Following Princess Grace's footsteps in Monaco-Ville

Alfred Hitchcock’s to Catch a Thief starring Grace Kelly and Cary Grant was partly filmed on the French Riviera. One of the most memorable scenes of the film is their picnic during the car trip above Monaco.

During the 1955 Cannes Film Festival, Grace Kelly met Prince Rainier of Monaco. They were married in April 1956, and Grace Kelly began her duties as Princess of Monaco.

On a beautiful spring day in the end of March we made a trip to Monaco-Ville, The Rock, to trace the locations familiar to Princess Grace. We parked our car in Fontvieille and walked the short distance to Monaco-Ville.

The Prince’s Palace had not yet opened its state apartments to visitors. We admired the beautiful surroundings and the changing of the guards. Several ancient cannons by the Palace reminded of the turbulent history and the Palace’s role mainly as a fortress in ancient times.

We then strolled to Saint-Martin Gardens past the Monaco Cathedral where Grace Kelly’s and Prince Rainier’s wedding ceremony was held. The beautiful gardens with its magnificent flower beds, views and statues is not to be missed.

We had a tasty lunch at U Cavagnetu on Rue Compte Félix Gastaldi. Princess Grace used to walk along this narrow street when taking Princess Stephanie to school. Today’s plat du jour, the recommended lunch dish, was Filet de St.Pierre, John Dory Fish. It was well prepared with a South of France twist, and the price was not any higher than in Nice.

After lunch we headed to the Oceanographic Museum. This is now Monaco’s number one tourist attraction. The museum was inaugurated in 1910 by Prince Albert I. We have previously visited the museum six years ago, and it was interesting to see how the museum is continually being renewed. The new Turtle Island on the roof terrace was a nice discovery. In one of the aquariums a young turtle was swimming among the fish. It had been saved in 2014 from the Monaco harbour suffering from hypothermia. This touching story is an example of the Museum’s commitment to protect the marine world.

The whole itinerary of Parcours Princesse Grace comprises 25 locations in Monaco to commemorate various aspects of Princess Grace’s daily life. The length of the tour is 5.5 km and the map is available at Monaco’s Tourism and Convention Office.

The young turtle saved from Monaco harbor

On a wild trail from Col de Castillon


Col de Castillon (706 m) above Menton has a spacious and quiet parking. We have made some excellent hikes from here, such as to Mont Razet (1285 m), and Mont Ourse (1239 m). This time we wanted to explore the trail to Sospel (350 m).

From Col de Castillon we first followed the trail north, first along a small road then along a trail passing the last houses. At the crossroads at signpost 137 we forked left along the trail(old yellow marks) leading to Sospel. A storm named “Elke” had hit the region a few days ago bringing snow to fairly low altitudes. We were nevertheless surprised to find this much snow between just 700-800 m.

It was a gorgeous morning with blue skies. The air was pure and crisp. The nature was peaceful, just starting to wake up after winter. The sounds of civilization were far away, and we could enjoy the singing of the birds. Only a deer had marched along the trail during the past few days.

Our progress in the snow was slow and heavy. After about 1h 30, and after a fairly steep descent the snow finally disappeared. We passed some farmhouses below the trail and soon found a sunny and warm clearing, a perfect spot for a picnic. From this point, the remaining distance to Sospel would have been ca. 45 min. Our aim was to explore the trail, not necessarily to visit Sospel. We were therefore happy to turn back to the starting point after the picnic, and take our time to enjoy the nature.

First spring flowers surrounded by snow

Stuffed turkey escalopes

Turkey is healthy white meat, a good source of protein and very low in fat. Unfortunately, it does not have much taste so you need to add flavour by stuffing and cooking them in a tasty sauce. To further increase the flavour, I like to serve them with ratatouille, a classic French vegetable stew, and brown rice.

Turkey escalopes are thinner than turkey steaks. In our supermarket in Nice you can even choose extra thin escalopes, escalopes de dinde fin, which are perfect for this recipe. If you can only buy turkey steaks, you need to flatten them. They should be as thin as traditional veal escalopes, but larger. Turkey steaks can be flattened by placing them between two pieces of cling film and flattening with a rolling pin, or your own fist.

