If you like taking stairs...the Hike to Mont Gros from Roquebrune

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin is situated about 23 km east of Nice. Our goal, Mont Gros (686 m), offers stunning views over the sea and Monaco. The mountain is also a well known paragliding center.

We will start the hike from the station almost by the sea. From there to the old village of Roquebrune the ascent along several stairs takes 40 minutes crossing both the Route National 7 and later the Grande Corniche. The old village at about 200 m already offers panoramic views. An open-air theater has been created in the Roquebrune Castle where concerts and performances are arranged in July and August.

After crossing the old village the trail is now Grande Randonnée GR 53A and consequently marked with red and white. After having reached Place De-Lattre-de-Tassigny the trail continues uphill in a pine forest eventually reaching Col de la Coupière (440 m). Those wishing to make an easier and shorter hike can drive up here. This shorter variant is well described in French in the Randoxygène guide.  The trail is well signposted all the way. From the Col, it’s still a Grande Randonnée (GR 51) trail almost to the summit. From there, you will have a great view over the coast, Monaco and Rocagel, the royal summer residence.

Our hike can be considered “semi urban” as you ascend initially through very nice residential areas to the medieval village before entering more rugged terrain in a forest. In spite of this, you are very close to the coast all the time. The A8 motorway disappears in a tunnel deep under your trail.
Duration: 4 hours, vertical ascent 686 m.


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Spring chicken recipe

Spring chicken

In the Mediterranean countries asparagus is in season in spring. In April they even organize Fête de l’asperge, asparagus festivities, in Étauliers near Bordeaux. Green Spanish asparagus has already appeared in our local supermarket in Nice. After an exceptionally rainy winter we still have to wait for local French asparagus for a while, but Spanish asparagus could be considered almost local. I believe that asparagus should only be eaten when it is in season locally. The taste and texture is such a pleasure.

Don’t be afraid of using a bit liberally olive oil in this recipe. Crème fraîche 15 % fat has little fat, and skinless chicken breasts, brown rice and asparagus are fat-free; there is place for heart-healthy olive oil. Olive oil in the Mediterranean diet may also be one of the secrets for a good skin which the locals here have even in old age.

2 servings

2 skinless free-range chicken breasts, blancs de poulet  fermier Label Rouge
10 green French or Spanish asparagus
A generous amount of chives
2 tbsp crème fraîche 15 % fat
5 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 210⁰ C, roast. Place the chicken breast on an ovenproof dish lined with baking paper. Grind black pepper and sprinkle 1 tbsp olive oil over the chicken. Roast for 25 minutes.

Wash the asparagus. Cut away about 5 centimeters the bottom parts if they are hard. Peel the bottom parts. Steam for 20 minutes, or microwave for about 4 minutes. I prefer microwaving because it is so quick and effortless.

Cook the brown rice. Again I prefer the pre-cooked variants which only need 10 minutes cooking.

Wash and dry the chives and cut them finely. Spoon 2 tbsp light crème fraîche and 4 tbsp olive oil in a small casserole. Gently warm over a low heat for 5 minutes, whisking to get a smooth sauce. Add the chives in the end.

Divide the chicken breasts, brown rice and asparagus on the plates and drizzle with the sauce.


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Happy ascent to Mont Lion

It is the first day of spring and the day of happiness. The morning in Nice is hazy, partly sunny the temperature at about 14⁰C and rising. The planned hike to Mont Lion can go ahead as planned.

The village of Gilette –with one l-is about 30 km northwest of Nice. When using the newish RD 6202 bis road you pass the town of Carros in no time. Continuing north, at the last roundabout just before the bridge Charles Albert, you turn uphill along RD 17 to reach Gilette. You are now in the region of Vallée de l’Estéron.

Today’s goal Mont Lion (1049m) is clearly visible from the village. The guidebook recommends the hike called Tour du Mont Lion where you can visit the summit, then continue around the whole mountain. This hike takes 6.5 hours and climbs 900+ meters vertical. We have previously done the longer alternative, and think it does not add much. Climbing up to the summit and descending the same route is actually strenuous enough, but you are rewarded with great views from the summit. From Gilette, you first have to descend about 100 m to 320 m before starting the continuous ascent (700 m vertical) to Mont Lion. Signposts (4, 13, 14, 15, and 53) are clear enough and the trail is marked with the usual yellow.

This is a great springtime hike. You have a feeling of a certain microclimate when first descending from Gilette into a small valley. In summer, the ascent will be very warm. In autumn, you have to mind the hunters.
It took 2h 20 min for us to reach the summit; the descent was 1h 50 min. Happy hiking!


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My best spring lamb recipe

Lamb navarin, navarin d’agneau, is a classic spring time dish which is made with new spring vegetables. It is speculated that the term navarin comes from the French navet, turnip, which is an essential ingredient in lamb navarin.
marinating the lamb

The following recipe is inspired by a recipe shown recently on the French Tele Matin. In that TV program, the cook made the dish with souris d’agneau, lamb shanks. Because lamb shanks are difficult to find in our Nice supermarket I used slices of lamb leg, tranches de gigot. Slices of lamb leg can be cooked pretty fast, but lamb shanks need a long and gentle cooking for maximum flavour and tenderness. Microwaving the carrots and turnips will further reduce the cooking time. Sometimes the dinner has to be cooked fast and simple, but there is no need to sacrifice taste or healthy ingredients.
Sautéing the lamb leg slices
And I used fresh lemon, not citron confit, as the idea with these spring recipes is to use fresh new ingredients that again are available after winter.

