La Tête de Vinaigre


On the GR5 trail from St-Dalmas-Le-Selvage-to-Col-de-la-Colombière
Bousièyas, Camp des Fourches and Cime de la Bonette far left in distance
The small village of Saint-Dalmas-Le-Selvage is the centre of the highest commune in Alpes-Maritimes. It is better known as a cross-country skiing centre, but in the summer it is an excellent starting point for several hikes.

Climbing from Col de la Colombière towards Tête deVinaigre

The village is quiet, no-nonsense, and is situated in a formidable environment. The sheep-raising tradition is still very much alive in Saint-Dalmas-Le-Selvage, and in the neighboring hamlets Pra and Bousiéyas. In summertime huge sheep herds are taken to and from grazing grounds at higher altitude.
Tête de Vinaigre in sight

Today’s hike starts from signpost 68 at the village entrance. The main parking is in the other end of the village. Most of the trail is actually a tiny part of the mythic GR5 trail; hence follow the white and red signs to signpost 48 just above the village. From here the continuous ascent starts towards Col de Colombière (2237 m). After about 40 minutes, the trail enters the Mercantour National Park.
Mont Tenibre 3031 m seen from Tête de Vinaigre

Navigation is easy. The whole trail runs in an almost treeless environment. In spite of the altitude, it can be very hot on a sunny summer day. For this hike, two liters of water plus 600 ml of sports drink to supply electrolytes was just enough for an average guy. We drink at the start, then every 30 min, and snack on salty nuts and fruits.
Tete de l'Enchastraye far right and Col de la Cavale seen from Tête de Vinaigre

A few sheep herder’s huts are close to the trail. On the day of our hike, dogs guarding the flock made their presence known without being directly menacing, and kept their distance.

Image of itinerary

The last push to Col de Colombière is a bit steep. The trail zigzags to signpost 47, located at the mountain pass. This is also the crossroads where GR5 continues north descending to Bousiéyas, the left hand trail goes up to Crête de la Blanche, explored by us earlier. Our trail forks right (to east) ascending to Tête de Vinaigre (2394 m). From the summit, almost all major peaks of northernmost Alpes-Maritimes are visible, including Mont Tenibre (3031 m). In the northwest, the cone-shaped Cime de la Bonette (2860 m) can be seen.

We used the same trail back to Saint-Dalmas-Le-Selvage.

Total elevation gain:                  900 m

Duration:                                  2h 45 climbing, 2h descent

Map:                IGN “Haute Tinée” 1 3639 OT

Distance from Nice:                 98 km/ 1h 40

Image of itinerary courtesy of Google Maps


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Summer vegetable gratin recipe

Summer vegetable gratin recipe

This summer vegetable tian is great with grilled lamb chops or brochettes d’agneau ou boeuf, lamb or beef skewers. This gratin is made from only summer vegetables, so it is not a traditional Provencal tian which also contain eggs, cheese and often rice.

2- 3 servings:

1 onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 large courgette (green summer squash), thinly sliced
1 aubergine, thinly sliced
A small bunch of fresh thyme
About 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
3 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh basil leaves to decorate

Preheat the oven to 200⁰ c.

Oil the gratin dish liberally with 1 tbsp olive oil.

Peel and thinly slice the onion. Place the onion slices in the bottom of the gratin dish. Peel and mince the garlic clove and scatter it on top of the onion. Scatter the thyme leaves and place the bay leaf on top of the onion.

Wash and dry the tomatoes, courgette and aubergine. Slice them thinly. Cover the onion, garlic and herbs with the slices, packing them quite tightly and alternating them. It doesn’t matter if you have some leftover vegetable slices; you can fry them next day in olive oil for a vegetable side for lunch or dinner.

When you have packed the vegetable slices in the gratin dish, grind over some black pepper, place the rosemary sprigs on top and sprinkle 2 tbsp olive oil over the dish.

Bake in oven for 1 h- 1h 15. Cover the gratin dish with tin foil after 30 minutes so that the vegetables do not become too dry.


