On the roof of Alpes Maritimes



The highest mountain pass la Bonette was opened for public traffic in 1961. The paved road makes a loop around the mountain and climbs to 2802m. There are several mountain roads in Europe higher than this but none of them connects a town or a region. Even so, this road is open for traffic only during the snowless period. Further down the road D64 is the hamlet of Bousiéyas, the highest village in Alpes Maritimes. The last allegedly permanent inhabitant, Madame Delmas, passed away alone there during one harsh winter in the 1960s. Today, there is a gîte during the summer season. The tour presented here is a classic hike ascending to the mountain crest of la Blanche south of Bousiéyas. After the initial ascent to the long crest, the scenery is extraordinary even for a seasoned hiker. You are in the middle of high terrain with an unobstructed view of major peaks in all directions.

 Details are described in French in the guidebook Rando Haut Pays/Crête de la Blanche.

 Duration: 5 h 30 min walking time. Vertical ascent: 760m.
 Map: Haute Tinée 1, TOP No 3639 OT

 Music courtesy of Far Out Recordings; Track Magnetic Feel (Roc  Hunter) from the Album “Far Out Jazz  Funk”.

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Trout simmered in white wine

This is a carefree but tasty way to prepare small trouts.

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Escape to Italy



In September 1943 over a thousand Jews escaped from Saint-Martin-Vésubie to Italy using the ancient mountain passes. The mountain pass of Cerise above Boréon was one of the routes used. Already in the 15th century, this route was used to collect the salt tax from the area above Nice to the County of Savoy. The hiking trail from Le Boreon to Col de Cerise is inside the Mercantour National Park. The vertical ascent is about 1050m and duration 5 hours. French guides grade the tour as “sportif” but the trail itself is technically easy. It’s just the long ascent that may take its toll.

Map: Vallée de la Vésubie TOP 25 no 3741 OT.

Music courtesy of Sabrina Malheiros “Sintonia”(Instrumental) New Morning De Luxe Edition; Far Our Recordings.

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My best rabbit recipe

Rabbit recipe

The traditional diet of the majority in the arrière-pays, in the mountains behind Nice, has always been rather meat-poor. Meat was a special treat used sparingly for Sundays and holidays. Of course the hunters took the occasional hooved game, but birds and rabbits were more frequently the prize. Hunting is still a popular pastime in the arrière-pays, and hikers are advised to wear colourful clothes and stay on the marked trails during the hunting season. Nowadays, rabbit is also very popular on the French Riviera, and farm-raised rabbit is easy to find in local supermarkets.

Rabbit meat is lean and delicate, a bit like chicken. It needs to be simmered an hour in a heavy casserole, my trusted Le Creuset is super for this.

2 servings

  • 2 rabbit legs (cuisses de lapin)
  • 5-6 spring onions,
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tasty tomatoes
  • 100 ml white wine
  • Juice and zest of ½ orange
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A sprig of rosemary or thyme
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Black olives
  • Fresh basil leaves to decorate

Heat the rapeseed oil in a heavy casserole, and fry the rabbit legs on both sides until golden brown. Clean the spring onions and discard the green parts. Add the spring onions and garlic to the casserole. Add the white wine, zest and juice of ½ orange, bay leaf and rosemary. Grind a few rounds of black pepper in the casserole.
Cover the casserole and reduce the heat.
Let simmer for about ½ hour turning the legs and stirring regularly. Chop the tomatoes into quarters and add to the casserole. Continue simmering for ½ hour longer.
Meanwhile cook quinoa. I prefer to serve quinoa, because it best compliments this rabbit casserole.
Decorate with black olives and fresh basil leaves.

Villefranche walk - the most popular walk on the French Riviera?



Autumn is a great time for coastal walks. Vacationers have gone home, the traffic is back to normal and the weather is still nice and warm. Villefranche sur Mer is certainly one of the most visited towns on the French Riviera. Situated a few km east of Nice, it is also an important stopover for cruise ships.

This video clip shows a walk from Villefranche sur Mer to St Jean Cap Ferrat along the coastal pathway. It should be emphasized that this part of the route is easy with negligible vertical ascent. The department of Alpes Maritimes has published free booklets where many but not all of these walks are described in French. On this particular walk, be sure to locate the small street of Chemin des Moulins at the busy intersection of Pont St-Jean. Those wishing to take longer walks can start from Nice. There are more vertical ascents and descents around Cap de Nice but the views are extraordinary. There’s also the option to walk around the whole peninsula of Cap Ferrat.