2 servings

2 nice and fat-free slices of lamb leg, tranches de gigot
2 carrots, sliced
2- 3 turnips, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
Freshly ground black pepper
50 ml white wine
Parsley and mint to decorate      
Adding carrots and turnips in casserole

For the marinade:

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
A handful of mint and parsley, washed and finely chopped
1 lemon, peeled and chopped

Place the slices of lamb leg in a shallow dish. Divide the garlic slices and chopped lemon over the lamb. Cover with chopped herbs and sprinkle with olive oil. Cover with foil and marinate one hour in the fridge.
My best spring lamb
Heat 1 tbsp rapeseed oil over a medium heat in a heavy casserole. Place the slices of lamb leg in the casserole, with the herb side up, and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the chopped onion and sauté for about 10 minutes. Add the white wine and black pepper. Then reduce the heat to simmering.

Slice the carrots. Peel and chop the turnips. Microwave the carrots and turnips until they are soft. Add the vegetables in the casserole and continue simmering, partly covering the casserole, for about 5 - 10 minutes.

Divide the lamb and vegetables on the plates and decorate with fresh herbs.


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Panoramic walk from La Turbie

The famous Grande Corniche passes through La Turbie, about 18 km east of Nice. The monument Trophée d’Auguste is a visible landmark of La Turbie. Originally a statue of Augustus Caesar stood on the top of the 45 m high column. The trophy was completely destroyed by Louis XIV’s engineers, and only reconstructed in the 1930’s.

La Turbie and the Grande Corniche have been popular locations for shooting films where daredevil driving and action happens. The 1998 Robert de Niro and Jean Reno thriller “Ronin used a villa in the very centre of La Turbie where the mysterious suitcase was held. The subsequent attack on the car and the car chase took place in Villefanche-sur-Mer

This leisurely walk is altogether more peaceful, although one can still witness the scars on the nature from the 1986 forest fire when ascending towards Fort de la Revère. Best views are on the way back from the old military trail high above the coastline. Fog and/or low clouds are not infrequent along this trail.

The hike is well described in French in the booklet (and on their web site) Pays Côtier published by Conseil General des Alpes Maritimes and called Circuit de la Forna. From La Turbie, the route follows Grande Corniche a few hundred meters then turns right and ascends along a paved narrow street. The trail marked with yellow then continues along the hillside as far as la maison de la nature next to Fort de la Revère. The viewpoint indicator La Simboula is just a short detour from this intersection. The route back is very well marked following initially the old military trail.

The walk takes 2.5 hours (max), distance is 6.8 km and the vertical ascent very reasonable at 220 m.


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Duck breast recipe with orange sauce

Duck breast with orange sauce

Duck breasts, magrets de canard or simply just magrets, are popular in France. The dark and strong flesh of duck goes very well with sweeter sauces and fruit; duck with orange is a classic combination.
I have always found pan-frying duck breasts and pouring away the hot fat halfway in the cooking a bit complicated method, at least if you are cooking for four or six people. So I was eager to try oven roasting them as was recommended on the package. It turned out so well that I am going to use this method more often.
The orange sauce in this recipe is my favourite variation. I like to serve duck breasts simply with new potatoes and some vegetables. Steamed broccoli florets or Brussels sprouts are nice in this recipe.

4 servings

2 duck breasts, magrets
2 oranges, pressed into juice
4 tsp good orange marmalade, such as Florian confiture d’orange
2 tsp red wine vinegar
Black pepper, freshly ground
Fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp corn flour diluted in a small amount of water

Preheat the oven to 200 ⁰ C.

Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Choose a tray with walls because the duck breasts give away quite a lot of hot fat. The fat solidifies eventually and is easier to discard the next day.

Criss-cross the fatty skin of the duck breasts. Place them in the baking tray flesh-side down. Roast in oven for 15 minutes, then turn and continue cooking a further 15 minutes, skin-side down this time. Remove the breasts from the baking tray and place them on a carving plate. Keep them warm under foil and slice after a while.

Meanwhile cook the sauce. Press the oranges and simmer the juice in a small casserole. Whisk in the marmalade and red wine vinegar. Add some thyme leaves, save the rest for the decoration, and grind in some black pepper. Whisk the corn flour in a small amount of water until smooth. Use it to thicken the sauce as needed; you may not need to use it all.

Divide the sauce on the plates and place the duck breast slices on the sauce. Divide the new potatoes and vegetables on the plates and decorate with thyme leaves.


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A great spring day on Mont Chauve Aspremont

On doit profiter…you have to grab the opportunity as the spring has finally arrived on the French Riviera after a very wet winter. Even the previous record from 1978 was beaten.