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Camp des Fourches to Col de la Cavale

Col de la Cavale seen drom Col des Fourches

Valley of Salso Moréno

From Camp des Fourches (2240 m alt., 102 km and 1 h 45 from Nice), a few km before Col de la Bonette, you have a choice of three different day hikes, each about 4 hours. At Camp des Fourches there are just ruins of an old caserne and a parking, nothing else. But the surrounding scenery is stunning.
The area around Camp des Fourches is summer pasture for sheep

You can climb to Cime de Pelousette (2757 m), to Col de la Cavale (2671 m) or you can explore the peculiar valley of Salso Moréno up to Col de Pouriac (2506 m). The valley of Salso Moreno is a summer pasture to huge sheep flocks. An altogether more strenuous option is the ascent to Tête de l’Enchastraye (2954 m), which takes at least 7 hours.
Ascending towards Col de la Cavale along GR5

On the day of our hike the heat wave had reached France, and the temperature even at Camp des Fourches was approaching 20 degrees at 10 o’clock in the morning. We opted for Col de la Cavale along the GR 5 trail. From the parking, there’s a 5 minute walk to Col des Fourches (2261 m). The trail that forks left from here goes to Cime de Pelousette whereas another short path goes straight south climbing to the nearby Mont des Fourches (2342 m), about 30 minutes one way.
Approaching Col de la Cavale

Our GR 5 trail descends about 180 m to the beginning of the Salso Moréno Valley. Its geological wonders include several dolines or sinkholes. With almost no wind and temperature soaring, we certainly looked forward to the cool mountain wind higher up, and were not disappointed. The trail passes a tiny refuge, goes over a dry riverbed before reaching signpost 37. From here, our GR 5 route forks left, and continues ascending almost straight
Cime du Mul seen from Col de la Cavale
north. The final ascent to the col is steep but is nevertheless easy to negotiate especially if you have poles. No scrambling is necessary. From Col de la Cavale, the GR5 trail continues north to the Lauzanier valley, and eventually to Col de Larche.

We descended along the same route. Col de la Cavale is an excellent spot for a break in good weather.
At Col de la Cavale

Total ascent:                     780 m

Duration:                          4h 30 (2h 30 climbing, 2 h back)

Map: IGN 3639 OT Haute Tinée 1

Image of itinerary :
(Courtesy of Google Maps)


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Beef fillet recipe with courgette cake

Beef fillet recipe with courgette cake

A few years ago it was easy to find tender pre-packed entrecôte or sirloin steaks in our local supermarket in Nice. But nowadays you have to go to a butcher for tender steaks. Luckily the pre-packed beef fillet, tenderloin, filet de boeuf, is just as tender and tasty as it used to be. Yes, this is luxury, but sometimes it is better to have something really good, but seldom and in smaller portions.

The following recipe is easy and carefree to make on a hot summer evening. It is adapted from a French magazine and results in a rare to medium rare fillet, which reminded me of the classic Carpaccio. If you prefer your fillet medium or well done just extend the cooking time in the oven. The amount of fillet is for four persons or for two with generous fillet leftovers for a beef salad the next day. It is easy to double or treble the courgette cakes for a larger party.

2 servings

For the fillet: 4 servings or 2 with leftovers
About 500 g beef fillet, filet de bœuf
1 clove garlic, minced
About 3 sprigs parsley, minced
1 tbsp dry bread crumbs, chapelure
Freshly ground black pepper
About 2 tbsp olive oil

For the courgette cakes:, ingredients for 2 cakes:
1 medium green courgette, grated
1 egg
A small handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 sprigs of parsley, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp rapeseed oil for the frying

For the mayonnaise:
2 tbsp good mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard

Plus you need two small handfuls of baby salad leaves.

Preheat the oven to 180⁰ C.

Mince the parsley and garlic; add the breadcrumbs and black pepper and mix in a bowl. Spread this mixture on a plate. French fillet often comes covered with a slice of lard, remove this. Oil the fillet on all sides with olive oil and roll it in the parsley-garlic-bread crumb mixture. Place the fillet in an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven for 20 minutes for rare to medium-rare. Take the fillet out of the oven, place on a cutting board and cover with tin foil for 10- 20 minutes.

While the fillet is in the oven make the “batter” for courgette cakes. Wash and dry the courgette. Then coarsely grate it. Mince the parsley and finely grate the parmesan. In a bowl whisk the egg, add the parsley, courgette, parmesan, black pepper and a pinch of salt. Add enough of grated courgette to get a thick “batter”. Mix well. You may not need to use the entire grated courgette, if you have leftover courgette you can use it the next day in an omelette.

While the fillet is resting on the cutting board cook the courgette cakes. In a frying pan warm 1 tbsp rapeseed oil over medium- high heat. Place two heaps of courgette “batter” in the frying pan and flatten a little with a spatula to make two cakes. Cook for 4 minutes, then turn and continue cooking for 3- 4 minutes. Transfer on a plate and keep warm by covering with tin foil. If you cook several courgette cakes, you need to do this in batches.

Mix the mayonnaise with mustard in a small bowl. Slice the fillet into thin slices.

Place the courgette cakes on the plates. Place a few fillet slices on top of the cakes and the rest on the side. Add the salad and mayonnaise on the plates and serve.


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