Hiking from Courmayeur to Rifugio Maison Vieille

















Today’s hike is actually a small part of Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB). At our hotel in Dolonne- Courmayeur, they suggested taking the ski lift to Rifugio Maison Vieille, but we said we wanted to walk up there as the plan was to do a half-day hike from the town anyway.
Starting the ascent at Dolonne
















Mont Chetif














The ascent from Courmayeur to Rifugio Maison Vieille is about 750 m.

Great views from the trail
The initial part after the town is a nice path zigzagging in a forest. The trail is good, but the continuous ascent so steep that the French would classify it as rando sportive. We met several hikers descending along the trail, but only us ascending because the TMB is usually done anti-clockwise. After the forest the trail continued along an easy dirt road in alpine meadows.









Approaching Rifugio Maison Vieille
















For us, it took about 2h 15min from Dolonne-Courmayeur to Maison Vieille, where we had lunch. We opted for well-made polenta with mushrooms or sausages plus a mixed salad. The service was friendly, they spoke good English and the restaurant seemed to be popular among local workmen as well as hikers. All in all, it felt like more authentic local cuisine than in most restaurants down in Courmayeur.


Rifugio Maison Vieille














After lunch the wind increased and there were more clouds, so we decided to head back to Courmayeur although climbing to Mont Chetif (2343 m; picture above) was planned initially. About 750 m almost continuous ascent was nevertheless a good workout in beautiful surroundings and fresh alpine air.

Descending through Dolonne






















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Easy stuffed vegetables Niçois style

Easy stuffed vegetables Nicois style




















Small stuffed vegetables, les petits farcis niçois, are a classic dish in Nice. There is not any “one and only” recipe to make these, but almost every grandmother in Nice has “her” recipe for the stuffing. This dish could be very time-consuming as sometimes a different filling was used for each of six vegetables! This kind of cooking was for the courageous small ladies of Nice who were not afraid of spending the whole day in kitchen and preparing a true fête.

Basically, locally grown or processed ingredients were used: vegetables, herbs, eggs, cheese, sometimes a bit of meat, sometimes wild mushrooms. Rice was often used in fillings to stretch out the small amount of meat or ham.

My easy, modern twist of this classic recipe is inspired by a plat du jour, dish of the day we once had for lunch at le Gustoso in Cour Saleya in the old town of Nice. And I guarantee that you don’t need to spend a whole day in the kitchen!

NB! Nowadays, it is difficult to find small vegetables that were used in the classic recipe. Even here in Nice, the Spanish imported bell peppers seem to be huge. If you can’t find small vegetables, you may very well reduce the variety of vegetables from the classic six. Large aubergines often have hard skins and can be replaced by green bell peppers.
Ingredients for two servings of stuffed vegetables Nicois style
















2 servings

1 small aubergine or green bell pepper
1 small red bell pepper
1 medium round tomato
1 small round courgette
1 medium onion, peeled
Olive oil
About 150- 170 g lean minced beef, pref. 5% fat
1 clove garlic, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp salt
1 medium free-range egg
5 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
1 tsp Provencal herbs
2 tbsp breadcrumbs

Wash the aubergine and cut it in half lengthways. Scoop out pulp from it with a spoon and set aside.  Leave about 1- 1,5 cm shell.
Halve the bell pepper lengthways, remove ribs and seeds.

Microwave the peeled onion for 2- 3 minutes in a covered small dish with 1 tsp water. Then drain and cool. Cut it in half crosswise and remove the centre, leaving a shell of about 3 layers. Set aside the centre of the onion.

Halve the courgette crosswise and scoop out pulp, leaving about 1- 1,5 cm shell. Set aside the pulp. 

Cut the tomato in half crosswise, scoop out the pulp and set aside.

The prepared vegetables ready for filling





















Chop all the scooped out vegetables and mix them. In a large frying pan, warm 2 tbsp olive oil over low- medium heat. Cook the vegetable mix for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the minced beef and garlic, season with salt, pepper and Provencal herbs, and continue cooking for about 15 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from heat, allow to cool slightly. Then stir in the egg. 

Preheat the oven to 180⁰ C.

Arrange the vegetable shells on an oiled baking tray. Fill each shell with stuffing.

Grate the parmesan and mix with breadcrumbs. Scatter the mixture on top of the vegetables. Then drizzle with olive oil, 1- 2 tsp per vegetable.
Stuffed vegetables ready to go to oven





















Bake for about 30- 40 minutes in 180⁰ C or until the vegetables are tender.

Serve lukewarm, because then the vegetables are tastiest. They make a nice lunch or simple supper served à la Gustoso: place a heap of small salad leaves, mesclun, in the middle of the plate and arrange the stuffed vegetables around the salad. Drizzle olive oil and vinegar over the salad and serve with good bread.


