Hike above the Sanctuary of Sainte-Anne

The Sanctuary of Ste-Anne in Vinadio

The Sanctuary of Sainte-Anne is situated at 2035 m altitude in the commune of Vinadio in Piemont. It is said to be the highest sanctuary in Europe. The legend goes that Sainte-Anne suddenly appeared to a young shepherd and asked her to build a chapel at the site.

In summer, the sanctuary is very popular, especially on the 26th of July, fête de la Sainte-Anne, and on the 15th of August when the pilgrimage takes place. A hotel, restaurant, refuge and bar-café are built near the church. Parking is good and spacious in front of the hotel and the refuge.

The sanctuary is a good starting point for several hikes. The hike we describe here is called Tour du Laufser in the French Guides Randoxygène. The hike goes partly on the Italian and partly on the French side. On a clear summer day, it is very popular and offers beautiful views.

We first drove to Isola 2000 and crossed the border at Col de la Lombarde (2350 m). The road on the Italian side is very narrow but paved. From the col, the road winded downhill about 8 km to the intersection of the Sanctuary, then ascended the last 2,5 km.

From the Sanctuary (signpost # 341), we first walked along a narrow paved road straight south a few hundred meters to signpost #342, then forked right following the trail to the Lake of Ste-Anne (signpost #343), and continued ascending to Pas de Tesina (2400 m; signpost # 344). The trail ascended gently and there were several shortcut trails for those who want to climb more steeply.

From Pas de Tesina we continued along a good but a bit precipitous trail to Col du Saboulé (2460 m) where we also crossed the border to France. From here, we descended passing the Lausfer Lakes, then climbed to Col du Lausfer (2430 m) and crossed the border again. The following part of the trail was again a bit precipitous and rocky but nevertheless wide enough. We reached the last mountain pass, Pas de Sainte-Anne (2308 m) rapidly. From here, we followed a wide ex-military trail back to the sanctuary. It was possible to make several shortcuts here as well.

Climb: 520 m
Sheep flock just under Col du Saboulé

Duration: 4 h

Map: IGN 3640 ET Haute Tinée 2 Isola 2000
Image of trail courtesy of Google Maps

Mont Mounier seen after Col du Saboulé


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Mediterranean lamb skewers

Mediterranean lamb skewers

A new study published Sept 2016 at the University of California Los Angeles showed that a healthy body mass index, physical activity and Mediterranean diet delayed the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Another recent Australian review of 18 papers published between 2000 and 2015 showed that following Mediterranean diet was associated with better memory and less cognitive decline.

Consequently, this summer the French media has focused on these results, and many Mediterranean recipes with a new twist have been published in France.
The following recipe is adapted from a French magazine. I have somewhat modified the recipe according to my preferences, but the basic Mediterranean diet principle remains: there is less meat and the meat is complemented by the vegetable protein, from lentils in this recipe. Carré Frais , one of the ingredients in the recipe, is a soft cheese. In this recipe, I have used fat-free Carré Frais.  If you cannot find Carré Frais in your shops, replace it with Philadelphia Light cheese.

2 servings

About 200 g lean tender lamb, cut into chunks
1 small organic lemon
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 red bell peppers
1 tsp dried Provençal herbs
1 clove garlic, peeled and pressed
100 g feta
100 g Carré Frais 0% fat (or Philadelphia Light)
A small handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
100 ml brown or green lentils

Make the marinade by mixing the lemon zest, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, 3 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp Provençal herbs, the pressed garlic clove, and black pepper. Cut the lamb about 2,5 x 2,5 cm cubes and add to the marinade. Cover and let marinate in the fridge for a few hours.

Wash and dry the bell peppers. Cut them in halves and remove all the seeds. Roast them in the oven 210 degrees Celsius about half an hour until the skins are partly blackened. The skins are now easy to remove when the peppers have cooled down. Set the skinned peppers aside.

Cook the lentils in 400 ml water. Add the lentils in cold water in a casserole and bring to the boil. They normally need 30 minutes cooking time, add some water during the cooking if needed. Then cover and keep warm.

Make the feta-bell pepper purée with a hand-held mixer. Slice the peppers and place in a bowl. Add the feta cheese, Carré Frais, 1 tbsp. olive oil, black pepper, and most of the chopped mint leaves. Save some chopped mint leaves for decoration. Don’t make a very fine purée. Divide the purée in individual small bowls.

Thread the lamb cubes onto skewers. Grill in a medium hot grill pan, turning occasionally, until nicely browned on all sides. This will take about 7- 8 minutes for medium (still pink inside, rosé) lamb.

Divide the lamb skewers, lentils and feta- bell pepper purée bowls on the plates. Decorate with chopped mint leaves and serve a green side salad with a French dressing.