The hike to Mont Chauve starts from the charming and well-kept village of Aspremont 14 km north of Nice. Aspremont (500 m) itself offers already great views as it towers high over the Var river valley. There are a couple of restaurants and a bar/café in the centre. The village has recently renovated its parking which is now quite spacious in two floors in the centre of the village.

Mont Chauve (853 m) is located southeast of Aspremont. It is topped by a fortress, and from there you have a panoramic view of Nice, the Baie des Anges, and even some of the boulevards. The strange looking round horizontal thing built on the fortress is a VOR/DME device, a navigational aid for air traffic. In addition, there are a lot of telecommunications masts. Hence, it’s not one of the most beautiful mountaintops per se.

The first signpost is almost next to the parking area. The trail initially follows the D14 road, crosses it and continues along a small road 300m before turning right following the GR5 trail. Ascending along the western hillside of Mont Chauve, one has soon unobstructed views of the Var river valley, Cap Antibes and beyond as well as the snow capped mountains in the north. To ascend the summit, one has to leave GR 5 and turn left at the main intersection south of the mountain, and then follow the trail up to a paved road that leads to the fortress. To complete the hike, as described in the guidebook, the trail back marked by yellow signs descends along the eastern hillside to a place called Baisse de Guigo (730 m) and then straight back to Aspremont.

Map: 3742 OT Nice Menton. Duration of the hike is about three hours. Vertical climb 460 m.
Recommended guide (in French; also on their web site): Tour du Mont Chauve in Rando Pays Côtier booklet.


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Basil stuffed chicken breast recipe with mushrooms

Basil stuffed chicken with mushrooms

This recipe is inspired by a Sunday lunch that we had in a bistro in Biot many years ago. I can`t remember the name of the bistro, and it might not even exist any longer. It was a clear, cold winter day, the bistro was full and everybody was truly enjoying the tasty but simple menu.

In those days they served a very reasonable Sunday formule, fixed menu. We managed somehow to squeeze in. This was simple bistro food at its best in a great atmosphere, and I have ever since tried to emulate their basil filled chicken breast with mushrooms.

After seeing a French TV- program recently, I nowadays always buy farm-raised chicken, poulet fermier, and when possible Label Rouge. Label Rouge chickens are most closely controlled. They are out every day, rain or sunshine, picking grass. They are taken in for the night and fed a special corn mixture which is fortified with vitamins and minerals. These sturdy and fit birds live like the chickens were meant to live, so they are normally very healthy. Their meat is firm and tasty.

The basil pure, Le Basilic du Provencal, is sold in glass jars in Nice supermarkets. It is made of crushed basil, olive oil and salt.

2 servings

2 poulet fermier chicken breasts, pref. Label Rouge
2 heaped tsp basil pure, Le Basilic du Provence
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 large mushrooms, halved and sliced
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
50 ml white wine
50 ml chicken stock
2 tbsp crème fraîche, 15 % fat
Freshly ground black pepper
Parsley to decorate

For the side dish of roasted tomatoes:

1 tomato, halved
2 tsp bread crumbs
2 tsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of salt (optional)

With a small sharp knife, cut the pockets in chicken breasts and fill with basil pure. Over medium heat, warm 1 tbsp rapeseed oil in a large heavy pan. Fry the chicken breasts on both sides until golden brown. Reduce the heat a little, add the shallots and 1 clove minced garlic in the pan and continue cooking for a few minutes. Add the white wine, chicken stock and black pepper in the pan. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile fry the mushrooms in rapeseed oil with 1 minced clove garlic in a separate frying pan. They need to be fried until well browned on both sides. Then arrange them on top of the chicken breasts.

Roast the tomato halves in 210⁰ C for about 10- 15 minutes until nicely coloured.

Divide the chicken breasts, mushrooms, tomato halves and the sauce on the plates. Decorate with parsley and serve with brown rice.


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Planning next summer's peaks

Have you been thinking about climbing one of the higher peaks in Alpes Maritimes next summer? Consider Mont Pépoiri as a starter. You don’t have to be a superman or woman to ascend this peak. In fact, the vertical ascent is only about 650 m as you can drive up to 2030 m to Millefonts. On the other hand, if you really want to do it the hard way, start your hike down in the valley! The road up to Millefonts starts from St-Dalmas-Valdeblore, distance from Nice is 77 km.

The great hike presented in this video clip is well described in French in the Conseil Général Guidebook “Haut Pays” and is called Traversée du Pépoiri. On their web site, you can click "visualiser la carte" to see the trail. From the summit, you can take the same route back or alternatively -as the guide describes- the hors-sentier route back via Lac d’En Veillos. We recommend the latter in good weather and visibility. The initial ascent from Millefonts is along GR 52 passing the lakes Lac Petit (actually the biggest!), Lac Long and Lac Gros. From signpost 84 onwards, the route is marked with cairns. The summit with its mast is soon visible. As the video clip shows, all the major peaks of Mercantour National Park and beyond are visible from this altitude.

Having done this first, one can start planning climbing Cime du Diable and Mont Mounier (seen also from distance in this video clip)!


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