Hiking in Gorges de la Vésubie

This hike starts at the hamlet of Cros d’Utelle (350m). The trail is actually an ancient mule trail to Utelle (800m), and you can admire how cleverly it was carved and paved in the Gorges de la Vésubie, high above the river. The trail is now GR(Grande Randonnée) 5 marked with red and white. The starting point is at the church of Cros d’Utelle (signpost 3) surrounded by old olive trees. View the map here.

After the initial ascent, the trail offers stunning views. At about half-way, you will find the well-preserved chapel of Saint-Antoine (673m). The chapel can be visited.

The trail then continues through a very nice Mediterranean forest before the last rocky part to Utelle.
There is a small inn, L’Auberge Utelloise, in the centre of Utelle, Place de la République. You can have a simple lunch, Plat du Jour, or opt for a more substantial Menu Randonneurs. We had a very nice Daube aux cèpes which was plentiful enough for the hike back to Cros d’Utelle. You could stay overnight at the inn and next day hike to Madone d’Utelle.

We took GR5 back to Cros d’Utelle because of the great views. You have a slightly longer option via Colombier and plateau de Millehommes which is presented in French in the booklet Les Guides Randoxygène, Moyen Pays. Vésubie River gorge is another good example of how unspoiled and different the landscape can be just 30 km north of Nice.


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Grilled shrimp recipe with polenta

Grilled shrimp with polenta

This recipe was inspired by a dinner that we had at Tarpon Creek Bar and Grill  in Marathon, Florida: Wood grilled shrimp and grits. Grits are ground-corn porridges that are common in the Southern United States and traditionally eaten mainly for breakfast. It is interesting that grits are similar to other thick maize-based porridges such as polenta.

Polenta is a typical Italian dish. Corn was cultivated in the Veneto area as early as 1530 and was gradually introduced to Nice. Polenta became quite popular in the arrière pays, in the back-country of Nice. It was simply eaten with a dusting of cheese or with a meat or tomato sauce spooned over it, or with a grilled quail or something similar on the side. So this grilled shrimp with polenta actually is not that far from the traditions in and around Nice.

For this recipe choose large fresh or frozen shrimp, crevettes, with their shells on to protect flavour and freshness. Nowadays it is difficult to find fresh shrimp even on the French Riviera, but luckily shrimp takes particularly well to freezing.  Even fresh-looking shrimp in our local supermarket has been previously frozen. Solidly frozen shrimp is best thawed in the fridge.

On the Riviera, shrimp is served with their shells on. I have noticed that most Americans are not comfortable with this, so you may wish to peel the shrimp at some point during the cooking process. At Tarpon Creek Bar and Grill the shrimp were served peeled, just the tips of the tails were left on.

2 servings

8- 10 large crevettes, shrimp with their shells, fresh or thawed
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
200 ml fresh or frozen green peas
2 tsp rapeseed oil
½ spring onion, finely sliced, for decoration
2 servings of polenta, according to the advice on the package

For the marinade:

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl mix the marinade and stir in the shrimp until well coated with the marinade. Marinate in the fridge for about 1 hour.
Gently sauté the shallot and garlic in rapeseed oil in a saucepan. Add the peas and gently warm. Cover and keep warm.
Cook the polenta according to the advice on the package. Stir in 1 tbsp olive oil, cover and keep warm.

Oil a grill pan and warm over a medium heat. Grill the shrimp until nicely reddish- browned on both sides. Divide the shrimp, polenta and peas on the plates. Decorate with spring onion and serve with lemon wedges.


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Visit to Gassin and Cap Lardier

Trail to Cap Lardier

The interior of St-Tropez peninsula is sparsely inhabited, thanks to government intervention, complex ownerships and the value of some local wines. The best views of this richly green and wooded countryside is from the hilltop village of Gassin, its lower neighbor Ramatuelle, and the tiny road between them, Route des Moulins de Paillas.
Celliers des Vigneros de Ramatuelle

The southern tip of the peninsula is a wonderful coastal conservation area. The beach, Plage du Gigaro, is the start of the paths to Cap Lardier. You can continue along the coastal path to Cap Taillat and L’Escalet, and further to the lighthouse of Cap Camarat.

