Saint-Ser Vineyard and Montagne Sainte-Victoire

Montagne Sainte-Victoire seen from Relais de Saint-Ser

The massif of Sainte-Victoire comprises different plateaus between 400 and 1000m. It is about 8 km east
Relais de Saint-Ser seen from the southern face of Montagne Ste-Victoire
of Aix-en-Provence and dominates le pays d-Aix. It is famously known as Paul Cézanne’s favourite local subject and he must have painted it over fifty times.

The steep southern face of Mont Sainte-Victoire changes colour from grey to pink according to light and time of day. When driving from Aix-en-Provence east, take the D17 road (also Route Cézanne) which winds in the traditional Mediterranean countryside. We took this route in late March admiring the view of the mythic Sainte-Victoire immortalized in Cézanne’s paintings.
The vineyard Domaine de Saint-Ser

We drove as far as to Le Relais de Saint-Ser, where we had booked two nights. The hiking trail to chapel  Saint-Ser (624 m) and Pic de Mouches (1011 m) goes right behind the parking of the hotel (400 m). This was one of the reasons why we booked here, the other being that this small auberge is known for its excellent restaurant. It was situated in the middle of the beautiful and quiet nature, the rooms were newly renovated and we were happy with the dinners.

The first day turned out to be rainy and cool, in spite of the favourable forecast a week or so earlier. We therefore explored the surroundings by car. Our first stop was the nearby vineyard Domaine de Saint-Ser. This is the highest situated vineyard of the almost thirty vineyards that have obtained the AOC Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire. After tasting, we opted for Cuvée Prestige Rouge 2010 (a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon) and purchased six bottles at 12,50 € each.
Montagne Sainte-Victoire Cezanne's favorite object

After the vineyard, we drove to Puyloubier, then along D10 past Vauvenargues to Aix-en-Provence. The northern face of Montagne Sainte-Victoire is less steep and the D10 road winds in a woody landscape.
Easy path to the chapel St-Ser

The next day we woke to blue sky and warm sunshine. From the parking of our hotel at 400 m, we started following a good path marked with red signs. After just about 40 minutes we reached the chapel of Saint-Ser restored in 2001. Every May the pilgrimage of Saint-Ser honours the memory of the hermit Servius who was said to be living in the small cave nearby. From the chapel, you already have a superb view down to the valley.
The chapel of St-Ser

A steep ascent in a couloir above the chapel St-Ser

It had been an easy walk up to the chapel, but after this the ascent became steep. After some scrambling we arrived at a truly steep part. As we did not have any climbing experience, we did not wish to take any further risks in spite of a chain that was permanently attached to the rocky wall. So we descended back.
At the crossroads of the trails well below the chapel,
we decided to explore the other ascending trail marked with blue and green signs. We ascended to a steep couloir which continued as a steep and narrow ridge. Again, we did not feel comfortable continuing any further. From the map it seemed that we were not far from the summit Pic des Mouches when turning around. Now we understand why ascending along one of the trails from north is much more popular!

In spite of this, we enjoyed the great views and the sunny spring day!


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Seafood risotto with a twist

Risotto with scallops

Risotto with scallops recipe

Last September at the Mougins Festival of Gastronomy I had the pleasure of following Emmanuel Lehrer demonstrating his risotto with scampi. During the demonstration he mentioned that the recipe works also with scallops, coquilles St. Jacques.

The following recipe is my twist of Lehrer’s risotto. Mine was less colourful than his risotto because I don’t know anything yet about edible flowers. But it was nevertheless delicious even without the flowers and the Castelmagno cheese.

I coated he scallops with whole almond powder, Vahiné Amandes complètes en poudre, which gives a nice colour and can be bought in our local supermarket in Nice. This powder can easily be made from brown almonds or hazelnuts. A few drops of olive oil sprinkled over the scallops give extra nice appearance because the short baking time does not add any colour to the almond or hazelnut powder.

