to explore a shorter unmarked route directly back to Col Mercière. We knew from other descriptions that this option was possible, and we had seen some hikers using it. In fact, there were cairns placed in the rocky terrain west of the lake, but in most places the path was barely visible. The boulders got bigger, and we proceeded very carefully along the steep flank. Near some old bunkers, we decided to descend to the grassy meadow below us and found a pleasant path back to Col Mercière.


For average hikers, we can’t recommend the uncomfortable return trail on the rocky incline. We would use the same trail both ways in spite of slightly more vertical climb.

Rocky terrain west of Lac de Tavels
Rocky terrain west of Lac de Tavels
Incline west of Lac de Tavels
Incline west of Lac de Tavels

Lac de Tavels hike track
Lac de Tavels hike track

Distance: 11 km

Climb: 640 m

Duration: 5 h

Map: ET 3640 ET Haute Tinée 2 Isola 2000