Have you tried cooking en papillote? (Chicken breast in a parcel)

Chicken breast in a parcel recipe

French cooks are very keen on cooking almost everything en papillote, in a parcel of baking paper. I often cook fish this way which is super to seal in moisture and taste. The following recipe is with chicken breast, and the result was surprisingly good. It is important of course that the chicken breast is tender. I have found that the tenderness is somewhat variable here, it seems that in France taste is sometimes more important than tenderness. I wonder if others have similar experiences.

2 servings

  • 2 skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 nice slices mozzarella
  • 4 extra thin slices of Parma ham
  • 2 mandarins or clementines, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 60 ml white wine
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • Black pepper, freshly ground
  • Fresh basil leaves or chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 210 ⁰ C.

In a pan, sauté the chicken breasts in rapeseed oil about 5 minutes on both sides until golden brown. Set aside on a plate. In the same pan cook the mandarin slices in white wine about 5 minutes.

Cut two squares, about 30 x 30 cm, out of baking paper. Place the chicken breasts on the baking paper squares. Top with the mozzarella slices and wrap with the Parma ham slices.  Grind a few rounds black pepper and drizzle 1 tsp olive oil on each breast. Arrange the mandarins around the chicken breasts. Scatter basil leaves over the chicken, save some for the final decoration.

Wrap the baking paper into tight parcels and cook in oven for about 15 minutes. Serve with brown rice.

If you are thinking about...climbing to over 3000m



At 3050m, Mont Pelat is the highest mountain in the westernmost part of the Mercantour national park in Southeastern France. An excellent network of hiking trails of different levels can be found between Col de la Cayolle and Allos. In either case, your starting point can be over 2000 m. Keep in mind that this is a national park where rules apply. The ascent can be done in one day. To be able to start early, an overnight stay in one of the nearby villages is recommended.

Apart from the last 50 m scramble, the climb is basically a strenous 6 to 7 hour hike. No special skills are needed but you have to be in a good physical condition. It is strongly recommended to check the French weather reports for the local mountains. Weather information for nearby Barcelonnette and Allos is particulary useful.

Porridge breakfast before a long hike

Porridge breakfast before a long hike

Before a long hike you need a carbohydrate-rich breakfast which settles well and provides sustained energy during the long workout. You can eat a high-calorie breakfast if you allow about two to three hours of digesting and if you choose carbohydrates with less fibre and with a moderate glycemic index. Oat porridge with milk, bananas and orange juice are just a few choices.

It is recommended that about 70 % of energy is from carbohydrates and to achieve this you need to reduce the amount of fat. Too much fat in your breakfast can also increase the risk of gastrointestinal problems during a strenuous hike.

Of course, choices of what to eat before exercising vary from person to person and from sport to sport, so there is no “magic meal” which will ensure top performance for everybody. We all have also unique food preferences so that one has to learn through trial and error what works best for his or her body- and what doesn’t work.

The following porridge breakfast has never let us down during our long hikes or cross-country skiing trips. You also need to consider your body’s energy needs; small women need fewer calories than larger men. The following portions suit us and could be considered as general suggestions.

For girls:
  • Porridge made with 200 ml rolled oats, 300 ml low-fat milk (1.5 % fat).
  • Cover the oats with milk. Cover the porridge bowl and microwave on medium setting for about 3 minutes. Serve with a sliced banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
  • Make a small fruit salad with a sliced banana and an orange.
  • Drink 200 ml orange juice and a cup of milk coffee made of 100 ml coffee and 100 ml warmed low-fat milk.
Total: About 800 kcal, about 140 g carbohydrates (70 energy-%).

For guys:
  • Increase the amount of porridge by making it with 300 ml rolled oats and 400 ml low-fat milk. Serve the porridge with a sliced banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
  • Keep the amounts of fruit salad and drink the same.
Total: about 1000 kcal, about 170 g carbohydrates (68 energy-%).

Do you have a favourite breakfast before a long hike?

