Hike to Refuge de Cougourde in Mercantour

Summit of Cougourde 2921 m

www.lonelyplanet.fr (link in French) recently listed the Mercantour National Park  among the world’s 10 most beautiful National Parks. A well deserved nomination although not presented as such on their English web sites. There are 600 km of marked hiking trails within the park. The nearest major point of entry is only about 70 km from Nice. This is where the Alps end and meet the Mediterranean Sea.

Today’s hike starts from the upper parking of Boréon from signpost 420 (1670 m alt.)  Boréon just a few km north of St-Martin-Vesubié is a popular point of entry to Mercantour.
GR52 trail ascending from Boréon

The trail is good ascending nicely in a variable terrain to signpost 424. The only drawback was that the trail was quite soiled by cow excrements!

From signpost 424 we first ascended to Refuge de Coucourde at 2100 m. We recommend that you actually walk a little bit past the refuge. There is a beautiful and peaceful spot for picnic just opposite the steep Cougourde mountaintop (2921 m). It is a great place to spot chamois as well, we saw them twice.
Culprits for soiling our trail

Chamois in sight

From signpost 426 near the refuge we took the trail to Lake Trecolpas (2150 m). From the lake there’s a great view to Cime d’Agnelliere (2700 m), a peak we recently ascended, and to Pas de Ladres which is the mountain pass to the next valley and Madone de Fenestre.

Refuge de Cougourde

This is a great hike for almost everybody. Many families were out. Only some parts of the trail require certain agility. In spite of its popularity, it is always possible to find a peaceful spot in the nature. The views are truly great!
Cime d'Agnelliere 2700 m

Ascent: 500 m

Duration: 4 h
Lake Trecolpas

Description in French here


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Courgette gratin

Courgette gratin

Tian, a gratin, is a traditional Provençal way to prepare vegetables. Tian is also the name of the ovenproof dish in which the gratin is prepared.

I have read a charming story about the traditional baking time of tian: it corresponds to the length of time it took to bake bread in a communal oven. In the old times, people usually did not have own ovens at home in small villages in Provence. Various tians, tarts, stews and so on were prepared at home and then taken to public ovens or commercial bakeries to be cooked. For practical reasons, the cooking times had to roughly correspond to the time it took to bake the bread.

I have seen various tian recipes. They usually consist of vegetables, eggs, freshly grated parmesan or gruyere, milk and/or crème fraîche and/or rice. The choice of vegetables varies according to the season and availability.

The best courgette for this gratin is the round and firm courgette de Nice. It does not release water during cooking or turn to mash, and it does not have seeds!
Ingredients for 2 servings of tian de courgettes

Courgette gratin, tian de courgettes
Slicing and dicing the courgettes and onions into small cubes

2 servings

1-2 round courgettes de Nice
1 very large or 3-4 small leaves of chard, blette
½ medium onion
1 clove garlic
About 3 tbsp olive oil
2 sprigs of parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs
100 ml milk
1 tbsp crème fraîche, 15 % fat
Cutting the chard into strips
About 3-4 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
3 tbsp breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 180 ⁰C.

Slice and dice the courgettes and the half of onion into small cubes, about 1 x 1 cm.
Warm 1 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, and cook the courgette and onions for about 5- 7 minutes until soft and slightly golden brown. Set aside.
Adding the wilted chard into the courgette-onion mixture

Wash and dry the chard leaves and remove the stems. Cut the leaves into strips. Over a medium heat, warm 1 tsp olive oil in a casserole. Peel and mince the clove of garlic, add to the casserole. Add the chard strips, and cook for a few minutes until wilted. Add the wilted chard to the frying pan and mix with courgette and onion cubes.

Mince the parsley.
Coating the oiled dish with breadcrumbs

Oil a small- medium gratin dish with 1 tbsp olive oil. Coat the dish with 1 tbsp breadcrumbs.

Cover the bottom of the gratin dish with a thin layer of courgette- onion- chard mixture. Season with black pepper, scatter a little parsley over the vegetables and sprinkle with 1 tbsp parmesan. Repeat the process until all the vegetables have been used, there will be 2- 4 layers depending how much vegetables you are using.

Layering the vegetables and the parmesan in the gratin dish

Beat the eggs with milk and crème fraîche. Then pour the mixture evenly on top of the vegetable layers. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp bread crumbs and 2 tsp olive oil.

Bake the gratin for 20- (25) minutes in 180 ⁰C.

The tian is ready for oven

Tip: With my French breadcrumbs, Tipiak Chapelure Dorée, it is very easy to get a nice golden brown colour on the crust of the gratin. This because the breadcrumbs have been added a dash of turmeric and paprika powder!


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Cime de l'Agnellière from Madone de Fenestre

Summit of l'Agnelliere in sight

It was already 28th of July, and we could finally make a hike in the Mercantour National Park.
This winter’s record snowfall caused a late start for the summer’s hiking season in the high mountains. On top of that daily afternoon showers or thunderstorms have been hitting the mountains in July. Even for today rain was forecasted in the Vésubie valley.

So we made an early start and chose the summit of Cime de  l’Agnellière (2700m) (Link in French) as today’s goal, because it can be reached from Madone de Fenestre (1903m)  in about 2,5 hours.

The hike starts from signpost 357 right behind the Refuge of Madone de Fenestre. The trail ascends rapidly along the GR (Grande Randonnée) 52 marked with red and white signs.

Just before the mountain pass Pas de Ladres (2448m) at signpost 428 the trail turns left to the summit of l’Agnellière. The first part of the ascent is quite easy followed by a plateau, but the last scramble to the summit was a bit hard in the rocky incline. We descended back to Madone along the same trail.

Total ascent: About 800m. Link to the map here (IGN 3741 OT Vallée de la Vésubie)
Duration: About 4h 30.


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Easy Red Mullet Nicoise

Easy red mullet Nicoise

This carefree recipe has all the typical flavours of niçoise cooking: olive oil, white wine, garlic, tomatoes, small black olives, lemon and basil. These are tasty and heart healthy ingredients.
These flavours combine very well with rouget, red mullet, which is a popular fish in Nice. In the old times, the people in Nice simply fried whole fresh red mullet in olive oil. The fish was not even cleaned. Nowadays it seems that people prefer fish fillets. Luckily red mullet fillets are regularly available in local supermarkets.

Easy red mullet niçoise

2 servings

About 300 g red mullet fillets
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp dried Provencal herbs
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large ripe tomatoes cut into wedges
50 ml white wine
1 lemon, cut into wedges
2 tsp capers
2 tbsp black olives of Nice.  NB! In restaurants in Nice they do not remove the stones!
About 2 tbsp olive oil
Fresh basil

In a frying pan warm 1 tbsp olive oil over low- medium heat and gently sauté the onion and garlic for about 10 minutes until soft but not brown. Then pour in the white wine, add pepper and Provencal hers, and reduce the heat to very low, almost off.

Preheat the oven to 180 ⁰ C.

Place the red mullet fillets in an oiled ovenproof dish. Press over a little lemon juice from a lemon wedge, save the rest for serving. Scatter the olives and capers over the fish fillets. Then pour over the white wine- onion sauce. Scatter the tomato wedges over the fish fillets, add some more black pepper and drizzle 1 tbsp olive oil over the tomato wedges.

Bake for 15 minutes.
Decorate with basil. Serve with lemon wedges and micro waved new potatoes.


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