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Rimplas: The loop trail to la Couletta

Today’s hike starts from the charming and well-maintained village of Rimplas (1000 m). The village overlooks the Tinée Valley in the west and the Bramafan Valley in the east. 60 km from Nice, Rimplas can be reached by taking the RD202 road to La Mescla, where the 2205 road forks to the Tinée Valley. Just after la Bollinette and two short tunnels, the 2265 road branches right and zigzags up to the Bramafan Valley. Above the hamlet of les Vignes, the RM66 road turns left and climbs to the village.

The loop trail is called Circuit de la Couletta in the French guide. Its path is well marked and mostly soft, only the final part back to the village is a bit rocky.  The trail winds partly in sparse pine woods, partly along bare mountain slopes. Most of the time the trail offers great views down to the Tinée Valley, to small villages nearby, and to several high mountain summits.

From the village centre (signpost #153) we ascended along a paved alley about 150 m to signpost 157, and continued from there heading north along a good trail (yellow marks). The signposts showed the direction to la Couletta. We passed signposts # 166 and 166a. Most of the time we had unobstructed views down to the valley. At La Couletta, we dove in the woods, ascended a bit, and reached the well-marked turning point. After that, we came very soon to a clearing that was an excellent spot for our picnic. The trail now headed south back to Rimplas along the same sunny mountain slope, just a little higher.

We continued towards signposts # 158 and 158a passing a water reservoir and a few huts. We then descended along a panoramic crête du Serre. Here, some parts of the trail were a bit rocky, but not at all difficult. We came to a paved road, walked past some new houses, and descended along stairs that took us directly to signpost #157.

Walking time: 3h 30

Elevation gain: 400 m

Map: “Moyenne Tinée” IGN 3641 ET


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Visit to Séguret vineyards

The village of Séguret

The wine-producing village of Séguret is situated west of the Dentelles hills. It is one of the twenty or so Côtes du Rhône Villages that are authorized to use their village name on the label. Wines made under Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation must meet higher standards than those of plain Côte du Rhône. Even higher in the hierarchy are the villages with their own AOC, such as Châteauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras.

As we had previously tasted some elegant Séguret reds, we now decided to explore the area.

We stayed at Hotel Montmirail near Vacqueyras. The hotel was mentioned for its excellent Provençal restaurant in a 20-year-old guidebook, and we were pleased to find out that that was still the case.

Driving north from Vacqueyras along the D7 road reminded us of Napa Valley. There were numerous wineries and vineyards by the road. At 10 o’clock in the morning, the villages were still very quiet, and many businesses were closed.

Our plan was to visit three very different wineries during the day; A wine cooperative, then a small less known producer, and last an internationally acclaimed producer in the same region.

We started by visiting the Roaix-Séguret cooperative by the D977 road. As the name says, they sell wines produced in these communes. Many of their wines are very attractively priced, too. We tasted their three Séguret reds bottled by the cooperative, namely Domaine Canta Granouio 2013, their blend simply called Seguret Villages 2014, and Roaix 2014, all Appellation Côtes du Rhône Villages Protegée. At 5€ per bottle, they all were good value for money. We chose the Seguret Villages 2014 that we found already now balanced and smooth.

After the first tasting and purchases, we headed to the village of Séguret for lunch. We chose Le Mesclun with a panoramic terrace. Actually there were not that many options in this village or in the vicinity. Their lunch offer called “Petit cuisine du Marché” was just delicious and sufficient for us as we headed to the next visit nearby, a vineyard called Domaine de Eyguestre in the secluded hills above Séguret. Fortunately, the road was signposted!  The clay and grey limestone land here is very suitable for wine cultivation. The soil is said to give smaller yields of higher quality. Incidentally, we had read about their wines on Le Petit Ballon web site. We had made a rendezvous before arrival and met Mr Laurent Bellion the proprietor. We tasted Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages Domaine de Eyguestre 2013 and 2014 blends (Grapes: Grenanche, Cinsault and Syrah). For us, the difference was negligible but we went for the 2013 vintage that had been reviewed by Le Petit Ballon. We also bought some olive oil there.

Our last stop was Domaine de Mourchon by the same narrow road, on the way back to Séguret. Created in 1998, the winery is run by the McKinlay family. We got an excellent presentation by the proprietor Mr Walter McKinlay himself and had the opportunity to taste some of their bestsellers such as:

Mourchon Grande Réserve Séguret (Appellation Côte du Rhône Villages) made of 65% Grenache and 35% Syrah, aged 40% in oak barrels and 60% in concrete vats.

Mourchon Tradition Séguret (Appellation Côte du Rhône Villages) made of 65% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 10% Carignan, aged 100% in concrete vats, consistent with the ancient method.

Mourchon Châteauneuf du Pape (Appellation Châteauneuf du Pape Controlée) has 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre and 10% Syrah. The winery does not own vines in Châteauneuf du Pape but as the owner explained, the “juice” is acquired from there through a négociant.

As amateurs, we got a lot of new information about this important wine region, and its rather complex classification system from only three visits.
Roaix Séguret cooperative wines to be tasted

Eyguestre wines to be tasted

Mourchon wines to be tasted


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