Energetic hike from Gréolières near Nice

The village of Gréolières (830m) is about 37 km northwest of Nice. It was originally a stopping point on the Roman road from Vence to Castellane. Nowadays, it has become a popular stopping point for cyclists. There are several small bistros serving a very reasonably priced formules de midi, lunch menus.

Our goal today is Cime du Cheiron (1778m). It is one of the major peaks in the Maritime Prealps. Because this summit is only about 20 km from the Mediterranean Sea as the crow flies, it offers a super panorama over the coast to the south as well as the high summits on the Italian frontier. But the weather can be unpredictable in the mountains…

The hike starts from the signpost 30 on the D2 road. The trail is well-marked with red and white signs (GR 4) up to signpost 194. There you leave GR 4, turn to the right and follow yellow signs.

At about 1600m altitude and after about 2h 15 min  ascent, the yellow signs stopped, and you were supposed to follow an almost invisible path now marked with cairns, small heaps of stones. The weather started deteriorating rapidly with clouds enveloping us. We met a couple of hikers, who were descending from the summit to Gréolières, and they said that it takes up to 2 h to the summit!  So a lot longer than they inform in the booklet Randoxygène Moyen Pays (in French).

We lost the ascending trail along the ridge in bad visibility and eventually found ourselves on another well-marked path running north-south. This turned out to be for paragliders who have a take-off area above the mountain’s southern precipice. The path ended in a blue ski run descending from Cime du Cheiron to Gréolières-les-Neiges, the small ski resort on the northern side of the mountain. We followed the ski run a bit until the summit was visible.

There we decided to turn back because of the gathering clouds. Only scattered clouds were forecasted for that afternoon, so this shows how quickly the weather can change in mountains. In reduced visibility risks increase and there wouldn’t have been any panorama from the summit. The following night a violent thunderstorm hit the region, the nearby towns of Grasse and Puget-Théniers in particular. Flooding, landslides etc in that area were reported even in the national French news. Prudence is certainly the best choice in the mountains –even in rather moderate altitudes.

Total vertical ascent to the summit is 950 m; we probably made about 800- 850 m today.


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Another Baou near Nice

Hilltop village of Gattiéres

Baou de la Gaude is the neighbour of Baou de St-Jeannet. Paradoxically it is called Baou de la Gaude although the hike starts from the hilltop village of Gattières (260m). Both of the baous are approximately similar in height, about 800m.
A good workout in beautiful surroundings

The hike starts just in front of the graveyard of Gattières. The initial ascent is GR 51 and marked in red and white. At signpost 18 the trail leaves GR 51. Take the right hand path at this intersection and continue the ascent, now marked by yellow signs, up to the vast plateau de la Colle (820m).Then continue to the south to the summit of Baou de la Gaude, which at 796m is actually a bit lower than the plateau.

Bellet vineyards in distance

The River Var

The initial ascent offers panoramic views to Gattierès, the River Var valley, and to the vineyards of Bellet on the collines nicoises, on the other side of Var. You have actually better views from the plateau de la Colle than from the summit itself. All in all, this hike gives you a good workout in beautiful surroundings.
What is this ball on a pine tree?

By the way, does anyone know what this funny “ball” on a pine tree is?

Total ascent is about 580m, duration 3h30

More information in French in the booklet Randoxygene/Pays Côtier (link to their web site)


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What is a verrine ?

Verrine of smoked salmon fromage blanc peppers and quinoa

A verrine is a small thick glass container meant to contain a starter or dessert. A French chef is said to have invented the verrine dessert in 1994. Different layers can be nicely displayed this way. Nowadays verrine starters are becoming more and more popular. A verrine can also be served as an apéro, “a pre-dinner drink and nibbles”.

The following verrine, Verrine of smoked salmon, fromage blanc, green pepper and quinoa, would make an elegant and healthy starter.

Fromage frais or fromage blanc is a soft, unaged, creamy fresh cheese made out of whole or skimmed milk and sometimes cream. Fromage frais literally means “fresh cheese”, and fromage blanc simply means “white cheese”. According to the French legislation, fromage frais must contain live flora at the time of sale to the consumer, whereas with fromage blanc the fermentation has been halted.

I personally don’t find much difference in taste between the two. I choose the one which is practically fat free, but has vitamin D added. Fromage blanc and fromage frais are super sources of protein and calcium, and the fat free types do not contain saturated fatty acids.

Verrine of smoked salmon, fromage blanc, green pepper and quinoa

4 starters

4 slices of smoked salmon
200 ml fromage blanc, 0% fat
2 medium (or one large) green peppers
1 tsp lemon juice
3 tsp olive oil
200 ml cooked quinoa
Freshly ground black pepper
Almost a handful of fresh dill

Wash the dill. Reserve a few branches for decoration and cut and mix the rest in a bowl with fromage blanc. Mix in freshly ground black pepper.

Wash the peppers and cut them into very small pieces. In a bowl, mix them with olive oil, lemon juice and black pepper.

Cut the salmon into small pieces.

Divide the cooked quinoa in the bottom of 4 glasses. Then divide the pepper mixture, fromage blanc and smoked salmon in the glasses. Decorate with a few branches of dill and serve at once.

