Cime de Pal

At the summit of Cime de Pal 2818 m

Finally, the weather forecast was favourable for our ascent to Cime de Pal (2818 m) above the hamlet of Estenc (1778 m) in the upper Var Valley.

We had admired the silhouette of Cime de Pal from Auron, with its long ridge stretching to the north, and its quasi-vertical southern wall. The ridge has been praised by many mountain aficionados. The image below the map shows the mountain viewed from different directions.

We headed to Estenc from Nice on a chilly but clear September morning (a 2 h drive). The temperature in Estenc was just 6°C.

From Estenc (signpost #40), we started along the GR trail to Col de Gialorgues. We crossed the Var River, walked past several chalets before the trail proper began. We ascended, partly in the woods, to Pas de l’Estrop. Getting higher, we came to the vast l’Estrop Valley where progress was pleasant mostly along soft alpine meadows. The peculiar shape of Roche Grande (2752 m) was on our right-hand side.

We reached Col de Gialorgues (2519 m). From here, even the summit of Mont Viso was visible in the distance. The main trail continued straight down to the Gialorgues Valley and St-Dalmas-le-Selvage whereas we forked right and climbed to Baisse de la Boulière (2629 m) along an ancient military trail. From here, our summit was visible in the south east.

We now descended a bit along the narrow trail that went down to Entraunes. After about 400 m, we located an unmarked (albeit the cairns) trail that climbed up to the ridge. On a clear day, with cairns in sight, navigation was not difficult. The itinerary is marked with an interrupted line both in digital and paper IGN maps.

We were lucky to visit the famous ridge that connects Cime de la Gorgia, Cime de Bolofré and Cime de Pal on a clear and sunny day. We headed south, towards the summit, following the cairns. In places, the trail would have been almost invisible without them. Approaching the summit, the trail became steeper with some exposed parts. The narrow summit was marked with a big cairn. The wind increased, and it became quite cold in spite of the sun. We descended almost immediately, using the poles that were of great help (loose slate rocks).

We took the same itinerary back but in the l’Estrop Valley had to make a small detour as the lamb flock and the guarding dogs were now roaming freely not far from the trail. In the morning they were still all inside the fence next to Cabane de l’Estrop.

Climb: 1100 m

Distance: 19 km

Duration: 7 h (active)

Map: IGN 3540 ET Haute Vallée du Var

Cime de Pal trail track

Cime de Pal viewed from different directions



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Lunch at Refuge de Cougourde

Chamois near Refuge de Cougourde

Mid-September, summer came back to the South of France. It seemed like a good idea to hike from Le Boréon above St-Martin de Vésubie to Refuge de Cougourde (2100 m). They serve lunch at the refuge till the end of September. All the supply is transported by donkeys from Le Boréon.

We drove to the upper parking of Le Boréon (1600 m) but had to find a spot a bit lower by the road as there was no space left. It was a gorgeous weekend. We ascended to the starting point of the trail which was also a GR52 itinerary as far as to signpost #425, hence well maintained and marked.

Ascending in the upper Boréon Valley, we passed familiar crossroads, first to Cime du Pisset and Piagu, then, higher up, the unmarked trail to the left to Lacs Bessons.

We reached signpost #425 and the crossroads to the refuge (forking left), and the GR52 to the Trécolpas Lake (right). From here, it took 25 minutes for us to reach the refuge. We saw several chamois that seemed to be quite used to hikers. It was lunchtime, and most tables on the terrace were already taken. Not surprisingly, the menu was limited but they served veal and pasta as plat du jour, which we opted for.

Surrounded by imposing peaks, the refuge is perfectly situated for a great high-mountain experience. Moreover, it can be reached with a moderate effort.

Climb: 500 m

Duration: 3h 10 active

Distance: 10 km

Map: IGN 3741 OT Vallée de la Vésubie
Cougourde refuge trail track

General location of Refuge de Cougourde


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Mont Lapassé 2351 m from Madone de Fenestre

Summit of Mont Lapassé 2351 m

In the past, we have made several good hikes from Madone de Fenestre (1820 m), such as Cime de la Valette de Prals. This time we wanted to make a shorter hike to the still unexplored Mont Lapassé (2351 m). With a moderate effort, we were rewarded by a super 360° panorama at the summit!

