La Tête de Vinaigre


On the GR5 trail from St-Dalmas-Le-Selvage-to-Col-de-la-Colombière
Bousièyas, Camp des Fourches and Cime de la Bonette far left in distance
The small village of Saint-Dalmas-Le-Selvage is the centre of the highest commune in Alpes-Maritimes. It is better known as a cross-country skiing centre, but in the summer it is an excellent starting point for several hikes.

Climbing from Col de la Colombière towards Tête deVinaigre

The village is quiet, no-nonsense, and is situated in a formidable environment. The sheep-raising tradition is still very much alive in Saint-Dalmas-Le-Selvage, and in the neighboring hamlets Pra and Bousiéyas. In summertime huge sheep herds are taken to and from grazing grounds at higher altitude.
Tête de Vinaigre in sight

Today’s hike starts from signpost 68 at the village entrance. The main parking is in the other end of the village. Most of the trail is actually a tiny part of the mythic GR5 trail; hence follow the white and red signs to signpost 48 just above the village. From here the continuous ascent starts towards Col de Colombière (2237 m). After about 40 minutes, the trail enters the Mercantour National Park.
Mont Tenibre 3031 m seen from Tête de Vinaigre

Navigation is easy. The whole trail runs in an almost treeless environment. In spite of the altitude, it can be very hot on a sunny summer day. For this hike, two liters of water plus 600 ml of sports drink to supply electrolytes was just enough for an average guy. We drink at the start, then every 30 min, and snack on salty nuts and fruits.
Tete de l'Enchastraye far right and Col de la Cavale seen from Tête de Vinaigre

A few sheep herder’s huts are close to the trail. On the day of our hike, dogs guarding the flock made their presence known without being directly menacing, and kept their distance.

Image of itinerary

The last push to Col de Colombière is a bit steep. The trail zigzags to signpost 47, located at the mountain pass. This is also the crossroads where GR5 continues north descending to Bousiéyas, the left hand trail goes up to Crête de la Blanche, explored by us earlier. Our trail forks right (to east) ascending to Tête de Vinaigre (2394 m). From the summit, almost all major peaks of northernmost Alpes-Maritimes are visible, including Mont Tenibre (3031 m). In the northwest, the cone-shaped Cime de la Bonette (2860 m) can be seen.

We used the same trail back to Saint-Dalmas-Le-Selvage.

Total elevation gain:                  900 m

Duration:                                  2h 45 climbing, 2h descent

Map:                IGN “Haute Tinée” 1 3639 OT

Distance from Nice:                 98 km/ 1h 40

Image of itinerary courtesy of Google Maps

Summer vegetable gratin recipe

Summer vegetable gratin recipe

This summer vegetable tian is great with grilled lamb chops or brochettes d’agneau ou boeuf, lamb or beef skewers. This gratin is made from only summer vegetables, so it is not a traditional Provencal tian which also contain eggs, cheese and often rice.

2- 3 servings:

1 onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 large courgette (green summer squash), thinly sliced
1 aubergine, thinly sliced
A small bunch of fresh thyme
About 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
3 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh basil leaves to decorate

Preheat the oven to 200⁰ c.

Oil the gratin dish liberally with 1 tbsp olive oil.

Peel and thinly slice the onion. Place the onion slices in the bottom of the gratin dish. Peel and mince the garlic clove and scatter it on top of the onion. Scatter the thyme leaves and place the bay leaf on top of the onion.

Wash and dry the tomatoes, courgette and aubergine. Slice them thinly. Cover the onion, garlic and herbs with the slices, packing them quite tightly and alternating them. It doesn’t matter if you have some leftover vegetable slices; you can fry them next day in olive oil for a vegetable side for lunch or dinner.

When you have packed the vegetable slices in the gratin dish, grind over some black pepper, place the rosemary sprigs on top and sprinkle 2 tbsp olive oil over the dish.

Bake in oven for 1 h- 1h 15. Cover the gratin dish with tin foil after 30 minutes so that the vegetables do not become too dry.

