Aups Truffle Festival 2016

Pig hunting truffle at Aups festival

Aups (500m above sea level) is situated deep in Provençe in the Var Department. It is also one of the gateways to the Grand Canyon of Verdon, 16 km north of Aups as the crow flies.

Aups specialty is truffles. Every Thursday between November and mid-March there’s a truffle market where you can also buy other local products such as honey and olive oil.

La Maison de la Truffe -the Truffle House-was opened in November 2015. In its modern surroundings you can learn practical things about truffles; how to use them as a spice in recipes, how to clean and preserve them (less than a week in the fridge) etc.

One of the biggest local attractions is Aups Black Truffle Festival held every 4th Sunday in January. Because we were absolute novices when it comes to truffles, we were looking forward to discovering things around this precious fungus, and of course to tasting the truffle menu prepared by those who master the local traditions.

The morning of the 23rd truffle festival was cold with clear skies. The stands were already erected in Place Frédéric Mistral in front of the Mairie. Bare plane trees adorned the square. As the market was not yet in full swing the timing was perfect to view the stands as well as to do some shopping.

We tasted and bought some excellent fruity local olive oil. It will go perfectly with different salads. We later discovered that they had recently won three gold medals in Paris, and that Aups also holds olive oil festivals every March.

The day’s program started with truffle hunting dogs’ competition followed by a demonstration by a truffle hunting pig. They said that this pig, “Pipetto”, was the last working pig in this area. She was a hard worker, sniffing and digging one truffle after another.

After this, it was time to visit Maison de la Truffe.The visit was free because of the event, normally it costs 5€.
Video from the festival can be viewed here

The morning’s program ended with a colourful folk dance show arranged by a local folklore group. At noon, most people started looking for a spot for lunch. Many restaurants had rather overpriced long Sunday truffle menus, and many were queuing for cheaper and more informal lunches. As we had already booked a truffle menu dinner at our hotel, we too opted for a simple lunch, sitting outside in the chilly shade as the tables in the sun were all taken. After this, we had time for a walk in the forest above Aups to discover some caves.

Our dinner menu comprised:

Bruillarde de Truffe Noir, scrambled eggs with grated truffle on the top

The first course was followed by Filet de Boeuf, steak, or Magret de Canard, duck breast. Both were served with the same truffle sauce, and quite a lot of truffle had been grated on top of the meat to get a good taste of it.

Cheese and dessert concluded the dinner.

From the wine list we chose an excellent local red, Le Château Thuerry 2010

The truffle menu was substantial, and we were happy that we had made a walk to the caves in the afternoon!
Is the truffle taste then worth all this effort and price? Try it and make up your own mind.


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January hike above Saint-Jeannet


The village of Saint-Jeannet (420 m elev., 20 km from Nice) is a very popular starting point for hikes.  Most people climb up to the Baou, and perhaps make a loop via the ruins of Castellet.

This time we made a different walk, forking from Grande Randonnée 51 (GR51) to explore the path along the eastern flank Mount Riorun (879 m). A site of ancient habitation and farming, the trail is today mostly used by sheep, shepherds and locals.

From the centre of St-Jeannet we ascended along the GR51 trail as far as to signpost #6. Just after the signpost, there’s a large cairn, heap of stones, and a clearly visible path heading north (picture above). The trail has been restored by the association “Sentiers et villages des baous”. They have also restored some of the ancient structures along the trail.

We stopped at a small cabane near the path. The small shelters built of stones were used in ancient farming during the summer season.

After about one hour from Saint-Jeannet we found ourselves in the calm nature so different from the busy coast. We even spotted a few deer that rapidly disappeared behind Riorun. We met two shepherds, and eventually heard the sheep somewhere ahead of us. The timing for a picnic in the surprisingly warm January sunshine was perfect.

We then continued a bit along the easy trail. After having passed a large oak tree, we came to a well-preserved threshing floor. After this, we spotted the flock of sheep and goats on the trail right in front of us. The shepherd was steering them slowly to north. We stopped for a while to let them pass to one of the sheep farms on the foot of Mouton D’Anou Mountain (1078 m). At the crossroads we turned sharply right (south) and started descending back towards the starting point along a good trail that eventually joined the GR51.

Total hiking time:    2h 30

Total ascent:   400 m

Map:    IGN 3642 ET

The part of the trail forking from GR51 is not marked in the IGN Map. However, check this site (in French),click sentiers and you find a network of trails. GR 51 is the red one, signpost #6 is b6, and above this you can see the actual trail described here. You can even click red spots on the map and view images from around the trail. The turning point is roughly at Jas de Barrière, now in ruins.

The alternative itinerary would be to ascend first to the summit of Baou de Saint-Jeannet, then take the trail from there straight north to signpost #6, and continue as described above.

More information in the book (in French): Le Rando Malin by Roger Berio (Éditions Mémoires Millénaires)


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Quail Lucéram style


The village of Lucéram about 27 km north of Nice has traditional links with Piedmont on the Italian side. The elderly people still speak an Occitan subdialect, and Lucéram’s gastronomy has strong Italian roots.