2 servings

2 thin turkey escalopes, about 150- 200 g each
2 tbsp. low-fat soft cheese, such as Philadelphia Light
2 slices Parma Ham, Prosciutto di Parma
2 cocktail sticks, to close the stuffed escalopes
2 tbsp. rapeseed oil (canola oil)
2 tbsp. butter
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
150 ml white wine
1 tsp of chicken stock cube
50 ml tomato sauce
1 tsp dried Provençal herbs
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. crème fraiche, 15 % fat

Spread the soft cheese on the escalopes. Place a slice of Parma Ham on top of the cheese. Then roll over the escalopes to make a pocket and fix with a cocktail stick.

In a frying pan, warm the rapeseed oil and butter over medium heat. Fry the escalopes on both sides until golden brown.

When you turn the escalopes, add the minced shallot and garlic to the pan. After about 5 minutes add the white wine to the pan. Then reduce the heat to simmering and add a small piece of chicken stock cube, tomato sauce, herbs, black pepper and the crème fraiche. Mix well, cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes.

Serve with brown rice and some vegetables, preferably ratatouille.

Carefree ratatouille recipe

Ratatouille, the traditional vegetable stew, originates in Nice. It is popular on the South of France coast in summer when tomatoes are at their best. Other vegetable ingredients are onions, garlic, bell peppers, aubergine/eggplant, courgette/zucchini, black olives, olive oil and Provençal herbs.

There are many different ratatouille recipes. Some are quite time-consuming as all the vegetables are first sautéed separately and then combined with tomato sauce. Some need a very long cooking time and the end result is more like a purée.

The vegetables need to be soft, but I like that the individual vegetables still are recognisable. I like ratatouille so much that I start making it already in February- March when the new vegetables start coming from Spain and Italy to our supermarket in Nice.

Ratatouille is a great accompaniment to meat and chicken and especially good with lamb. It can be gratinated with parmesan and bread crumbs and served as a vegetarian dish with white beans, good bread and a salad.

2-3 servings

3 tbsp. olive oil
1 small aubergine, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 small courgette, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 black olives, pitted
1 tsp dried Provençal herbs
Fresh basil or other herb to decorate

In a large heavy casserole, cocotte, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Wash and chop the aubergine. Start sautéing first the aubergine, which takes the longest to cook. Then chop the red bell pepper and courgette and add into the casserole. Stir frequently.

Add the onion, garlic, tomato, black olives and Provençal herbs. Continue sautéing for about 10 minutes. Stir now and again.

Then reduce the heat, cover the casserole and let simmer for about 1 hour until the vegetables are soft. Stir occasionally. Decorate with basil/other fresh herb before serving.

Preparation time:  about 20 min
Cooking time:   about one hour

Provence vineyard with a Californian connection

Domaine Saint-Jean in Villecroze (Var)

During the Aups truffle festival we stayed two nights in Hôtel Le Grand. One evening we had a delightful local red wine with our dinner, so on the way back we decided to stop by the nearby vineyard in Villecroze.

It was a grey Monday morning, but they were open. A nice young lady gave us an excellent description of the vineyard and their wines.

The farm “Domaine Saint-Jean” was bought by a French-American couple in 1973. At that time there were no vineyards on the property and the new owner had no plans to start producing wine. However, a visiting American oenologist made a major study of the land, and calculated that the soil, climate and environment would be beneficial to producing great wines similar to those of California. Under the guidance of French and American expertise, 30 hectares of vineyard were planted, and most modern wine making equipment was acquired.

The grape varieties were carefully selected. At the beginning Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault were grown, later Syrah and Grenache as well as some white wine grapes were added. The property later changed ownership, but the new owners carried on aiming to produce quality wines.

We tasted some of their reds that interested us. First, the same that we had at our hotel: La Petite Chapelle Rouge 2012. It was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, and aged for at least one year in French oak barrels. For just 9€ per bottle it was just as delightful as we remembered from the hotel dinner.

Was also tasted Reserve Rouge that was 80% Syrah and 20% Cabernet, a darker and spicier wine to go with beef and fermented cheese.

