Aups Truffle Festival 2016

Pig hunting truffle at Aups festival

Aups (500m above sea level) is situated deep in Provençe in the Var Department. It is also one of the gateways to the Grand Canyon of Verdon, 16 km north of Aups as the crow flies.

Aups specialty is truffles. Every Thursday between November and mid-March there’s a truffle market where you can also buy other local products such as honey and olive oil.

La Maison de la Truffe -the Truffle House-was opened in November 2015. In its modern surroundings you can learn practical things about truffles; how to use them as a spice in recipes, how to clean and preserve them (less than a week in the fridge) etc.

One of the biggest local attractions is Aups Black Truffle Festival held every 4th Sunday in January. Because we were absolute novices when it comes to truffles, we were looking forward to discovering things around this precious fungus, and of course to tasting the truffle menu prepared by those who master the local traditions.

The morning of the 23rd truffle festival was cold with clear skies. The stands were already erected in Place Frédéric Mistral in front of the Mairie. Bare plane trees adorned the square. As the market was not yet in full swing the timing was perfect to view the stands as well as to do some shopping.

We tasted and bought some excellent fruity local olive oil. It will go perfectly with different salads. We later discovered that they had recently won three gold medals in Paris, and that Aups also holds olive oil festivals every March.

The day’s program started with truffle hunting dogs’ competition followed by a demonstration by a truffle hunting pig. They said that this pig, “Pipetto”, was the last working pig in this area. She was a hard worker, sniffing and digging one truffle after another.

After this, it was time to visit Maison de la Truffe.The visit was free because of the event, normally it costs 5€.
Video from the festival can be viewed here

The morning’s program ended with a colourful folk dance show arranged by a local folklore group. At noon, most people started looking for a spot for lunch. Many restaurants had rather overpriced long Sunday truffle menus, and many were queuing for cheaper and more informal lunches. As we had already booked a truffle menu dinner at our hotel, we too opted for a simple lunch, sitting outside in the chilly shade as the tables in the sun were all taken. After this, we had time for a walk in the forest above Aups to discover some caves.

Our dinner menu comprised:

Bruillarde de Truffe Noir, scrambled eggs with grated truffle on the top

The first course was followed by Filet de Boeuf, steak, or Magret de Canard, duck breast. Both were served with the same truffle sauce, and quite a lot of truffle had been grated on top of the meat to get a good taste of it.

Cheese and dessert concluded the dinner.

From the wine list we chose an excellent local red, Le Château Thuerry 2010

The truffle menu was substantial, and we were happy that we had made a walk to the caves in the afternoon!
Is the truffle taste then worth all this effort and price? Try it and make up your own mind.

January hike above Saint-Jeannet


The village of Saint-Jeannet (420 m elev., 20 km from Nice) is a very popular starting point for hikes.  Most people climb up to the Baou, and perhaps make a loop via the ruins of Castellet.

This time we made a different walk, forking from Grande Randonnée 51 (GR51) to explore the path along the eastern flank Mount Riorun (879 m). A site of ancient habitation and farming, the trail is today mostly used by sheep, shepherds and locals.

From the centre of St-Jeannet we ascended along the GR51 trail as far as to signpost #6. Just after the signpost, there’s a large cairn, heap of stones, and a clearly visible path heading north (picture above). The trail has been restored by the association “Sentiers et villages des baous”. They have also restored some of the ancient structures along the trail.

We stopped at a small cabane near the path. The small shelters built of stones were used in ancient farming during the summer season.

After about one hour from Saint-Jeannet we found ourselves in the calm nature so different from the busy coast. We even spotted a few deer that rapidly disappeared behind Riorun. We met two shepherds, and eventually heard the sheep somewhere ahead of us. The timing for a picnic in the surprisingly warm January sunshine was perfect.

We then continued a bit along the easy trail. After having passed a large oak tree, we came to a well-preserved threshing floor. After this, we spotted the flock of sheep and goats on the trail right in front of us. The shepherd was steering them slowly to north. We stopped for a while to let them pass to one of the sheep farms on the foot of Mouton D’Anou Mountain (1078 m). At the crossroads we turned sharply right (south) and started descending back towards the starting point along a good trail that eventually joined the GR51.

Total hiking time:    2h 30

Total ascent:   400 m

Map:    IGN 3642 ET

The part of the trail forking from GR51 is not marked in the IGN Map. However, check this site (in French),click sentiers and you find a network of trails. GR 51 is the red one, signpost #6 is b6, and above this you can see the actual trail described here. You can even click red spots on the map and view images from around the trail. The turning point is roughly at Jas de Barrière, now in ruins.