The following dish, caille à la polenta, quails with polenta, was served in winter after the hunting season The recipe is adapted from the wonderful cookery book A Table in Provence by Leslie Forbes.

The quails I used for this recipe were bought from our local supermarket in Nice. They were Label Rouge free-range quails from Landes. For convenience I used Chez Bernard ready-made polenta which was a rectangular sheet about 3 cm thick. This only needed slicing and warming in the oven.

For 2 servings:

4 quails
100 ml red wine
2 tbsp olive oil
10- 12 cherry tomatoes
Parsley to decorate

For the filling four 4 quails:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large tomato, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce for 2 servings:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
100 ml red wine
100 ml chicken stock
50 ml tomato purée
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 210⁰ C.

Cook the filling in a frying pan over medium heat for about 10 minutes until the shallots are soft. Fill the quails and place them in an oven-proof dish. Pour 100 ml red wine in the bottom of the dish and sprinkle 2 tbsp olive oil over the quails. Roast for 10 minutes in 210⁰ C. Then cover the quails with foil and continue roasting. The total roasting time will be 35-40 minutes.
Roasted Quails

Meanwhile cook the sauce in a small saucepan. Bring all the ingredients to a boil, and then reduce the heat to simmering. Simmer until the sauce is reduced to about half. Cover and keep warm.

Slice the polenta and cover with foil. Place in the oven when 15 minutes of roasting the quails remains.

Remove the foil covering the quails when about 10 minutes of roasting time remains.  Place the cherry tomatoes in the oven-proof dish. They will be nicely roasted in 10 minutes.

Serve the quails with the sliced polenta, the roasted cherry tomatoes and the sauce. Decorate with parsley.


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Dôme de Barrot above Valberg


This hike in Moyen Pays near Valberg ski resort is truly off the beaten track. We did it on a Friday (a non-hunting day -to be on the safe side!) in mid-September and did not meet any other hikers. The scenery is magnificent. The peculiar red rock also seen in the nearby Gorges of Daluis and Cians dominates the landscape. The season is from May onwards. In early May, some snow can still be present at this altitude.

Dôme de Barrot (2136 m) is roughly half way between Valberg and Puget-Theniers in the south. There are at least two itinerary options. The one from the south (Auvare, 1082 m) is said to be more sauvage and authentic. We, however, chose the route starting near Valberg because of somewhat shorter duration and lesser vertical gain. In this option, the first part of the hike ascends along some of Valberg’s ski runs.
From the parking next to the ski lift des Equilles at Les Launes (at 1498 m alt.); start the hike along the unpaved service road left of the chair lift. It ascends quite steeply to Col des Anguillers (1856 m) and to signpost #24. From there, continue to signpost # 25 (1901 m). The road now descends 80 m to signpost #124 at Col de Raton (1821 m).

From this crossroads, several trails continue along the alpine meadow. We recommend climbing to Pra Brûlé (1986 m), where the ski lift carrying the same name ends (picture 3; red arrow). This makes a shortcut compared with the trail (picture 3; blue arrow) that circles along the eastern flank of the mountain. There’s a service road in the slope that can be used for walking. From the top, you have a great view of Dôme de Barrot. The narrow trail from here (marked with an interrupted black line in the IGN map) continues along the southeastern flank of Cime du Pra, and then descends slightly to signpost #130 from where the final part of the trail to the summit starts. Navigation is easy at this point as the masts on the mountaintop are visible.

We returned along the same trail.

Elevation gain: 850 m
Duration: 6h 30

Map: IGN No 3641 OT “Moyen Var”

The distance from Nice is 81 km. Take RD6202 that follows the Var Valley; At Touët-Sur-Var turn right to RD28. At Beuil, continue towards Valberg, and after 2.6 km turn sharply left to Route des Equilles. The parking is reached after about 700 m.


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Plums with calissons

Plums with calisson

Calissons,the small oval cakes made from almonds and candied melons and covered with marzipan are typical of Provence. It is believed that calissons have their origins in medieval Italy. After almond trees were introduced in the South of France, Aix-en-Provence became famous for its calissons.
Ingredients for four servings of plums with calissons

I think that these small cakes are best when combined with some fruit dessert such as fried plums. In this recipe, the plums are fried in olive oil with a little brown sugar and then sprinkled with genepi. Genepi is a traditional liqueur in the Alpine region and includes herbs that blossom at high altitudes during July and August. So this recipe connects Provence with the Alps, but of course you could use any liqueur that you prefer to heighten the taste of plums.

4 servings

About 400 g plums, preferably an assortment of different plums
1 tbsp brown sugar, cassonade
1 tbsp genepi
1 tbsp olive oil
To serve: 4 calissons

Wash and dry the plums. Halve them and remove the stones.

Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan, add the plums and sprinkle with brown sugar. Fry the plums about 10 minutes until softened and sprinkle with genepi.

Divide the warm plums on the plates and serve with calissons.


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