Lastly, we tried their La Petite Chapelle Collection Rouge 2010 (17€) made only from very good vintages. We bought a few bottles of this in addition to La Petite Chapelle Rouge 2012. So our purchases were 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps a bit unusual in Provence where other grape varieties such as Grenache and Mourvèdre tend to dominate!

Another Riviera winter hike: Pointe Siricocca from Sainte-Agnès

The hilltop village of Sainte-Agnès is situated high above Menton only about 4 km from the coast as the crow flies. At 700 m/2300ft, Sainte-Agnès claims to be the highest coastal village in Europe. The Saracens built their fortress here, and much later, in 1932 another fortress was built into the mountain, this time as part of the Maginot line.

Sainte-Agnès is at the crossroads of some interesting hiking trails. This time we hiked to Pointe Siricocca (1051 m or 3450 ft.) which offers extraordinary views over the Riviera coast, the neighbouring mountain tops as well as a glimpse of the snow-capped summits further north. The well-marked itinerary circles Pointe Siricocca clockwise, and makes a detour to the mountaintop from Col  de Verroux  .

We parked at the entrance (600 m) of Sainte-Agnès below the village. The trail first follows the paved road going to col des Blanquettes for about 300 m, then forks right and descends into a valley along a trail called Peyre Grosse, passing some houses and pastures. The route then follows a dirt track for about 500 m before turning left, and continues ascending in the woods. Signposts along the way guide you to the summit. Just before Col de Verroux (935 m), the trail widens as it connects with an ancient military route which continues as far as to the summit making the last push fast and easy.

Short term weather forecasts generally tend to be pretty accurate these days. We chose the day based on a very favourable forecast but unfortunately low coastal clouds started gathering at 1000+ m rapidly, probably because of the humid and warmer Mediterranean air hitting the coast after a cold night. Hence, the views down to the coast were limited as the video clip shows.

From the mountaintop, we walked back to Col de Verroux, then headed first east then south descending rapidly. The way back to Sainte-Agnès is well marked.

Elevation gain: 600 m/1970 ft.

Duration:          4 h

Distance:           9.5 km/5.9 miles

Map: IGN “Nice-Menton” Côte d’Azur No 3742 OT

Pork tenderloin with dried porcini mushrooms

Pork tenderloin with dry cèps

The following tasty recipe: pork tenderloin with dried cèps, porcini mushrooms, is a perfect winter dish.

The recipe is inspired by a Martin Walker book in the Bruno, chief of police, series. In this recipe, the dried porcini mushrooms were simmered in red wine. Most of the recipes recommend first to soak the dried porcini mushrooms in hot water. Well, I don’t think that method gives any real mushroom taste to dried porcini, so I was eager to try Bruno’s method. After all, the traditional Italian methods to prepare fresh porcini involve simmering in red wine.

Bruno’s method worked very well with dried porcini mushrooms; they were tasty and had a nice consistence after being simmered for about half an hour in red wine. But they really absorbed red wine, a lot! In the book, Bruno added a glass of red wine per a package of dried porcini, but this was not enough even to soak all the mushrooms. I kept adding more and more, 3 glasses of red wine plus 200 ml chicken stock were needed to simmer them properly.

2 servings

Pork tenderloin, about 300 g
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small package of dried cèps, Italian porcini mushrooms
450 ml red wine
200 ml chicken stock
Freshly ground black pepper
Parsley to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180⁰ C.

Cook the pork tenderloin in the oven for 45 minutes per 300 g, and 60 minutes per 450- 500 g. Let it rest tented in foil for about 15 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile prepare the porcini. In a large frying pan warm 1 tbsp rapeseed oil over medium heat. Gently cook the shallot and garlic for about 10 minutes until soft but not browned. Add the dried porcini mushrooms, red wine and chicken stock. Mix well. Reduce the heat to simmering, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the sliced pork tenderloin and black pepper.

Serve the pork tenderloin and porcini with steamed new potatoes and carrot slices. Decorate with parsley.

February hike above Tourrettes-sur-Loup

Crossing Gué de Malvan above Vence

The trails above Tourrettes-sur-Loup and Vence are popular winter walks.