Goes very well with champagne or sparkling wine!


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On the beaten track -the trail around Cap d'Antibes

The lighthouse of Cap d'Antibes

Cap d’ Antibes brings to the mind the high Aleppo pine trees and the residences of the really rich. However, the southern end of the Cap offers a wonderful seaside trail. We have done this walk several times, often with visiting friends, and never get tired of it. The weather should be fine; the trail can be dangerous when the sea is very rough.
Garoupe beach

The path starts from the Garoupe beach. Most of the beach now belongs to several restaurants with their private beaches, but there is still a tiny public sand beach which is free.

The trail follows the seashore to the southernmost tip of the Cap. This part is more sportive than you might expect; trainers are recommended instead of flip flops. From the southernmost tip you can now follow the new path to the very beautiful bay, Anse de l’ Argent Faux, literally meaning the bay of counterfeit money. The name probably dates from a period of a property scandal on this beautiful bay.
Along the seaside trail

From the bay a short ascent brings you to the gate of the Villa Eilenroc. When the mansion was built buy a wealthy Dutch businessman in the late 19th century, he used an anagram of his wife’s name Cornelie to name the property. The villa belongs now to the city of Antibes, and can be visited. Unfortunately the visiting hours are very variable, and the city does not bother to update the changes of the visiting hours on their website. So again the villa was closed, although according to the information on the website it should have been open! Last year we managed to get in, our video clip of the walk around the Cap and visit to Eilenroc, can be viewed here. A visit is certainly worthwhile when possible, and partly because of the very fine rose garden.
The bay of l'Argent Faux

From the Villa Eilenroc the trail back to the Garoupe beach is urban, first following Avenue Beaumont then along the charming Avenue de la Tour Gandolphe.
Villa Eilenroc

Avenue de la Tour Gandolphe

More information in French in the guide booklet Randoxygene/Pays Côtier/Tour du Cap d’Antibes

Total distance: about 4.8 km, climb 30 m.

Duration: about 2 h.


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The real salade nicoise

The real salade nicoise

Salade Niçoise is well-known by the visitors to Nice, and it is now served worldwide in French- style brasseries and cafes. Unfortunately it has become a victim of its success. Many variants of this salad resemble little the authentic salade Niçoise.

Jacques Médecin, who was the mayor of Nice from 1966 to 1990, was passionate about the cuisine of the region and published a noted cookbook. His comment about the mistreatment of salade Niçoise shows the depth of the passion: “What crimes have been committed in the name of this pure, fresh salad…”.

And the mistreatment continues. In December 2013, the daily Nice-Matin wrote about the final show in the French MasterChef. In the show, a chef ètoilé, star chef, advised adding green beans and cooked potatoes in salade Niçoise. This again created outrage among the purists of the traditional cuisine Niçoise. In a real salade Niçoise there are no cooked vegetables! And no salad leaves, not even a blade of mesclun! And the salad is prepared without vinegar!

Marie Chioca, who was born in Nice, has in 2013 published a charming small cookbook Le carnet de cuisine du pays Niçois. It is a collection of family recipes. She writes about the seasonal changes when choosing ingredients for salade Niçoise. The fresh fava beans, des fèves, have a very short season in spring when they are tender enough to be eaten raw. The almost same applies to baby artichokes, petits artichauts violets jeunes. In summer, they are replaced by green pepper and cucumber. When the basil is in season, it is the choice of herb, but it could be replaced by thyme leaves. This seems reasonable.

The following recipe is my adaptation from various sources. This is a spring recipe; in summer green pepper and cucumber replace baby fava beans and artichokes. And my experience is that the small baby artichokes need to be really fresh.

Salad nicoise recipe

Preparation time:
Cooking time:
Total time:

Ingredients for 2 servings
2 round tomatoes
2 spring onions, cébettes
6 pods of baby fava beans, gousses de fèves bien jeunes
2 baby artichokes, petits artichauts violets jeunes NB ! They have a slight violet colour.
2 eggs
1 tin of tuna (optional)
8 anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
Basil or thyme leaves
10- 15 small black olives of Nice

Cook the eggs in boiling water for 8 minutes
During this time wash the tomatoes and spring onions. Cut the tomatoes in quarters, and finely slice the spring onions. Slip the beans out of their pods.

Pull off and discard the tough outer leaves of the artichokes.
Reveal the soft and light- violet inner leaves. It is better to remove a few extra soft leaves than leave some tough and inedible outer leaves!
Trim away the tops of the leaves.
Cut off the stems and bottom parts up to the point where the leaves start.
Cut artichokes into thin slices. There is a lot of advice about immersing the artichokes in lemon water to prevent them turning dark. This step is not important with the local already slightly violet baby artichokes. NB. The discoloration has nothing to do with taste or tenderness.
Rub the bottom and sides of a salad bowl with garlic pieces, and then discard the garlic. Mix all the vegetables with olive oil in the bowl.
Peel the eggs and half them. Place the egg halves, tuna and anchovy fillets on top of the salad. Serve with good whole wheat bread.
Tip: You can remove some of the salt in anchovies by soaking them in water for about 15 minutes, then dry with kitchen paper.


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