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Duck breast with figs and quatre-epices

Duck breast with figs and quatre-epices recipe

In a survey a couple of years ago the French people voted duck breast, magret de canard, the most popular dish. In the following recipe, figs give a nice late summer- autumnal twist. Quatre-épices is a spice mixture of ground cinnamon, ginger, clove and nutmeg which reminded us of Nordic vin chaud, glögg, at Christmas time. Quatre-épices is easy to find in Nice supermarkets.

2 servings

  • 1 duck breast
  • 6- 8 nice figs
  • 1 tbsp runny honey, pref. lavender honey
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp quatre-épices
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • About 200 g green beans (frozen Bonduelle Le Haricot Vert Extra-fin is super!)
  • Finely chopped parsley to decorate

Wash and dry the figs. Cut them into quarters. Make cuts in the fatty side of the duck breast. Heat a frying pan and fry the duck breast 5 minutes on both sides, starting with the fatty side. Discard the fat and reduce the heat to the minimum. Sprinkle the quatre-épice on the duck breast and continue cooking for 10 minutes, turning once. Cook the green beans and keep warm. Remove the duck breast from the pan and keep warm under foil. Pour the honey into the pan and gently cook the figs for about 4 -5 minutes. Turn them once so that they are well coated with the honey. Remove them from the pan and divide on the plates. Pour the balsamic vinegar into the pan and mix with the remaining quatre-épices. Slice the duck breast and divide on the plates. Grind a little black pepper over the slices. Divide the green beans on the plates. Drizzle the vinegar sauce over the duck slices and decorate with parsley.


Ascent to Tête de la Boulière



This is another great hike up to the summit of Tête de la Boulière (2708m). In spite of being classified as “Rando Alpine” in the Randoxygène guidebook, the trail neither too steep nor particularly difficult. Even so, the vertical ascent is 930 m and the duration between 5 and 6 hours. The starting point is at Estenc at 1780m. The initial trail is well marked through the little village followed by a long ascent in the Estrop river valley to signpost 279 at the Gialorgues mountain pass. From there, a narrower and rockier path continues to Baisse de la Boulière and signpost 280. The final ascent is not actually marked but evident towards southwest, an easy walk-up. The view is magnificent. Don’t go there in bad weather though! The only drawback of this tour might be the 2+ hour drive from Nice (117km).

Map: IGN 3540 ET Guidebook in French: Les Guides Randoxygène/Haut Pays.

Music courtesy of: Sabrina Malheiros: “Brisa Mar” (Instrumental) New morning De Luxe Edition; Far out Recordings.


Roasted sardine fillets

Roasted sardine fillets recipe

Sardines are a good source of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. In Nice supermarkets you can often buy fresh sardine fillets. The following recipe makes a healthy and carefree lunch.

2 servings

  • 8- 10 sardine fillets
  • 1 tomato, cut into small pieces
  • Juice of ¼ lemon
  • About 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Finely chopped parsley
  • Lemon wedges to serve

Preheat the oven to 210 ⁰ C (roast).
Line a small baking dish with baking paper. Wash the sardine fillets under running cold water to remove any lingering scales. Dry the fillets with kitchen paper and arrange them in the baking dish. Grind a few rounds of black pepper and press a little lemon juice over them. Cut a tomato in small pieces and scatter over the sardines. Sprinkle with olive oil.
Roast for about 15 minutes. Decorate with parsley. Serve with a green salad and French dressing, and good whole wheat bread to mop up the baking juices.

I don’t need to add any salt because the natural saltiness of the sea fish is enough for us. You can sprinkle a little salt at the table, if you need to.


Hike to Lacs de Vens



This must be one of the classic destinations in the region!

The six beautiful lakes in the upper Vens valley can be reached from the parking de Vens or le Pra a bit further away along the D64 road. The first option is shorter in distance and time and is presented in this video clip. The start is at 1550m and in spite of a vertical ascent of about 850m the trail is never too steep or difficult. Therefore, this tour can be easily done in one day. But as always, the weather in this region may deteriorate during the afternoon and an early start is therefore recommended. The refuge serves meals and refreshments during high season. Even so, take with you enough water and snacks. A sports drink can be a good idea for the ascent. You can reach the starting point in less than two hours from Nice.