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Between France and Italy above the Tende tunnel

Starting point at Chalet de Marmotte
















The Tende mountain pass has been the simplest connection between the Mediterranean and Piemonte. It was first a mule track created in 1652, and in 1782 the road was completed. The road tunnel was completed in 1883 and the rail tunnel in 1898. Because of this, the ancient mountain pass was almost totally abandoned. The current border on the ridge was determined in 1947.
Fort Central














Today’s hike starts from the parking (1804 m) at Chalet de Marmotte above Limone 1400 ski resort on the Italian side of the border. The parking can be reached by following a good paved road Trois Amis just after the tunnel on the Italian side. Drive through Limone 1400; follow the road to the refuge.
Great views after Fort Central


















Walk first along a good unpaved road to the geographical mountain pass of Tende (1871 m), signpost 340. From there, follow a dirt road east to the central fortress (Fort Central) to signpost 339.
Leaving GR52A at Fort Tabourde

Fort Tabourde



















Continue along a good trail to the Tabourde fortress, signpost 335. Up to this point the trail is Grand Randonnée 52A marked with red and white. As far as to this signpost, the walk is easy with negligible ascent offering nevertheless great views in a calm alpine setting.
Crossing the Framoursoure valley
The new trail ended to this unnumbered signpost (about 2100 m)
















From this point the trail continues to east now marked with yellow signs. After about 500 m or so it reaches the Framoursoure valley heading north. A sheep pen is on the right hand side. At this altitude, parts of the trail were still covered with snow. It seemed that the route had been recently modified, on the web site just a week ago whereas the latest printed version (2013) had it already updated. The previous longer trail would have turned southeast ascending to the Pépin fortress. Now the yellow signs took us to a new unnumbered signpost(the guidebook says it's 337A) at about 2100 m. This signpost also showed the way to the Pépin fortess.
Mercantour peaks barely visible because of gathering clouds

Following the border crest between France and Italy

















We, however, turned left and started descending as the area was more and more enveloped by clouds and the wind was increasing. We suspected that this recent trail change might have been made because of sheep flocks. Sheepherders allegedly use the Pépin fortress as a shelter. There have been several bloody attacks by wolves in the region.
Rhododendrons starting to blossom

















We made the hike in early July, and rhododendrons were just starting to blossom. The descent back to the starting point was straightforward. We could admire the great views and flowers –clouds permitting.
Map of the hike










Duration: 4 hours, vertical gain about 450 m. Map: IGN 3841OT Vallée de la Roya; Info in French: Les Guides Randoxygène: Haut Pays 
Map courtesy of Conseil Général des Alpes Maritimes



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Best food before a long hike

Pasta with roasted tomatoes anchovies and basil





















Pasta dinners before marathon are classic. If you are planning a 5- 7 h hike with a strenuous ascent in hot weather, it is also useful to think a little what you eat the night before.

Still, all is not lost if you couldn't pack a lot of carbohydrates in your dinner the night before. It has been shown that ingestion of carbohydrates 3- 4 h before exercise increases liver and muscle glycogen (energy storage) and enhances subsequent endurance exercise performance.

A carbohydrate-rich porridge breakfast always works for us. We do have a pasta dinner with slightly more pasta than we usually choose. We normally choose quality carbohydrates, whole grains, so it is whole wheat pasta. Most humans cannot tolerate a huge amount of carbohydrates in one meal, because there is a limit how much enzymes our body can produce for a single meal to break down carbohydrates. We are individual. If you get more problems with whole wheat pasta, try brown rice or quinoa. The following recipe works very well with quinoa, and then you could choose chevre instead of parmesan.

We always have a green salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing plus a small slice of low-fat cheese. For dessert we have a good portion of quality sorbet which helps to pack in those carbohydrates. We stick to water. Even a moderate amount of wine or beer can contribute to dehydration and electrolyte loss next day during a strenuous hot-weather workout.

Pasta with roasted tomatoes, anchovies and basil

2 servings

3 large ripe tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
A small tin of anchovy fillets, about 10 fillets
1 tsp Provencal herbs
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp capers
2 tbsp black olives
5- 6 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
Fresh basil leaves to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180⁰ C, roast.

Cut the tomatoes in wedges and lay them in a baking dish lined with baking paper. Sprinkle with Provencal herbs, black pepper and olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes.

Soak the anchovies in water to remove some of the saltiness. Dry with kitchen paper and cut in half.

Remove the tomatoes from oven. Divide the anchovies over the tomatoes and sprinkle with capers and olives. Then continue roasting for 10 minutes longer.

Meanwhile cook the pasta, whole wheat penne, fusilli or macaroni. Grate the parmesan.

Serve the roasted tomatoes over a plateful of pasta, sprinkle generously with parmesan and decorate with fresh basil leaves.

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