2 servings
Preparation time:
Cooking time:
Total time:

8- 10 scallops, coquilles St. Jacques
About 10 tsp whole almond or hazelnut powder
Olive oil to sprinkle over the scallops

For the risotto:

120 ml risotto rice
700 ml vegetable stock (you may not need to use it all)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
150 ml white wine
100 ml freshly grated parmesan
Freshly grated black pepper
A generous amount of minced dill and a few sprigs for decoration
½ organic lemon, cut into small pieces and zest for decoration

First make the vegetable stock. Set aside and keep warm. In a heavy casserole warm the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the shallot and garlic for about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice until well coated with oil.

Then start adding the wine in batches and cook, stirring, until the rice has absorbed most of it. Then start adding the vegetable stock, ladle by ladle, stirring constantly and not adding more until the previous addition has been almost absorbed. There should always be a little stock in the casserole. Preheat the oven to 180⁰ C.

Continue cooking and stirring continuously the rice for about 25 minutes. The rice should be now creamy but still a bit al dente. Stir in the pepper, dill, parmesan and lemon pieces, and adjust the consistence. Keep warm.

Place the scallops on an oven tray covered with baking paper. Cover each scallop with 1 tsp almond powder and sprinkle a couple of drops of olive oil over each scallop. Bake in 180⁰ C for 4 minutes.

Divide the risotto in bowls or risotto plates and place the scallops on top. Decorate with sprigs of dill and lemon zests.

NB! It helps if you have someone to help by stirring the risotto in the final phases while you cook the scallops.


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Corsica: The coastal trail between Barcaggio and Tollare in Cap Corse

The coastal trail called the Sentier des Douaniers (customs officers’ path) in the northernmost tip of Cap  Corse runs from Macinaggio to Centuri. The trail is quite long and many prefer to walk just one part of it. The section between Barcaggio to Tollare at the very tip of the peninsula is considered the most picturesque by many. It is possible to walk from Macinaggio to Barcaggio and take the boat back.
Goats on the D253 road to Tollare

Cows roaming free on Sentier des Douaniers in Cap Corse

The path from Barcaggio to Tollare

Sentier des Douaniers in Cap Corse

 We drove to Bargaccio and explored the trail to Tollare. The walk takes just 45 min one way. It is an easy coastal footpath with minimal ascent. In April, the sea was still too cold for a dip. The D253 road down to Barcaggio is pretty narrow and winding. The other option, D153 is a bit wider. Both connect with the main road (D80) at Ersa. Animals are omnipresent on small Corsican roads and footpaths, take care!
Spring flowers in Cap Corse

The coast near Tollare in Cap Corse


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Fiadone, Corsican cheesecake

Fiadone Corsican flan

On our recent trip to Corsica we had several times fiadone as dessert. It was delightful, light with a distinct lemon taste and never too sweet. Fiadone could be described as a kind of flan without pastry case. The Americans would call it cheesecake without pastry bottom.

At home I found several Corsican fiadone recipes. Some were made with vanilla, some with Corsican eau de vie. In those versions we had in Corsica I only tasted the lemon. But all recipes stressed that authentic fiadone can only be made of Corsican fresh brocciu, although some mentioned that you can use ricotta if you cannot find brocciu in your region.

Here in Nice we can easily find brocciu in supermarkets. The following recipe is my twist of fiadone. I serve it straight from individual ramekins, which makes this simple dessert even easier to make.

4 servings

200 g fresh brocciu
2 large eggs
2 tbsp sugar
½ organic lemon, zest and a little juice
Butter for the ramekins

Preheat the oven to 180⁰ C.

Place the brocciu in a bowl and crush with a fork. Wash the organic lemon and zest half of it. Mince the zests and mix with the brocciu.

In another bowl whisk the eggs, sugar and a little lemon juice until foamy. Add the brocciu and mix everything until well blended. Generously butter the ramekins and divide the egg-brocciu mixture into them.

Bake for 25- 30 minutes until golden brown. Let cool. Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat. Fiadone can be made a day before serving.

Fiadone tastes especially good covered with fresh sliced strawberries.


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