Camp des Fourches to Col de la Cavale

Col de la Cavale seen drom Col des Fourches

Valley of Salso Moréno

From Camp des Fourches (2240 m alt., 102 km and 1 h 45 from Nice), a few km before Col de la Bonette, you have a choice of three different day hikes, each about 4 hours. At Camp des Fourches there are just ruins of an old caserne and a parking, nothing else. But the surrounding scenery is stunning.
The area around Camp des Fourches is summer pasture for sheep

You can climb to Cime de Pelousette (2757 m), to Col de la Cavale (2671 m) or you can explore the peculiar valley of Salso Moréno up to Col de Pouriac (2506 m). The valley of Salso Moreno is a summer pasture to huge sheep flocks. An altogether more strenuous option is the ascent to Tête de l’Enchastraye (2954 m), which takes at least 7 hours.
Ascending towards Col de la Cavale along GR5

On the day of our hike the heat wave had reached France, and the temperature even at Camp des Fourches was approaching 20 degrees at 10 o’clock in the morning. We opted for Col de la Cavale along the GR 5 trail. From the parking, there’s a 5 minute walk to Col des Fourches (2261 m). The trail that forks left from here goes to Cime de Pelousette whereas another short path goes straight south climbing to the nearby Mont des Fourches (2342 m), about 30 minutes one way.
Approaching Col de la Cavale

Our GR 5 trail descends about 180 m to the beginning of the Salso Moréno Valley. Its geological wonders include several dolines or sinkholes. With almost no wind and temperature soaring, we certainly looked forward to the cool mountain wind higher up, and were not disappointed. The trail passes a tiny refuge, goes over a dry riverbed before reaching signpost 37. From here, our GR 5 route forks left, and continues ascending almost straight
Cime du Mul seen from Col de la Cavale
north. The final ascent to the col is steep but is nevertheless easy to negotiate especially if you have poles. No scrambling is necessary. From Col de la Cavale, the GR5 trail continues north to the Lauzanier valley, and eventually to Col de Larche.

We descended along the same route. Col de la Cavale is an excellent spot for a break in good weather.
At Col de la Cavale

Total ascent:                     780 m

Duration:                          4h 30 (2h 30 climbing, 2 h back)

Map: IGN 3639 OT Haute Tinée 1

Image of itinerary :
(Courtesy of Google Maps)

Beef fillet recipe with courgette cake

Beef fillet recipe with courgette cake

A few years ago it was easy to find tender pre-packed entrecôte or sirloin steaks in our local supermarket in Nice. But nowadays you have to go to a butcher for tender steaks. Luckily the pre-packed beef fillet, tenderloin, filet de boeuf, is just as tender and tasty as it used to be. Yes, this is luxury, but sometimes it is better to have something really good, but seldom and in smaller portions.

The following recipe is easy and carefree to make on a hot summer evening. It is adapted from a French magazine and results in a rare to medium rare fillet, which reminded me of the classic Carpaccio. If you prefer your fillet medium or well done just extend the cooking time in the oven. The amount of fillet is for four persons or for two with generous fillet leftovers for a beef salad the next day. It is easy to double or treble the courgette cakes for a larger party.

2 servings

For the fillet: 4 servings or 2 with leftovers
About 500 g beef fillet, filet de bœuf
1 clove garlic, minced
About 3 sprigs parsley, minced
1 tbsp dry bread crumbs, chapelure
Freshly ground black pepper
About 2 tbsp olive oil

For the courgette cakes:, ingredients for 2 cakes:
1 medium green courgette, grated
1 egg
A small handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 sprigs of parsley, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp rapeseed oil for the frying

For the mayonnaise:
2 tbsp good mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard

Plus you need two small handfuls of baby salad leaves.

Preheat the oven to 180⁰ C.

Mince the parsley and garlic; add the breadcrumbs and black pepper and mix in a bowl. Spread this mixture on a plate. French fillet often comes covered with a slice of lard, remove this. Oil the fillet on all sides with olive oil and roll it in the parsley-garlic-bread crumb mixture. Place the fillet in an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven for 20 minutes for rare to medium-rare. Take the fillet out of the oven, place on a cutting board and cover with tin foil for 10- 20 minutes.

While the fillet is in the oven make the “batter” for courgette cakes. Wash and dry the courgette. Then coarsely grate it. Mince the parsley and finely grate the parmesan. In a bowl whisk the egg, add the parsley, courgette, parmesan, black pepper and a pinch of salt. Add enough of grated courgette to get a thick “batter”. Mix well. You may not need to use the entire grated courgette, if you have leftover courgette you can use it the next day in an omelette.

While the fillet is resting on the cutting board cook the courgette cakes. In a frying pan warm 1 tbsp rapeseed oil over medium- high heat. Place two heaps of courgette “batter” in the frying pan and flatten a little with a spatula to make two cakes. Cook for 4 minutes, then turn and continue cooking for 3- 4 minutes. Transfer on a plate and keep warm by covering with tin foil. If you cook several courgette cakes, you need to do this in batches.

Mix the mayonnaise with mustard in a small bowl. Slice the fillet into thin slices.

Place the courgette cakes on the plates. Place a few fillet slices on top of the cakes and the rest on the side. Add the salad and mayonnaise on the plates and serve.

