Another Riviera winter hike: Pointe Siricocca from Sainte-Agnès

The hilltop village of Sainte-Agnès is situated high above Menton only about 4 km from the coast as the crow flies. At 700 m/2300ft, Sainte-Agnès claims to be the highest coastal village in Europe. The Saracens built their fortress here, and much later, in 1932 another fortress was built into the mountain, this time as part of the Maginot line.

Sainte-Agnès is at the crossroads of some interesting hiking trails. This time we hiked to Pointe Siricocca (1051 m or 3450 ft.) which offers extraordinary views over the Riviera coast, the neighbouring mountain tops as well as a glimpse of the snow-capped summits further north. The well-marked itinerary circles Pointe Siricocca clockwise, and makes a detour to the mountaintop from Col  de Verroux  .

We parked at the entrance (600 m) of Sainte-Agnès below the village. The trail first follows the paved road going to col des Blanquettes for about 300 m, then forks right and descends into a valley along a trail called Peyre Grosse, passing some houses and pastures. The route then follows a dirt track for about 500 m before turning left, and continues ascending in the woods. Signposts along the way guide you to the summit. Just before Col de Verroux (935 m), the trail widens as it connects with an ancient military route which continues as far as to the summit making the last push fast and easy.

Short term weather forecasts generally tend to be pretty accurate these days. We chose the day based on a very favourable forecast but unfortunately low coastal clouds started gathering at 1000+ m rapidly, probably because of the humid and warmer Mediterranean air hitting the coast after a cold night. Hence, the views down to the coast were limited as the video clip shows.

From the mountaintop, we walked back to Col de Verroux, then headed first east then south descending rapidly. The way back to Sainte-Agnès is well marked.

Elevation gain: 600 m/1970 ft.

Duration:          4 h

Distance:           9.5 km/5.9 miles

Map: IGN “Nice-Menton” Côte d’Azur No 3742 OT


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Pork tenderloin with dried porcini mushrooms

Pork tenderloin with dry cèps

The following tasty recipe: pork tenderloin with dried cèps, porcini mushrooms, is a perfect winter dish.

The recipe is inspired by a Martin Walker book in the Bruno, chief of police, series. In this recipe, the dried porcini mushrooms were simmered in red wine. Most of the recipes recommend first to soak the dried porcini mushrooms in hot water. Well, I don’t think that method gives any real mushroom taste to dried porcini, so I was eager to try Bruno’s method. After all, the traditional Italian methods to prepare fresh porcini involve simmering in red wine.

Bruno’s method worked very well with dried porcini mushrooms; they were tasty and had a nice consistence after being simmered for about half an hour in red wine. But they really absorbed red wine, a lot! In the book, Bruno added a glass of red wine per a package of dried porcini, but this was not enough even to soak all the mushrooms. I kept adding more and more, 3 glasses of red wine plus 200 ml chicken stock were needed to simmer them properly.

2 servings

Pork tenderloin, about 300 g
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small package of dried cèps, Italian porcini mushrooms
450 ml red wine
200 ml chicken stock
Freshly ground black pepper
Parsley to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180⁰ C.

Cook the pork tenderloin in the oven for 45 minutes per 300 g, and 60 minutes per 450- 500 g. Let it rest tented in foil for about 15 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile prepare the porcini. In a large frying pan warm 1 tbsp rapeseed oil over medium heat. Gently cook the shallot and garlic for about 10 minutes until soft but not browned. Add the dried porcini mushrooms, red wine and chicken stock. Mix well. Reduce the heat to simmering, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the sliced pork tenderloin and black pepper.

Serve the pork tenderloin and porcini with steamed new potatoes and carrot slices. Decorate with parsley.


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February hike above Tourrettes-sur-Loup

Crossing Gué de Malvan above Vence

The trails above Tourrettes-sur-Loup and Vence are popular winter walks.

We started our hike from the spacious parking at the entrance of Tourrettes-sur-Loup (396 m). Heading to Col de Vence (962 m), we first followed the trail ascending to Chapel St-Raphael and Gué du Malvan. The trail marked with yellow signs first ascends in an affluent neighbourhood, and then continues in a beautiful small forest.