The alternative itinerary would be to ascend first to the summit of Baou de Saint-Jeannet, then take the trail from there straight north to signpost #6, and continue as described above.

More information in the book (in French): Le Rando Malin by Roger Berio (Éditions Mémoires Millénaires)

Quail Lucéram style


The village of Lucéram about 27 km north of Nice has traditional links with Piedmont on the Italian side. The elderly people still speak an Occitan subdialect, and Lucéram’s gastronomy has strong Italian roots.

The following dish, caille à la polenta, quails with polenta, was served in winter after the hunting season The recipe is adapted from the wonderful cookery book A Table in Provence by Leslie Forbes.

The quails I used for this recipe were bought from our local supermarket in Nice. They were Label Rouge free-range quails from Landes. For convenience I used Chez Bernard ready-made polenta which was a rectangular sheet about 3 cm thick. This only needed slicing and warming in the oven.

For 2 servings:

4 quails
100 ml red wine
2 tbsp olive oil
10- 12 cherry tomatoes
Parsley to decorate

For the filling four 4 quails:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large tomato, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce for 2 servings:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
100 ml red wine
100 ml chicken stock
50 ml tomato purée
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 210⁰ C.

Cook the filling in a frying pan over medium heat for about 10 minutes until the shallots are soft. Fill the quails and place them in an oven-proof dish. Pour 100 ml red wine in the bottom of the dish and sprinkle 2 tbsp olive oil over the quails. Roast for 10 minutes in 210⁰ C. Then cover the quails with foil and continue roasting. The total roasting time will be 35-40 minutes.
Roasted Quails

Meanwhile cook the sauce in a small saucepan. Bring all the ingredients to a boil, and then reduce the heat to simmering. Simmer until the sauce is reduced to about half. Cover and keep warm.

Slice the polenta and cover with foil. Place in the oven when 15 minutes of roasting the quails remains.

Remove the foil covering the quails when about 10 minutes of roasting time remains.  Place the cherry tomatoes in the oven-proof dish. They will be nicely roasted in 10 minutes.

Serve the quails with the sliced polenta, the roasted cherry tomatoes and the sauce. Decorate with parsley.

Dôme de Barrot above Valberg


This hike in Moyen Pays near Valberg ski resort is truly off the beaten track. We did it on a Friday (a non-hunting day -to be on the safe side!) in mid-September and did not meet any other hikers. The scenery is magnificent. The peculiar red rock also seen in the nearby Gorges of Daluis and Cians dominates the landscape. The season is from May onwards. In early May, some snow can still be present at this altitude.

Dôme de Barrot (2136 m) is roughly half way between Valberg and Puget-Theniers in the south. There are at least two itinerary options. The one from the south (Auvare, 1082 m) is said to be more sauvage and authentic. We, however, chose the route starting near Valberg because of somewhat shorter duration and lesser vertical gain. In this option, the first part of the hike ascends along some of Valberg’s ski runs.
From the parking next to the ski lift des Equilles at Les Launes (at 1498 m alt.); start the hike along the unpaved service road left of the chair lift. It ascends quite steeply to Col des Anguillers (1856 m) and to signpost #24. From there, continue to signpost # 25 (1901 m). The road now descends 80 m to signpost #124 at Col de Raton (1821 m).

From this crossroads, several trails continue along the alpine meadow. We recommend climbing to Pra Brûlé (1986 m), where the ski lift carrying the same name ends (picture 3; red arrow). This makes a shortcut compared with the trail (picture 3; blue arrow) that circles along the eastern flank of the mountain. There’s a service road in the slope that can be used for walking. From the top, you have a great view of Dôme de Barrot. The narrow trail from here (marked with an interrupted black line in the IGN map) continues along the southeastern flank of Cime du Pra, and then descends slightly to signpost #130 from where the final part of the trail to the summit starts. Navigation is easy at this point as the masts on the mountaintop are visible.

We returned along the same trail.

Elevation gain: 850 m
Duration: 6h 30

Map: IGN No 3641 OT “Moyen Var”

The distance from Nice is 81 km. Take RD6202 that follows the Var Valley; At Touët-Sur-Var turn right to RD28. At Beuil, continue towards Valberg, and after 2.6 km turn sharply left to Route des Equilles. The parking is reached after about 700 m.