We started our hike from the spacious parking at the entrance of Tourrettes-sur-Loup (396 m). Heading to Col de Vence (962 m), we first followed the trail ascending to Chapel St-Raphael and Gué du Malvan. The trail marked with yellow signs first ascends in an affluent neighbourhood, and then continues in a beautiful small forest.

Chapel St-Raphael is reached in about 50 minutes. It is situated on top of a small hill on the right hand side of the trail. We made a short detour to the chapel (closed) before continuing to Gué du Malvan, a tributary of the River Cagnes. Soon after the crossing, we joined the GR51 trail (red/white signs), turned right at the signpost, and started to follow the GR51 heading to Plan de Noves.

At the western part of Plan de Noves(a plateau and a Parc Départemental), the trail to Col de Vence forks left, eventually crossing the RD2 road twice. This trail is well marked with yellow in addition to some cairns, heaps of stones. After the second road crossing, the trail continues a bit following the road, then joins the RD2 just before Col de Vence. We walked along the narrow road, crossed it for the third time and found ourselves on a rocky field. From this point, we admired the snow-capped Mercantour peaks.

All in all, this is a great winter hike on a clear day. Climbing up as far as to Col de Vence does not actually add much scenery wise, and you have to cross the narrow road with surprisingly much traffic. One option is to go as far as to Plan de Noves and turn there. There are no steep parts on this walk, and the trail is well marked.

We descended along the same trail.

Total hiking time: 4h 20

Ascent:About 600m

Map: IGN Cannes Grasse 3643ET
Image of trail courtesy of Google Maps
Image of trail to Col de Vence

Dessert against winter colds

Science has shown that extra vitamin C shortens the number of sick days of the common cold. Instead of taking vitamin C tablets, I think that it is much nicer to increase the intake of vitamin C- rich foods.

Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, clementines), kiwis, strawberries, red, yellow and green bell peppers are super sources of vitamin C. The antioxidants in fruit and vegetables may also protect against infections.

The following dessert recipe not only contains lots of vitamin C and antioxidants, but also tastes great and has much less calories than most traditional desserts.

2 servings

1 grapefruit
1 orange, pressed
2 clementines
2 star anises
2 tsp honey
2 sprigs of fresh mint to decorate

Press the orange into juice and pour it into a small saucepan. Add the star anises and bring to the boil. Let simmer for two minutes, then take the saucepan aside. Add the honey, cover the saucepan and let the star anises infuse.

Peel the grapefruit and clementines, cutting away all the white parts of the peel. Remove the fruit from the segments discarding all the membranes with a small sharp knife and your fingers. Place the fruit and all the juices they let out in dessert bowls. Pour the infused orange juice over the fruit and cover with film.

Keep the dessert bowls refrigerated for 1- 2 hours. Serve cold decorated with a sprig of mint.

Mediterranean fish fillet recipe

This tasty and easy recipe works with any firm white fish fillets such as cod, haddock, sea bass or halibut. I recently made it in Miami using fresh tilapia fillets from Costa Rica, and it turned out super tasty. Here in Nice I might use whiting or pollock fillets, which benefit from extra flavours.

The Mediterranean flavours from tomato, onion, garlic, olives, extra virgin olive oil, and herbs work with even frozen white fish fillets. Just defrost the fillets first and pat dry with kitchen paper before using them.

2 servings

About 400 gram (14.1 oz) firm white fish fillets
1 shallot or ½ onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
8 black olives, chopped
2 ripe tomatoes or about 10- 12 cherry tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp pesto rosso, red pesto (or 2 sundried tomatoes, minced)
1 tsp Provençal herbs
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp breadcrumbs
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Fresh parsley or basil to decorate
Lemon wedges to serve

Preheat the oven to 200⁰ C / 400⁰ F.

Butter a shallow baking dish which is large enough to hold the fish fillets in one layer. Place the fish in it.

Mince the shallot and garlic. Chop the tomatoes and olives. In a bowl mix the tomatoes, shallot, garlic, olives, pesto rosso, Provençal herbs and some black pepper. Spread this mixture evenly on top of the fish fillets.

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top and drizzle on the olive oil.
Place the dish in the oven and bake for 25- 40 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish fillets. The fish is cooked when it is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.