Ramatuelle is surrounded by some of the best Côte de Provence vineyards. We visited first
View from a Gassin restaurant
 Les Celliers des Vignerons de Ramatuelle, which is a wine cooperative. 70 % of their production is rosé, 25 % red and 5 % white. The leading grape variety is Tibouren and the rest of the production is made of the vintage varieties of Grenach, Syrah, Cinsault, Mouvèdre, Carignan and Merlot. The creation of the cooperative in 1954 allowed the small owners to follow the technical evolutions in wine making.    

Gigaro beach

Gassin is a small hilltop village which is now, of course, highly chic. It is a perfect place for a blow-out dinner or a long leisurely lunch sitting in one of the restaurants offering spectacular views. Today we, however, opted for a simple pizza in La Croix- Valmer because of the planned the seaside hike to Cap Lardier in the afternoon.
On the seaside trail to Cap Lardier

Pine forest of Cap Lardier

When driving from La Croix-Valmer to Plage du Gigaro, you take the road towards Cavalaire and at the roundabout turn left and follow the signs to Plage du Gigaro. There is a spacious parking right behind the small Spar shop.
View from Cap Lardier with Cap Camarat lighthouse in distance

The seaside trail to Cap Lardier starts from the end of the beach. It is a rugged trail with several steep stairs, so hiking shoes are advisable. It is almost 4 km from Plage du Gigaro to Cap Lardier, and it took us 1 h 10 along the shorter seaside path. On the way back we took the slightly longer inland trail which later joined the coastal path. On a sunny day the hike offers super views in fresh sea air, and the drive back along some small and winding country road
gives further visual enjoyment.


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Noilly Prat sauces, two recipes

Duck breast with Noilly Prat sauce

Noilly Prat is a dry vermouth from the South of France. It is made from white grapes grown in the Marseillan area and matured in oak casks. It is said that about twenty herbs and spices are added to it.

I always thought that Noilly Prat is a slightly decadent and old fashioned aperitif. But during a visit to Eilenroc, where I saw it among the aperitifs in the winter garden, I somehow became interested in its origins. I googled it, and discovered its extensive uses in cooking, especially for sauces to accompany fish.

The following two sauce recipes are the results of my experiments with Noilly Prat. If you have any favourite Noilly Prat recipes, please let me know.

The following sauce is especially good with grilled or roasted fish or scallops:

2 servings

75 ml good vegetable stock (for instance from Bjorg vegetable cube)
75 ml Noilly Prat
2 tbsp fruity olive oil
2 tbsp crème fraîche 15 % fat
Freshly ground black pepper
Basil or dill to decorate

In a small casserole, cook the vegetable stock and Noilly Prat over a moderate heat until reduced to almost half. Add 2 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp crème fraîche. Whisk thoroughly until everything is well-mixed and smooth. Add the pepper and decorate with herbs.

The sauce below goes very well with magret de canard, duck breast: See our earlier post.

2 servings

Juice of 1 large orange
75 ml Noilly Prat
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp corn flour dissolved in a small amount of water
Fresh parsley or chives to decorate

Press the juice from 1 large orange. In a small casserole, cook the orange juice and Noilly Prat over a moderate heat until reduced to almost half. Dissolve the corn flour in a small amount of water. Add the black pepper, and whisk in the corn flour- water mixture until the sauce has thickened as you wish. You may not need to use all the corn flour- water mixture. Decorate with fresh herbs.


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Green and red in Gorges du Cians

For many visitors, the road D28 along Cians valley up to the mountain resort of Valberg is just a thoroughfare.