We started our hike from a small parking at 1790 m elev. by the M94 road, just below Madone de Fenestre. From here, we took a shortcut (140 m or so) directly to the main trail that went to Vallon de Prals. We crossed a stream along a wooden bridge and came to a crossroads at signpost #362. At this point we forked right, into the woods, heading to a mountain pass named Baisse de Férisson. The left-hand trail went up to the Prals Valley, to Lacs de Prals etc.

The ascent to Baisse de Férisson (2254 m) was a continuous 400 m climb from signpost #362. At the pass, we had today’s goal about 100 m above us. The marked trail to Cime de la Palu circled along the southern flank of Mont Lapassé. We climbed to the summit along an unmarked trail. The summit was marked with a cairn and a stick, in fact two cairns very near each other.

Mont Lapassé is in the middle of a chain of mid-altitude 2000 m+ summits between the Madone de Fenestre and Gordolasque Valleys. In this region, it is possible to tailor make your hike shorter or longer, and ascend to several summits during one day if you wish.

We returned back to the valley along the same trail

Climb: 560 m
Distance: 8 km
Duration: 3h (Climb 1h 45) active
Map: 3741 OT Vallée de la Vésubie

Mont Lapassé trail track and location


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Aubergine and tomato gratin

Aubergine and tomato gratin

This tasty vegetable gratin is great with a simple chicken breast or a steak.

2 servings

1 aubergine
2 tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 tsp dried Provençal herbs
Freshly ground black pepper
200 ml tomato sauce
Two handfuls of freshly grated parmesan
About 4 tbsp. olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180° C.

Oil a small gratin dish with 1 tbsp. of olive oil. Wash and dry the aubergine and tomatoes. Then slice them.

Place ½ of the aubergine slices in the bottom of the gratin dish and cover with ½ of the tomato sauce. Add the tomato slices and sprinkle with 1 tsp. dried Provençal herbs. Peel the garlic clove and press over the tomatoes. Grind over some black pepper. Then cover with the rest of the aubergine slices and spread the rest of the tomato sauce on top of the aubergine slices.

Grate about two handfuls of parmesan and cover the gratin. Sprinkle 3 tbsp. olive oil on top of the parmesan and bake for 45 minutes.


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Cime de Marta hike

Cime de Marta viewed from trail

Many years ago, we tried to reach the summit of Cime de Marta (2135 m) starting from the village of la Brigue in the Roya Valley. On that given day, however, the village was en fête; full of people, Medieval spectacles, and police directing traffic, so we never found the starting point of the trail to Cime de Marta.

This time, we started the ascent from the Italian side from Rifugio F. Allavena at Colla Melosa (1545 m) in the Ligurian Alps.

We first drove to Ventimiglia, then took the SP64 road north, passing Dolceaqua then Pigna. After Pigna, we forked right to SP65. This road got very narrow with continuous hairpin bends but at least it was paved! At a place named Colla di Longan, we forked left to Colla Melosa.

 From Colla Melosa, we started along an old military track, then forked right to a path that went straight up to Rifugio Grai. It was a steepish ascent along a good trail. We came back to the military track, headed straight north along it, following the Franco-Italian border passing Col Bertrand (1979 m). We soon had Cime de Marta in sight, above the barrack ruins by the trail.

We continued along the dirt track a bit heading west, reached the ridge between Balcon de Marta and Cime de Marta where we forked right (east) and ascended to the summit hors sentier along the grassy western flank of the mountain. Wild orchids and violets decorated the alpine meadow but there were still large patches of snow on the northern slope. The summit was marked with a signpost (#254).

From the summit, we descended-again off-track-straight down to the barrack ruins and took the same route back to Colla Melosa.

The GPS track is shown below

Climb: 663 m

Distance: 11,3 km

Duration: 3h 30 (active)

Map: IGN 3841 OT Vallée de la Roya (the Italian side of the trail and Colla Melosa are visible on the French map)


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