Ascent to Puy de Tourrettes -snow above Côte d'Azur

The summit plateau of Puy de Tourrettes

The hike starts from the small village of Courmes  (630 m) above the Loup River Valley. It is a quiet village
The village of Courmes and the Loup River Valley
surrounded by oak trees and terraced pastures. 

We did this hike on a gorgeous day in late February. After recent snowfall in higher terrain, the northern slope and the summit of  Puy de Tourrettes (1268 m) were still covered with snow. The summit is just about 14 km from the Mediterranean Sea at Cagnes-sur-Mer as the crow flies. There was more snow than we had expected as the mountain seen from the coast seemed to be almost bare. The layer was nevertheless very hard after previous night’s frost making the ascent easy without any need of snow shoes. You could walk almost anywhere!

Villages of Cipieres and Greolieres seen from the trail

Park your car at the entrance of the village at the visitors’ parking. The first signpost number 88 to St-Barnabé is right behind the parking. St-Barnabé (968 m) is a tiny hamlet on a vast plateau west of Col de Vence. The first part of the hike follows the GR 51 trail as far as signpost 83. There leave the
red and white GR trail temporarily and follow the trail left (yellow marks) zigzagging uphill and eventually joining the GR 51 trail again. Head north along this trail for a while. At signpost 85, leave the GR and turn south ascending towards the mountaintop. From this intersection, you have about 300 m vertical climb left. Note that the trail is now marked with cairns, heaps of stone, and sporadic faded yellow marks. However the path is clearly visible as it is used quite a lot.
Turning right at signpost 85 towards the summit
Ascending to Puy de Tourrettes
Nice seen from Puy de Tourrettes

The summit of Puy de Tourrettes offers –not surprisingly- a super panorama. The geographic summit is not distinct at all as the mountaintop actually comprises a large plateau. The summit is marked with a big heap of stones.

The geographic summit of Puy de Tourrettes

The usually helpful Randoxygène guide had this hike in the old version, but it has now been replaced by a hike to Pic de Courmettes, the neighboring mountaintop.  The same applies to the online guide.

Duration 3 h 45

Ascent    650 m  Map: IGN Cannes Grasse Côte d'Azur 3643 ET 


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There are 2 more Baous above the French Riviera

Baou des Blancs seen from Baou des Noirs

We have previously described hikes to Baou St Jeannet (800 m) and Baou de la Gaude (796 m). Baou is a Provençal word meaning a rocky limestone hilltop with a flat summit.
Starting the hike to Baou des Blancs and Noirs

Above the town of Vence there are two more baous: Baou des Blancs (673 m) and Baou des Noirs (678 m). You can easily hike to these two hilltops during the same day as they are quite near each other, the itinerary is well marked and only a modest ascent, around 300 m, is required. It is a good winter hike too. We did it in early January 2015.

Both baous are marked with a black iron cross. These remind us of the Christian past in the middle ages when Penitents had an important role in assisting people in the mountains.
Spring flowers in January near Baou des Blancs

Drive through Vence and take the RD 2 road leading to Col de Vence and Coursgoules. Park your car alongside the road about 6 km before Col de Vence. There are several small parking spots.

Depending on where you parked the car, you have to descend 0-400 m along the RD 2 road until you
Baou des Noirs and Baou St-Jeannet
see a good path running above and parallel the road. Follow this, go around a bergerie, a sheep farmhouse and follow the signposts to Baou des des Blancs. From the summit, you have a great panorama over the coast, and even a glimpse of the snow-capped high mountains of Mercantour.

Descend back along the same trail a little bit to the
Great panorama over the coast from Baou des Noirs
signpost showing the path towards Baou des Noirs. The trail heads north climbing a little bit then turns east. The yellow marks are numerous and navigation easy. Not surprisingly, the views are great from this baou as well. Here you can enjoy the nature and admire the acrobatics of eagles. Descend back to the RD 2 road along the same trail.

Total walking time: 3 hours

Map:  Cannes Grasse IGN 3643 ET


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Sea bass on bed of white beans, red bell pepper and pancetta

Sea bass on bed of white beans, red bell pepper and pancetta

This is a winter fish recipe when you may prefer a spicier and more substantial dish. The recipe is loosely adapted from a French magazine. I have substituted the ingredients from the Pyrenees with local ingredients from Nice with an Italian twist.
But I have kept Piment d’Espelette AOC which is a mildly hot chili pepper from the northern territory of the Basque country. You can substitute this with some other mild/medium chili pepper powder.

2 servings

2 sea bass filets, about 150 g each
400 g tin of small white beans, eg. Bonduelle Haricots blancs préparés
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp Piment d’Espelette
50 g Italian pancetta cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Chives to decorate
Lemon wedges to serve

Preheat the oven to 200⁰ C.

In a large frying pan warm 1 tbsp rapeseed oil over medium heat. Add the finely chopped bell pepper and pancetta cubes and fry for about 5 minutes, stirring now and again. Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the shallot, garlic and Piment d’Espelette. Sauté for 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft.

Rinse the beans under running water and add to the frying pan. Grind a few rounds of black pepper and stir well. Cover and let become thoroughly heated over medium heat.

Meanwhile arrange the sea bass filets on an ovenproof dish covered with baking paper. Drizzle 2 tbsp olive oil over the filets and bake in oven for 10- 12 minutes, depending on the thickness.

Wash and dry the chives. Cut them finely, saving a few sprigs for decoration.

Divide the bean-vegetable mixture on the plates and arrange the sea bass filets on top. Decorate with chives and serve with lemon wedges.


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5 top winter hikes near the French Riviera

Baou St Jeannet

Choosing the five top hikes on the Riviera is a difficult if not an impossible task. There are just so many candidates. This is purely our own subjective selection of walks and hikes that we have done in the nearby mountains. The great coastal trails would certainly deserve their own list.

In normal weather conditions, the hills and mountains close to the coast in Alpes Maritimes can be climbed all year round. Cold spells can sometimes bring snow to surprisingly low altitudes. After rainfall, trails can be icy and slippery especially in the shade. On a clear and crisp winter day, the blue skies usually prevail all day whereas summer heat often brings high cumulus clouds above the mountains; afternoon thunderstorms are not infrequent during the summer months..

Here's our selection:

1. Hike above Èze-village

This is a classic Riviera hike which offer super view over the French Riviera a few km east of Nice. It is specially rewarding on a sunny winter day. The hike featured here was done in December. The hike itself is moderate, about 2, 5-3 hours, and you can easily combine it with a visit to Èze-village.

2. Walk above Gourdon

This easy walk, about 2, 5 -3 hours starts from the charming hilltop village of Gourdon. Although a bit touristic in the summertime, the village is pretty quiet in the winter; mostly locals seem to visit the restaurants at the entrance of the village

3. The Baou above St-Jeannet

The ascent from St-Jeannet to Baou de St-Jeannet gives you first a good workout and from the summit great views over the Var Valley, Antibes etc. From the top, you have various options back to the village: the shorter route along the eastern side of the Baou or the longer route along the western side as featured in our blog. Parking is almost impossible during weekends and market days even in winter.

4. Hike above Menton

This moderate 3 hour hike starts from the village of Castellar above Menton. The highest point is quite near the coastline on the Italian border offering breathtaking views over Menton as well as over the Italian coast.

5. From Peille to Cime de Baudon 

Even though this ascent to Cime de Baudon is only 620 m in vertical climb it is steep in some parts requiring some easy scrambling. On a clear winter day, you can simultaneously see the snow capped Mercantour peaks and Corsica in the south.


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