Lunch at Auberge de la Madone and our Peillon classic walk

The terrace of Auberge de la Madone
Entrance to the restaurant of Auberge de la Madone

This hike from the perched village of Peillon (372 m), about 20 km north of Nice by road must have been one of the first hikes in the region that our family discovered almost 10 years ago. That is why we call it “Peillon classic”. In the Randoxygéne guide it is called Circuit de Lourquière.

First intersection on the trail just after Peillon

Today we didn’t start the hike from La Grave-de-Peille, but made a shortened walk from Peillon around the hill called Pointe de Lourquière (678 m), because we first wanted to have lunch on the terrace of hotel-restaurant Auberge de la Madone. This family restaurant has long been known for its great cooking following local traditions, and seems to get favourable reviews on Trip Advisor. We chose formule bistro, three courses for 25 €, and were not disappointed.

The trail after the bridge continues to Peille

The walk starts from the centre of Peillon, from the parking in front of Auberge de la Madone. Turn left after the fountain at the village entrance; ascend first along a narrow street passing the cemetery. You will soon find the signpost “
La Grave de Peille and Peille Village . The trail ascends gently in a beautiful valley. After about 30
min, a crossroads is reached. The trail north goes over a stone bridge to Peille. However our itinerary turns right ascending to a paved road and a nice residential area called plateau des Lacs (about 600 m alt.). Follow this road about 2 km south. The point where the trail forks right and leaves the road is clearly signposted. The whole trail is marked with yellow. It descends slowly to Vallon St-Martin before a final short ascent back to Peillon.
The trail of Circuit de Lourquière is good

Approaching Peillon

Image of the itinerary:
(Courtesy of Google Maps)

Total walking time when starting from Peillon: 2h 15 (Circuit de Lourquière about 4 h)
Ascent:                                                               270 m (Circuit de Lourquière 460 m)

Authion today and 70 years ago

Cabane de Tueis seen from the GR52 trail

Redoute fortress at Point des Trois Communes

Authion comprises several about 2000 meter high mountain tops in the southernmost part of the Alps. The Mediterranean coastline is about 25 km away. The region is now part of the Mercantour National Park. Situated just above Col de Turini, Authion is easily reached by car. There’s a loop road permitting one-way counterclockwise traffic during the summer season. The most rewarding way to explore Authion is by foot. Most of the trails are easy and as you can start from a higher altitude not that much climbing is needed.
View towards Moulinet from the road to Cabanes Vieilles

Authion has been of great strategic importance for hundreds of years, and was part of the Maginot Line. Several ruined forts and casernes remind the visitor of the turbulent past. At the very end of WWII, Authion remained one of the last German strongholds. In April 1945, General De Gaulle ordered the French troops to attack these positions. A sole American-made Stuart tank was deployed and it can still be seen at Cabanes Vieilles. The battle raged for two weeks. The French lost 280 men and about 1000 were wounded whereas Germans lost about 100 men before withdrawing. The armistice was just a few weeks away.
The American built Stuart tank at Cabanes Vieilles

The walk starts at Cabane de Tueis (also called chalet Charles Alési, 1889 m), at signpost 244. The trail marked as GR 52 ascends along a ridge to 2065 m. The Redoute fortress (2080 m) at Point des Trois Communes is clearly visible from here. Signpost 410 which is just below the fortress is reached rapidly.

Our trail then leaves the GR 52, and descends in an alpine meadow to Plan Caval that is already visible.
Descending from Fort des Mille Fourches to the road of Authion
From here, you continue along the paved loop road as far as to Cabanes Vieilles (1780 m). The road has very little traffic. At Cabane Vieilles, you can see the tank used in the final battle in April 1945. From this point, the itinerary goes almost straight north passing some caserne ruins, then ascending quite steeply in a larch wood followed by an alpine meadow (The direction is evident but there isn’t really a path to speak of ) as far as Fort des Milles Fourches (2042 m).  A small descent then takes you to the loop road again.
Cabane de Tueis or Chalet Charles Alési

The route then climbs a little bit to Fort de la Forca (2078 m,) before continuing to the GR 52 trail used in the beginning of the hike. From the last intersection, the starting point can be reached in 15 minutes.
However, on the day of our hike, dense clouds descended from north when we were nearing Fort de la Forca making the visibility poor. We therefore decided to take the road directly back to Cabane de Tueis. The shortcut made the walk 30 min or so shorter, and we also climbed 100 m less.

