Mougins Festival of Gastronomy

Chef demo in Mougins with Grasse in background

Every September numerous top chefs head to the medieval village of Mougins between Cannes and Grasse. The three-day event called Les Etoiles de Mougins  includes cookery demonstrations, food tastings, competitions and cookery classes. In this stimulating environment top chefs demonstrate their skills, share information and discuss culinary trends. This year 130 chefs were expected to attend.
At the entrance of Mougins Festival of Gastronomy

The village of Mougins is transformed into a vast open air theatre of gastronomy. The event was created in 2006 and has become more and more popular. This year’s theme was dessert, and many pastry chefs, chefs pâtissiers, from Côte d’Azur gourmet restaurants were present.
Lehrer and Sinden in full swing

We had bought tickets to a demonstration by Emmanuel Lehrer and Guillaume Sinden from Le Mas de Pierre, Saint Paul .

Lehrer demonstrated Langoustine panée aux noisettes du Piemont, orge perlé facon risotto, betterave glacé et morceaux de Castelmagno, which could be translated as scampi sprinkled with hazelnut flour, pearl barley risotto decorated with small beet balls and pieces of Italian Castelmagno cheese, délicieux! I am definitely going to try his recipe.                                                                                                                              

 He gave many useful tips; how to peel scampi (which was Scottish!), how to add more taste to risotto by
Langoustine pane aux noisettes du Piemont, orge perlé facon risotto
using minced herbs and minced marinated lemon peel and how to decorate the final dish with beetroot and edible flowers. We got to taste the dish with a glass of champagne,

Simultaneously Sinden demonstrated the dessert which was a verrine, a glass of green lemon mousse, nut and almond biscuit and a gelatin tube filled with nut and almond mousse. I am afraid this recipe is beyond my scope; even Sinden admitted that it was a bit délicat to make. The taste was wonderfully nutty but fresh.

After the demonstration we headed to L’Amandier where we had booked a table for lunch. We chose Formule Déjeuner which at 19 € was a bargain. On Saturdays they serve a well made Soupe de Poissons de Roche, a fish soup made according to the traditions in Nice. This soup is twice pureed in a food mill so it is totally different from bouillabaisse in Marseille. The main dish was served with a glass of nice local wine and followed by café gourmand. The service was impeccable and we enjoyed the super view from the terrace on a warm afternoon.
View from L'Amandier terrace


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Cime de la Valette de Prals hike

Summit of Valette de Prals with Gelas in background

Madone de Fenestre (1903m, link in French) about 70 km from Nice and 13 km from the village of Saint-Martin-Vésubie is a super starting point for many hikes. Some of these are for all family members, some are demanding enough for experienced alpine hikers.

When we drove through Saint-Martin-Vesubie, the village was preparing for its annual L’Animal en fête in honour of the animals. The cows are groomed and decorated with flowers; there are agricultural demonstrations and cheese tasting. We drove further along a pretty good road and parked  a few hundred meters before the sanctuary of Madone de Fenestre.

Our hike started from signpost 361, where there is limited parking. More space can be found near the sanctuary. We first ascended in the Prals Valley following the same path leading also to the lakes of Prals up to signpost 364 (2130 m). From there we took the path to the right and ascended to signpost 365 (2340 m). We again turned right, climbed to Baisse de Prals and further to Cime de la Valette de Prals (2496 m). The summit is marked by a cross, and offers a super panorama.

From the summit we followed the path on the long ridge (about 4 km) northwest, descended a little and turned north for a while. The trail then continued just under Cime du Pertus (2437m). We then passed Tete de la Lave (2360m) and continued west to signpost 297 and Baisse de Férisson (2254m) below Mont Lapassé (2351 m). Those with extra energy are welcome to climb all these nice little summits along the route!

From there we had a super view towards the Valley of Madone de Fenestre and Cime du Gélas. We then descended in a magnificent forest back to signpost 361.

Total hiking time: about 5 h-5  30. Driving time from Nice about 1 h 25.

Total ascent: 740 m

Map: Vallée de la Vésubie IGN 3741 OT. All the the signposts are marked in this map.


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Grilled lamb recipe

Grilled lamb recipe

The Mercantour National Park 70- 100 km north of Nice has about 600 km of marked hiking trails. Just the French Randoxygène guide book lists 60 hikes in Haut Pays, 60 in Moyen Pays, not all of these trails are inside the National Park. There are even more options by improvising and using other guide books. So we usually drive from Nice, hike for 4- 6 h in super surroundings and return home for dinner.