Plums with calissons

Plums with calisson

Calissons,the small oval cakes made from almonds and candied melons and covered with marzipan are typical of Provence. It is believed that calissons have their origins in medieval Italy. After almond trees were introduced in the South of France, Aix-en-Provence became famous for its calissons.
Ingredients for four servings of plums with calissons

I think that these small cakes are best when combined with some fruit dessert such as fried plums. In this recipe, the plums are fried in olive oil with a little brown sugar and then sprinkled with genepi. Genepi is a traditional liqueur in the Alpine region and includes herbs that blossom at high altitudes during July and August. So this recipe connects Provence with the Alps, but of course you could use any liqueur that you prefer to heighten the taste of plums.

4 servings

About 400 g plums, preferably an assortment of different plums
1 tbsp brown sugar, cassonade
1 tbsp genepi
1 tbsp olive oil
To serve: 4 calissons

Wash and dry the plums. Halve them and remove the stones.

Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan, add the plums and sprinkle with brown sugar. Fry the plums about 10 minutes until softened and sprinkle with genepi.

Divide the warm plums on the plates and serve with calissons.

Boxing day walk above Gourdon

Haut Montet 1335 m with radar dome on summit

Sometimes an easy walk in fresh and clean air is all you want. This nature walk above the hilltop village of Gourdon (758 m) offers magnificent views on a clear day while the vertical climb is just 250 m.
The walk starts from the parking by Chemin des Claps at 1112 m altitude. From the roundabout at the entrance of Gourdon, take the RD12 road to Caussols. Continue about 5.5 km, then turn left and follow chemin des Claps about one km. From Nice, the driving time is about an hour. You’ll see a closed gate and a stone wall, and a narrow paved road behind it leading to the summit of Haut Montet (1335 m). The civil aviation radar dome on the top is clearly visible. In fact, the dome can be seen from many places on the coast. This is also the highest point of the walk.

Immediately left of the closed gate there’s an opening in the wall for walkers. Follow the “Circuit du Haut Montet  2h30” signposts. The trail (yellow marks) first takes you to a ridge frequently used by paragliders. The trail ascends gently along the ridge before turning right joining the paved road up to the summit. It is an easy trail but caution should be exercised in poor visibility, and of course in icy and wintery conditions.

We did the walk on a clear albeit a bit hazy day. When we reached the summit, the Mercantour peaks were actually better visible than the coast.

Descend back to the starting point along the paved road.

Duration: 2h30

Map: IGN Cannes-Grasse TOP 25 no 3643 ET

Map image courtesy of Google Maps

Our French Nordic Christmas menu

Oysters Claire nr 2

Over the years our Christmas menu has evolved to include the best of French and Nordic flavours. Christmas Eve´s menu is French with a South of France twist. The French have their Réveillon, the traditional dinner after the Midnight Mass, but we have our dinner at the usual time.

The dinner starts with oysters. Our French daughter-in-law taught us to open oysters, and they have since been our first course at Christmas Eve.

The main course is Le foie gras poelée, sauce safranée et à l’orange, pain de campagne et de la salade verte. This is not as complicated as it sounds. It is simply slices of raw foie gras which are quickly fried in a hot dry pan and served over country bread slices with two different sauces and a green side salad. Champagne or crèmant sparkling goes beautifully with both dishes.

Treize desserts, thirteen desserts, is a very old ritual in the South of France. The thirteen desserts represent Christ and the twelve apostles. These desserts used to be very simple and modest; in the Provencal countryside they could be just thirteen different dried fruits and nuts. In Nice, fresh seasonal mandarins were served as well as candied fruits. Dark and white nougat and calissons d’Aix were also usually served.

Christmas Day’s menu starts with smoked salmon and dark green baby salad leaves with olive oil and vinegar dressing. A glass of champagne or crèmant is enjoyed with the first course.

This is followed by oven-cooked pork tenderloin with mustard, potato-carrot gratin and Brussels sprouts. The huge Nordic Christmas ham steak is too much for a small party, and is replaced by pork tenderloin. Red wine from Luberon is our preferred choice with the main course.

For dessert we have pears poached in red wine and decorated with pistachios and dark chocolate shavings.

The leftovers of the potato-carrot gratin go very well with duck breast on Boxing Day. This is a simple and quick to cook dinner after a winter hike.

Frittata recipe with ham, spinach and green beans

Frittata recipe

Frittata is an egg-based dish similar to an omelet. The word frittata is Italian and means fried. Frittatas are cooked in a cast iron pan or ovenproof skillet because they are started on the stovetop and then finished in the oven.

Various vegetables, cheeses and meats can be added to frittatas. They make a nice lunch or a simple dinner
served with a side salad and some good bread.

In my frittata, I prefer spinach, onion, green beans and a dash of garlic which I think go very well with eggs. But you can choose what you prefer or find in the pantry. In the South of France they make an egg-dish with truffles during the truffle season.