Map: IGN 3741 ET Vallées de La Bévéra et des Paillons

Duration         3h 30

Climb:            450 m

Image of hike itinerary:

(Courtesy of Google Maps)

Peach Melba recipe

Peach Melba with a modern twist

This is a modern, healthy twist of  Peach Melba. The classic Peach Melba is made from peaches, raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream. The dessert was invented by the French chef Auguste Escoffier in the 1890s' in London to honour the Australian soprano Nellie Melba.

This version is less sweet and contains very little fat and is served in a glass, en verrine. This dessert is especially tasty when peaches are at their best. If you cannot find frozen raspberry sauce or grilled sliced almonds in your area, you have to start making these yourself. Otherwise this dessert can be put together in a few minutes.

2 servings

2 fresh and ripe peaches
2 tbsp raspberry sauce, coulis de framboises
4 tbsp low-fat fromage blanc or thick plain yoghurt
1 vanilla pod
Grilled almond slices

Defrost the frozen raspberry sauce and keep it in the fridge.

Half the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the fromage blanc or yoghurt. Mix well and keep it in the fridge.

Wash and dry the peaches. Cut them into very small pieces.

Start filling the glasses with about half of the peaches followed by a layer of about half of the fromage blanc or yoghurt. Then again a layer of the rest of the peaches followed by a layer of fromage blanc or yoghurt. Top with raspberry sauce and grilled almonds. Serve at once.

Picnic in the perfume garden of Grasse

May rose rosa centifolia

Grasse has been the capital of the perfume industry for more than two hundred years. In the centre of Grasse you can visit theVilla-Musée Fragonard. The villa has recently been beautifully restored, and was reopened this April. The International Perfume Museum  gives you a chance to discover perfume’s history.
Information along MIP gardens olfactory route

Unfortunately not much perfume flowers are grown in these days in and around Grasse. Some rosa centifolia, May rose, is still grown in Grasse. Also some jasmine, tuberose, violet and mimosa are grown in the region. Grasse grows roses only for Chanel, Dior and Jean Patou.


The International Perfume Museum’s Gardens (The MIP’s Gardens) were created in Mouans- Sartoux to preserve the heritage of perfume flower growing. You can stroll through the gardens at your own pace.

“The Olfactory route” let’s you discover the fragrances and notes used in the perfume industry.You can place you hands on the fragrant foliage and smell the flowers that are near the path.
Scenic view in the MIP gardens

The May rose with its deep pink colour turned out to be my favourite flower in the garden. It was now early June, and the May rose was at the end of its flowering season. The scent of May rose was rich and sweet. It is harvested in May and early June.

Also some jasmine was still flowering and lavender was just starting to flower, but on the whole the garden looked tired and showed signs of the dry period. It seems that May is the best time for a visit when the May rose is in full flower. Its peak flowering season of course varies from year to year.
The MIP gardens picnic area

The picnic in the shade of the cypress trees was the highlight of the visit. We had prepared a picnic basket at home before leaving. On the menu we had salmon and scallop paté, duck paté, baby salad leaves, goat’s cheese, freshly baked baguette, chilled Kriter crémat (French sparkling wine) and chocolate mousse. All the tasty products were bought from our local supermarket. It turned out to be a perfect early summer picnic.
Our picnic table in MIP gardens

Opening hours of the MIP’s Gardens: Spring-summer from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Regular price: 3€, during exhibitions 4€. Free parking.

Address: 979 Chemin des Gourettes, Mouans- Sartoux.

NB! If you cannot prepare your own picnic basket, ELLE Magazine recently recommended the restaurant Le Dit- Vin in Grasse
(lunch menu at 15 and 19€).  We can also recommend L’Amandier in Mougins (lunch menu 19€).

Col de Turini

Hôtel des trois Vallées

The most magnificent forests in Alpes-Maritimes are situated around Col de Turini (1604 m), although the mythic mountain pass is better known from the Monte Carlo Rally. The special stage from la Bollène-Vésubie up to Turini is one of the most famous rally stages in the world. Drive the road yourself and you’ll get the feeling.
Easy descent from Col de Turini along GR52A

Today, however, we came here to explore the nature. The hike starts from the parking of col de Turini next to the Hôtel des Trois Vallées.

Several fallen trees on the trail created extra challenge
Start descending from signpost 195 along GR52A along a wide forest road. After 45 minutes, the trail leaves GR52A, forks left in the forest and starts ascending. The trail here is good, but was obstructed by several fallen trees. The mountaintop of Cime de Suorcas (1516 m) is reached in about 50 min. In spite of the “modest” altitude the views were great even though the coastline was not visible because of the haze.  After having visited this little summit the trail continues east along a forested ridge passing two mountaintops called Tête de Gaglio (1568 m) and Tête de Francha (1608 m). Near the latter peak, there was a short steep section where metal ladders and a rope had been attached to facilitate the climbing.