You enter the Gorges du Cians almost immediately after the intersection near Touët-sur-Var in the Var river valley. In spite of many improvements, some parts of D28 are still quite narrow. On one web site, it is even listed among the most dangerous roads in the world! The steep mountain walls on both sides change their colour from limestone grey to red as you ascend towards Beuil. A local bikers´ web site calls the valley “Le Colorado Niçois”.  Similar colours can be seen in Gorges de Daluis as well as in some parts of Tinée valley.
Many mountaintops around Cians River have a round form reminiscent of fells in northern England and Scandinavia. In spite of this, many of them reach 2000m and more. The landscape is different compared with the Alpine peaks visible not that far in the north.

This is hinterland, arrière pays, and when you hike here you are more or less off the beaten track. We describe a hike that starts from the valley at 1288 m from a place called Pré de Chaudi. It’s basically a parking lot by the D28 road. Unfortunately, a large part of it was filled with red land and rocks probably as a result of last winter’s landslides on the road.

The first challenge was crossing the Cians River as the trails at this point start on the other side. As this was our first hike here, we could not know if there ever had been a bridge. Nothing resembling even remnants of a bridge was visible. In early May, the melting snow in the Mounier Mountain massive (2817 m) obviously results in a lot of water. As you can see in the clip, it’s by no means a wide river at all but you don’t want to start the hike with wet gear! After a while we located a fallen tree trunk suitable for the crossing.

Our goal was Les Cluots at 2106m. There are many variants. Diehard hikers even have the option of climbing all the neighbouring peaks (Tête de Pérail 2016 m and Tête de Giarons 2027 m) as well.  The initial ascent goes through a forest to a sheepfold at 1600m. The trail marked with yellow is perhaps less clear after this point but one can actually walk almost everywhere; shortcuts are possible. As you continue above the tree level navigation should be easy enough in clear weather. In early May numerous alpine flowers, such as the edelweiss and gentian, were in full blossom. At signpost 76 (1950 m) all three peaks are visible. We could immediately conclude that Les Cluots northern flank was still covered with snow. With our gear, we therefore opted for Tête de Pérail instead. The vertical ascent was 730 m, duration 4.5 hours and driving distance from Nice 65 km.

Map: Moyenne Tinée No 3641 ET

Map of the trail

Image courtesy of: Les Plus Belles Randonnées des Alpes du Sud (Bernard Ranc); Éditions Gap. This recommended book also has the description of the hike in French.


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Spring cod -how to change a recipe healthier

Healthy spring cod

In spring, I love the combination of fresh cod, tender green local asparagus, fruity olive oil, lemon and new potatoes. The following recipe was inspired by a beautiful picture in a French magazine. But when I started reading the recipe, I thought that, oh no, a simple but major change is necessary.

Cod is almost fat-free white fish with plenty of protein and, like all fish and seafood it is healthy for the heart. But unfortunately this recipe, like many cod recipes, was made with loads of butter. Butter has high saturated fatty acid content and is best used sparingly if you want to keep your heart happy.

But you can easily swap the butter with olive oil. Olive oil is a heart-healthy fat and is one of the secrets in healthy Mediterranean diet. I love olive oil, and it is interesting to find different flavors. For this dish I would choose a very fruity type of olive oil. You may wish to add a pinch of salt, because olive oil has no salt, whereas butter normally has some salt added.

2 servings

2 nice cod fillets, pavés de cabillaud
4 tbsp fruity olive oil
1 organic lemon, zested and juiced
About 3 tbsp chopped chives
Freshly ground black pepper
10 asparagus spears
A pinch of salt (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200⁰ C, roast.

Place 3 tbsp olive oil in a bowl. Wash the lemon and grate the zest from it in the bowl. Press out the juice from half the lemon into the bowl. Add the black pepper, salt if using it, and chives. Mix well and set aside.