4 servings

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
About 250 g / 9 oz green beans, chopped
About 2 handfulls baby spinach
About 250 g / 9 oz ham, chopped
About 110 g / 4 oz shredded mozzarella
12 free-range eggs
Freshly ground black pepper
Minced basil or parsley to decorate

Preheat the oven to 200⁰ C / 400⁰ F.

Over medium heat, warm the olive oil and butter in an ovenproof skillet. Sauté the chopped onion, green beans and minced garlic for about 10 minutes until softened. Add the chopped ham in the skillet and place the spinach on top of the ham. Whisk the eggs with black pepper. Add the mozzarella to the eggs and mix. Pour this mixture on top of the spinach.
Frittata with ham, spinach and green beans

Transfer the skillet in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes until the eggs have set. Slice the frittata into four wedges and transfer on the plates. Decorate with parsley or basil.

Hike from Marie in the Tinée Valley

The village of Marie in the Tinée Valley

Hiking in the Moyen Pays is at its best in the end of May and early June when the nature is awakening to summer but it is not yet too hot at lower altitudes. Autumn is great as well, but you should then choose a day when hunting is not allowed!

The following hike starts from the well-maintained village of Marie (600 m), about 50 km from Nice. The village and its surroundings are said to be influenced both by the Mediterranean Sea and the nearby Southern Alps. The sinuous and narrow D58 ascends from the D2205 road to the village. Park your car at the village entrance.

The first signpost is located just before the parking. The start of the trail is paved and well marked with yellow. Follow the signposts that show Pointe de Clamia (887 m), the mountain to be circled on this hike. You are soon ascending in the magnificent pine forest called Lauzette towards the Pointe de Clamia. The col next to the mountaintop is the highest point of the hike (860 m). This is a good spot for a break, and has nice views down to the Tinée valley.
The peculiar shape of Mont Mounier (2817 m), partly snow-capped, can be seen in the distance.

Image of trail around Pointe de Clamia
The trail now descends sharply to north. At the crossroads, turn left to La Bollinette. Don’t go as far as the Bollinette (by the D2205 road) but at the crossroads choose the path back to Marie. The path eventually joins the D58 road about 2 km before the village. Ascend back to the starting point along this quiet road.

This is a truly relaxing and easy hike in the “middle country”, a bit off the beaten track if you like!

Total hiking time:       3 hours
Total ascent:                430 m

More info in French in the Randoxygène guide   

Map: IGN Moyenne Tinée 3641 ET

Image of trail courtesy of Google Maps

Caïre Gros above St-Dalmas Valdeblore

Caïre Gros 2087 m

There are some easily accessed mountains at the entrance to Haut Pays from which you have a super panorama to the highest peaks of Alpes Maritimes. Le Caïre Gros (2087m) and Tête de Clans (2081m) above the village of St-Dalmas Valdeblore (1290m) and the nearby the ski resort of La Colmiane are two such summits.

Some guidebooks describing the hike to Le Caïre Gros recommend to take the trail back to St-Dalmas Valdeblore through the Bois Noir. Having done this hike previously, and lost our trail twice in the woods of Bois Noir, we suggest here a much nicer path with better views back to St-Dalmas Valdeblore. In good visibility you can easily do two summits by continuing from Le Caïre Gros to Tête de Clans. This requires practically no extra effort.

In St-Dalmas Valdeblore, park your car near the church. There is a small parking on the other side of the main road. The hike starts from the nearby signpost #78. Follow first the Grande Randonnée 5 and its red and white signs up to the Col de Deux Caïres (1910m). This first part is almost continuous and rather steep long ascent.

At signpost #99 leave the GR 5 and start ascending to the Caïre Gros (2087m). There a super panorama waits for you. You can see Mont Mounière, Argentera, Gélas…in fact many of the 3000+ summits!

After the summit, descend a little to south along the ridge. Climb a few meters to the Tête de Clans (2081m). Continue a bit more to south until you come to a nice alpine meadow, locate signpost #101 on the GR 5 trail a bit lower. Descend along the meadow to this signpost, and head north along the GR 5.

Follow the GR 5 as far as to signpost 98 after the Col du Varaire. There leave the GR 5 and take the right-hand path towards La Colmiane. This trail is marked with yellow signs. Follow this nice path, crossing twice a ski run, to signpost #94. There turn left and start first descending along a ski run, then along a stony unpaved road which will soon take you back to the starting point at signpost #78.

We did this hike in the middle of October on a warm and sunny day with just some scattered clouds.

Total ascent: about 850- 900 m.
Total hiking time: about 5h.
Map: IGN 3641 ET Moyenne Tinée