Approaching Cime de Suorcas

Hazy view to northwest from Cime de Suorcas

The trail continues east, passes a hut and crosses the D2566 road. The last ascent goes to Cime de la Calmette (1786 m) before descending back to the starting point along a good trail. Follow the path east (yellow marks) after passing an abandoned ski lift, then turn northwest to signpost 32 from where the starting point is reached in a few minutes. Our descent seemed to coincide with the cows’ descent back to col de Turini. They were on their own, and seemed to follow their internal clock!
Easy scramble near Tête de Francha

After the hike we enjoyed coffee and blueberry tart at the terrace of the Hôtel des Trois Vallées. Inside, you can find lots of pictures from the famous moments of the Monte Carlo Rally.
Our companions back to Col de Turini

This is a super hike in variable surroundings. In the excellent guidebook published by Rother: “Alpes Maritimes Les 50 plus belles randonnées”(In French) the hike is graded as easy. In fact, most of the trail does not pose any difficulties.  Even so, some parts were a bit steep and some scrambling was needed (pictured). We would classify the hike medium/red because of this. You also have the feeling of having climbed more than the 450 m
Coffee and blueberry tart at Hôtel des trois Vallées
as the trail had several ascents and descents!

Duration:          4 h

Vertical climb: 450 m

Map: IGN TOP 25 Vallée de la Bévéra 3741 ET

Image of the map (Rother Guide)

Map image courtesy of : Rother Guide de randonnées: “Alpes Maritimes Les 50 plus belles randonnées”

Saint-Ser Vineyard and Montagne Sainte-Victoire

Montagne Sainte-Victoire seen from Relais de Saint-Ser

The massif of Sainte-Victoire comprises different plateaus between 400 and 1000m. It is about 8 km east
Relais de Saint-Ser seen from the southern face of Montagne Ste-Victoire
of Aix-en-Provence and dominates le pays d-Aix. It is famously known as Paul Cézanne’s favourite local subject and he must have painted it over fifty times.

The steep southern face of Mont Sainte-Victoire changes colour from grey to pink according to light and time of day. When driving from Aix-en-Provence east, take the D17 road (also Route Cézanne) which winds in the traditional Mediterranean countryside. We took this route in late March admiring the view of the mythic Sainte-Victoire immortalized in Cézanne’s paintings.
The vineyard Domaine de Saint-Ser

We drove as far as to Le Relais de Saint-Ser, where we had booked two nights. The hiking trail to chapel  Saint-Ser (624 m) and Pic de Mouches (1011 m) goes right behind the parking of the hotel (400 m). This was one of the reasons why we booked here, the other being that this small auberge is known for its excellent restaurant. It was situated in the middle of the beautiful and quiet nature, the rooms were newly renovated and we were happy with the dinners.

The first day turned out to be rainy and cool, in spite of the favourable forecast a week or so earlier. We therefore explored the surroundings by car. Our first stop was the nearby vineyard Domaine de Saint-Ser. This is the highest situated vineyard of the almost thirty vineyards that have obtained the AOC Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire. After tasting, we opted for Cuvée Prestige Rouge 2010 (a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon) and purchased six bottles at 12,50 € each.
Montagne Sainte-Victoire Cezanne's favorite object

After the vineyard, we drove to Puyloubier, then along D10 past Vauvenargues to Aix-en-Provence. The northern face of Montagne Sainte-Victoire is less steep and the D10 road winds in a woody landscape.
Easy path to the chapel St-Ser

The next day we woke to blue sky and warm sunshine. From the parking of our hotel at 400 m, we started following a good path marked with red signs. After just about 40 minutes we reached the chapel of Saint-Ser restored in 2001. Every May the pilgrimage of Saint-Ser honours the memory of the hermit Servius who was said to be living in the small cave nearby. From the chapel, you already have a superb view down to the valley.
The chapel of St-Ser

A steep ascent in a couloir above the chapel St-Ser

It had been an easy walk up to the chapel, but after this the ascent became steep. After some scrambling we arrived at a truly steep part. As we did not have any climbing experience, we did not wish to take any further risks in spite of a chain that was permanently attached to the rocky wall. So we descended back.
At the crossroads of the trails well below the chapel,
we decided to explore the other ascending trail marked with blue and green signs. We ascended to a steep couloir which continued as a steep and narrow ridge. Again, we did not feel comfortable continuing any further. From the map it seemed that we were not far from the summit Pic des Mouches when turning around. Now we understand why ascending along one of the trails from north is much more popular!

In spite of this, we enjoyed the great views and the sunny spring day!