Lac de l'Etoile from Col de Vars

Lac de l'Etoile Vars

Having previously hiked to Paneyron (2785 m) from Col de Vars, we now wanted to explore the trail which continued further northeast from the summit. Our goal was Lac de l’Etoile (2755 m).

It was a gorgeous July morning. We had to drive up to Col de Vars (2108 m) early as the road was to be closed later in the morning because of a cycling event.

From Col de Vars, we took the dirt road which went to a shepherd’s hut. The trail to the summit forked right just before it, and we started to ascend along the southwestern flank of Paneyron.  The trail first passed Alpine meadows, but soon the landscape became rockier and arid. Next to the summit, we came to a signpost showing Lac de l’Etoile to the right (east). After a rapid detour to the summit, we followed the trail which soon descended quite steeply. We had to focus on every step as there were loose stones and gravel. But we later found out that this path was one of the trail runners’ itinerary!

After the descent we ascended from 2655 m to 2731 m, followed by several smaller climbs and descents which increased our cumulative climb. The trail itself was easy to see, there were cairns and sporadic fading yellow markings.

We passed an unnamed lake. We had simultaneous views to the Les Ecrins massif, Aguille de Chambeyron in the east and above all, the imposing massif in front of us: la Mortice, Pics des Houerts and many other 3000 m+ summits.

The shores of Lac de l’Etoile were still partly covered with snow. The lake lies in dark flysch terrain (shale/sandstone). Other geological wonders nearby include the huge karst formation below La Mortice, the highest in Europe.

We headed back along the same trail. Just before Col de Vars, we took the path which circled the hill between the Col and the hut (map below).

Climb: 1024 m

Distance: 13 km

Duration: 5h 30

IGN Map: 3538 ET « Aguille de Chambeyron Cols de Larche et de Vars »

Lac de l'Etoile track
Lac de l'Etoile track


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Lemon ricotta with strawberries

Lemon ricotta with strawberries

What a delight it is to find the first tasty local spring strawberries! And nowadays we can buy them organic. For dessert, strawberries are usually served with sweetened whipped cream.

For a change, try serving them with ricotta mixed with lemon juice. It is important to use original Italian ricotta in the recipe because “ricottas” made in some other countries just don’t have the desired consistency and don’t mix so easily with lemon juice. Great taste but less calories and no added sugar.

2 servings

About 2 handfuls of local organic strawberries
150 g Italian ricotta
Juice of ½ small lemon

Wash the strawberries under running water and let dry on kitchen paper.

In a bowl, whip the ricotta and lemon juice with a spoon. Divide into 2 dessert bowls.

Slice the strawberries and divide on top of the ricotta. Enjoy!


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Mont Brune between Esteron and Var River Valleys

Viewing Mercantour summits from Mont Brune
Viewing Mercantour summits from Mont Brune

 At 1518 m, Mont Brune is the second highest peak in the mountain ridge dividing the Esteron and Var River Valleys. We have previously hiked to the highest, Mont Vial (1550 m) as well as to Cime de Collettes (1513 m).

The mountains here, south of the Var River are Castellane Prealps. This particular summit seems to be much less visited. The easiest way to explore this peak is to start from Col de Vé Gautier by the narrow and sinuous D27 road 5 km west of Toudon

View from Col de Vé Gautier
Path from forest road to Mont Brune
Path after signpost#96
View towards Ascros
We found a good parking by the D27 road, just opposite the forest trail that actually zigzags all the way to a clearing under Mont Brune. The hiking trail crosses this dirt track several times and sometimes follows it.

We started to ascend along the forest trail from D27 road and located the hiking trail after the second bend where we forked right. This part of the trail was a narrow, sometimes overgrown path and yellow markings were sporadic. We reached signpost #96, and followed its instructions. Now heading northwest along Mont Brune’s southern flank, the trail became a little wider and easier to follow.

Shortcut to Baisse du Mont Brune
Cime de Collettes and Mont Vial
On the trail to Mont Brune
Var River seen from Mont Brune
At signpost #95, we turned sharply to the east, and climbed to signpost #94 by the dirt road, which we followed about 150 m before making a shortcut again. We climbed along a narrow path, quite steeply for about 30 m. The trail then levelled off and came back to the dirt road a little before signpost #93 at Baisse du Mont Brune. Here, at a clearing, water reservoir and helipad we took the final leg to the summit. Parts of the trail were steep and in places the vegetation was dense. Just before the summit the trail made a 90° turn west (a cairn). We then climbed, sometimes off-piste, to the top of Mont Brune.

View from Mont Brune eastern flank
Easy scramble before Mont Brune summit
Summit of Mont Brune
The summit itself was marked with a bigger cairn and a stick. The panorama was perfect. We descended back to Baisse du Mont Brune and then took the forest road down to D27 road for a change.

Climb: 430 m

Distance: 7,7 km

Duration: 3h 10 active

Map: IGN Vallée de l’Esteron Vallée du Loup 3642 ET

Mont Brune hike track
Mont Brune hike track


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Zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta, parmesan and black olives

It is a true sign of summer when zucchini flowers, fleurs des courgettes, appear in our supermarket in Nice

The following lacto- vegetarian recipe reflects the Italian influence in the Niçois cuisine. Serve this dish with a heap of cherry tomatoes and some good bread for a healthy and carefree lunch.

2 servings

8 zucchini blossoms
150 g ricotta
4 tbsp. black olives, pitted and sliced
A handful of grated parmesan
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
12- 16 cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 spring onion, finely sliced
Basil leaves to decorate

Warm the oven to 200° C.

Mix the ricotta with parmesan, black pepper, 2 tbsp. olive oil, and half of the sliced olives.

Wash the zucchini blossoms and let dry on kitchen paper. Spread some olive oil in the bottom of a large oven- proof dish. Stuff the zucchini blossoms with about 1 tbsp. of the ricotta mixture per each blossom and fold the rest of the blossoms to make a small pocket. Place them on the oven-proof dish and sprinkle with 2 tbsp. olive oil. Cook in the oven for 7 minutes.

To make the cherry tomato salad, wash and dry the tomatoes, then chop them and let drain in colander for a while to remove the extra liquid. Mix the tomatoes with the sliced spring onion, the rest of the sliced olives, some black pepper and 1 tbsp. vinaigrette.

Divide the cherry tomato salad in the middle of the plates and place the zucchini blossoms around. Decorate with basil leaves.


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