Wash and dry the asparagus spears. Cut off the bottoms. Peel the asparagus spears if they are thick. You do not need to peel the tender and thin ones. Cut the asparagus spears into about 5 cm long pieces.

Oil an oven proof dish with 1 tbsp olive oil. Place the cod fillets and asparagus in the dish and divide the olive oil- lemon mixture on top. Roast in oven for about 10 minutes. Serve with steamed new potatoes, and spoon all the nice sauce that has accumulated in the oven proof dish over the fish, asparagus and potatoes.


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Stunning hike above Menton

Peaks above Menton rapidly reach 1000 m and more. Hiking trails are numerous and very popular in this region. The old village of Castellar is located about 5 km north of Menton. The access to Castellar is relatively easy from the A 8 motorway, although the normal route towards Sospel is not available at the moment because of the landslide last winter.

Both GR 51 and 52 pass through Castellar. The hike featured in this video clip to Mont Carpano is included in the selection of hikes in the booklet Pays Côtier and on their web site in French.

If you are planning a hike with extraordinary Riviera views combined with a moderate effort this is your choice. The vertical ascent is 450 m, duration about three hours. The ascent is initially along GR 51 to Plan du Lion then along GR 52 to south about 15 min before bifurcating left up to the nearby “summit” (772 m) at the Italian border.  There is not a clear mountaintop, just a ridge. The descent is first along GR 52 (a bit steep with loose gravel, poles recommended) as far as to an intersection. From there, an unpaved road leads back to Castellar, whereas the GR 52 trail descends all the way down to Menton.

We have done this hike three times so far, sometimes with visiting friends, and it has always been a success.


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Turkey filet recipe wrapped in prosciutto

Turkey fillet wrapped in prosciutto

If you browse through cookbooks about classic recipes in Provence and Nice, you will not find any turkey recipes. But in Nice supermarkets you will easily find nicely prepared and packaged turkey cuts. You’ll find thin and even extra thin turkey slices, escalopes de dinde, which are ideal for filling. You’ll find cubes and eminces, small turkey cubes and slices which can be cooked fast for turkey salads or used in various sautés and casseroles. You’ll also find turkey fillet, filet mignon de dinde, which I will use in the following recipe. You’ll find free range Label Rouge turkey, which is raised according to the same principles as free range Label Rouge chicken.

French magazines, new cookbooks and small recipe booklets have now plenty of turkey recipes. Times change, and the French are nowadays interested in cooking lighter and healthier. But the French don’t want to sacrifice the taste, and many known chefs are now contributing to the simple recipe booklets that are sold in supermarkets.

Skinless turkey filet is practically fat-free and a super source of protein. Rapeseed oil is a heart-healthy neutral oil for all sautéing and frying. And the rest of the ingredients in the following recipe bring a lot of taste to this lean dish.

2 servings

About 350 g cut of skinless turkey filet, filet mignon de dinde
2 thin slices of prosciutto di Parma
2 small courgettes
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
50 ml white wine
100 ml chicken stock
2 tsp tomato pure
2 tbsp rape seed oil
1 tsp herbes de Provence
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp crème fraîche, 15 % fat
Fresh parsley or chives to decorate

Halve the turkey cut lengthwise. Wrap each half in a slice of prosciutto.

Warm the rapeseed oil over a medium heat in a frying pan. Sauté the turkey wraps on both sides until nicely coloured. Add the minced shallot and garlic in the pan. Reduce the heat, and then add the tomato pure, white wine, chicken stock, pepper and herbs in the pan. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, turning the turkey wraps once. Add the crème fraîche when about 5 minutes of the cooking time remains. Stir to mix everything evenly.
Meanwhile cook the brown rice. I use the precooked brown rice which only needs about 10 minutes cooking. Wash and slice the courgettes. Microwave the courgettes for about 3 minutes until soft.

Divide the turkey wraps, courgettes and a portion of brown rice on the plates. Drizzle with the sauce and decorate with fresh parsley or chives.


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