Chapel St-Raphael is reached in about 50 minutes. It is situated on top of a small hill on the right hand side of the trail. We made a short detour to the chapel (closed) before continuing to Gué du Malvan, a tributary of the River Cagnes. Soon after the crossing, we joined the GR51 trail (red/white signs), turned right at the signpost, and started to follow the GR51 heading to Plan de Noves.

At the western part of Plan de Noves(a plateau and a Parc Départemental), the trail to Col de Vence forks left, eventually crossing the RD2 road twice. This trail is well marked with yellow in addition to some cairns, heaps of stones. After the second road crossing, the trail continues a bit following the road, then joins the RD2 just before Col de Vence. We walked along the narrow road, crossed it for the third time and found ourselves on a rocky field. From this point, we admired the snow-capped Mercantour peaks.

All in all, this is a great winter hike on a clear day. Climbing up as far as to Col de Vence does not actually add much scenery wise, and you have to cross the narrow road with surprisingly much traffic. One option is to go as far as to Plan de Noves and turn there. There are no steep parts on this walk, and the trail is well marked.

We descended along the same trail.

Total hiking time: 4h 20

Ascent:About 600m

Map: IGN Cannes Grasse 3643ET
Image of trail courtesy of Google Maps
Image of trail to Col de Vence


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Dessert against winter colds

Science has shown that extra vitamin C shortens the number of sick days of the common cold. Instead of taking vitamin C tablets, I think that it is much nicer to increase the intake of vitamin C- rich foods.

Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, clementines), kiwis, strawberries, red, yellow and green bell peppers are super sources of vitamin C. The antioxidants in fruit and vegetables may also protect against infections.

The following dessert recipe not only contains lots of vitamin C and antioxidants, but also tastes great and has much less calories than most traditional desserts.

2 servings

1 grapefruit
1 orange, pressed
2 clementines
2 star anises
2 tsp honey
2 sprigs of fresh mint to decorate

Press the orange into juice and pour it into a small saucepan. Add the star anises and bring to the boil. Let simmer for two minutes, then take the saucepan aside. Add the honey, cover the saucepan and let the star anises infuse.

Peel the grapefruit and clementines, cutting away all the white parts of the peel. Remove the fruit from the segments discarding all the membranes with a small sharp knife and your fingers. Place the fruit and all the juices they let out in dessert bowls. Pour the infused orange juice over the fruit and cover with film.

Keep the dessert bowls refrigerated for 1- 2 hours. Serve cold decorated with a sprig of mint.


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Mediterranean fish fillet recipe

This tasty and easy recipe works with any firm white fish fillets such as cod, haddock, sea bass or halibut. I recently made it in Miami using fresh tilapia fillets from Costa Rica, and it turned out super tasty. Here in Nice I might use whiting or pollock fillets, which benefit from extra flavours.

The Mediterranean flavours from tomato, onion, garlic, olives, extra virgin olive oil, and herbs work with even frozen white fish fillets. Just defrost the fillets first and pat dry with kitchen paper before using them.

2 servings

About 400 gram (14.1 oz) firm white fish fillets
1 shallot or ½ onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
8 black olives, chopped
2 ripe tomatoes or about 10- 12 cherry tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp pesto rosso, red pesto (or 2 sundried tomatoes, minced)
1 tsp Provençal herbs
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp breadcrumbs
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Fresh parsley or basil to decorate
Lemon wedges to serve

Preheat the oven to 200⁰ C / 400⁰ F.

Butter a shallow baking dish which is large enough to hold the fish fillets in one layer. Place the fish in it.

Mince the shallot and garlic. Chop the tomatoes and olives. In a bowl mix the tomatoes, shallot, garlic, olives, pesto rosso, Provençal herbs and some black pepper. Spread this mixture evenly on top of the fish fillets.

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top and drizzle on the olive oil.
Place the dish in the oven and bake for 25- 40 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish fillets. The fish is cooked when it is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.


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