After a long day in the mountains the dinner ingredients must be stocked at home, the dinner has to be simple and quick to cook, healthy and preferably have some connection with the mountains. I like to use ingredients that are typical of arrière-pays; chick peas, dried herbs and lamb. And combine these with plenty of antioxidant-rich vegetables; bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and a green salad as a side dish. Grilled slices of lamb leg, sautéed bell peppers, shallots and garlic with chick peas, tomato paste and dried Provencal herbs satisfy all these requirements.

Grilled lamb recipe

2 servings

2 nice slices of lamb leg, tranches de gigot, about 150 g each
4 tbsp olive oil
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
2 shallots
1 clove garlic
A 400 g tin of chick peas
3 tbsp tomato paste
50 ml water
1 tsp dried Provencal herbs
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh parsley or other fresh herb to decorate

Wash and dry the bell peppers and cut them into strips discarding the seeds and interior white membranes. In a frying pan warm 2 tbsp olive oil over medium- high heat. Fry the bell peppers, stirring now and again, until they have got some colour.

Peel the shallots and garlic clove. Thinly slice the shallots and mince the garlic. Reduce the heat to medium- low and add the shallots and garlic in the pan. Gently cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile wash the parsley and dry with kitchen paper. Finely cut the parsley and set aside.

Add 3 tbsp tomato paste, 50 ml water, and 1 tsp Provencal herbs to the pan, stirring well. Wash chick peas under running water and add to the pan. Mix well all the ingredients. Cover the pan with foil and let stew gently while you cook the lamb.

In a large frying pan warm 2 tbsp olive oil over high heat. Fry the slices of lamb leg 2 ½ minutes on both sides for medium rare. I like them to be pink inside. As the French chefs say: “On les deguste rosé.” Place the lamb slices on a wooden cutting board, cover with foil and let rest for a few minutes.

Divide the vegetable- chick pea stew on the plates and decorate with parsley. Serve with a green side salad.


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Hike around Col de la Cayolle

The automobile road through Col de la Cayolle mountain pass (2326m) was completed in July 1914. A great opening ceremony was planned months in advance. President Poincaré would drive in a convoy from Nice to Barcelonette on the 10th of August and have a lunch at Col de la Cayolle. The préfet gave detailed recommendations; it would not be any banal family picnic, but a sumptuous lunch comprising langouste, gigot d’agneau et meringues with champagne, fine wines and cognac served by the Hôtel de Paris from Monaco.

 But the European political situation worsened rapidly leading to WWI. On the 29th of July the president cancelled the opening ceremony. An official opening ceremony was never held but Col de la Cayolle has now well served drivers during the summer season for one hundred years.

 Our hike in these historical surroundings starts from signpost 284 just after entering the Mercantour National Park. You can park at Refuge de la Cantonnière just above the hamlet of Estenc or at the entrance to Mercantour. The trail ascends nicely in a larch forest to the cabins of Sanguinière, and then further to Col de la Boucharde (2539m) which is the highest point of this hike.

The trail then crosses a small plateau and descends down to the Cayolle- Barcelonette road. Follow the road about 500m, and then ascend to the Refuge of Cayolle along GR 56 marked with red and white signs. The trail is elsewhere marked with yellow signs. From the refuge ascend to Col de la Cayolle and signpost 300. From there start descending back to the starting point, signpost 284.

This is a great hike! We made it in the beginning of September on a gorgeous sunny day. The ascent to Col de la Boucharde is almost continuous but moderate and the descent from there to the Cayolle- Barcelonette road is a bit steep, but there are no difficult parts on the trail.

The views are fantastic all the way and the surroundings very variable. The peaks of Mont Pelat (3050 m) and Cimet (3020 m) are visible during the descent from Col de la Boucharde. The peculiar summit of Roche Grande (2752 m) dominates the view on the way back to the starting point. The only minus is the long drive from Nice; about 2 h depending on the traffic. But there are many small hotels in villages in the Haut Var Valley. The last hotel, Hôtel/Restaurant Le Relais de la Cayolle,is in Estenc just before Col de la Cayolle ( Total ascent: 870m

Total hiking time: about 6 h

More information in French here

IGN Map: Haute Vallée du Var 3540 ET


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