Queyras: GR5 from La Chalp to Lac de Roue

View south from GR5 above Arvieux

After yesterday’s more demanding loop trail, we just wanted an easy walk to stretch our legs. But we also wanted a nice trail and some great views. The walk from La Chalp Arvieux to the Lac de Roue and the two viewing points nearby ticked all the boxes.

We started the walk straight from our hotel by the D902 road in La Chalp (1685 m). Incidentally, the mythic long-distance trail GR 5 ran right behind La Ferme de l’Izoard, our lodging. We followed the signposts and after a few hundred meters forked left in the woods where the trail proper started to ascend, heading south. We passed the village of Arvieux below us, and came to a hamlet called Les Maisons. We followed the white and red GR signs, and ascended a bit more, now along an open verdant hillside.

A little before Lac de Roue (1847 m), the GR itinerary followed a dirt track. A beautiful larch forest surrounded the lake, and there were picnic tables installed. We continued a bit, heading south in the woods to the viewing points, signposted as Belvédères, and also marked in the IGN map. We reached them after a brief ascent and descent, and had some nice views down to the Guil River Valley. Even Château-Queyras was visible.

We returned to the lake for our picnic, and took the same trail back to our hotel. In spite of the modest elevation differences, there were several ascents and descents, and our log showed 435 m elevation gain at the end of the hike.

Distance: 11 km

Walking time: about 4 h

Map: IGN 3537 ET Guillestre

Burrata salad

Burrata salad

Italian parmesan and mozzarella cheeses are well-known all over the world, but burrata was long unknown to me until I came to Nice. Burrata can be seen on local restaurant menus demonstrating well the strong culinary connection between Nice and Italy.

Burrata’s outer shell is of solid mozzarella while the inside is soft and creamy. It goes well with salads sliced open so that the thick cream flows out. Tasty tomatoes, olive oil, and black pepper heighten burratas fresh and buttery flavour.

The following recipe is for a summer salad to be enjoyed with some good country bread. In winter, burrata is nice when opened over roasted vegetables and sprinkled with olive oil for a simple but tasty lunch.

2 servings burrata salad

2 generous handfuls of baby salad leaves
2 tasty tomatoes, chopped
1 burrata, about 200- 250 g
1 small tin of anchovies in olive oil
8- 10 black olives
2 tbsp. French salad dressing
2 tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Basil leaves and pine nuts to decorate

Soak the anchovies in a small bowl of water for about 10 minutes to reduce saltiness. Then dry on a kitchen paper.

Divide the baby salad leaves and chopped tomatoes on the plates. Drizzle with French dressing.

Slice open the burrata and place one half on the centre of each plate. Drizzle with olive oil and grind over some black pepper. Divide the black olives and anchovies on the plates. Decorate with basil leaves and pine nuts. Serve with a good country bread and enjoy.

Summer hike near Valberg

Trail above Beuil

This easy, agreeable walk starts from the village of Beuil (1450 m) in the upper Cians Valley near the Valberg ski resort (1680 m). We modified the itinerary described in the Randoxygéne guide a bit by making a somewhat longer loop as described below, and did not go up to the summit this time.

Good paths cross larch woods and alpine meadows. The trail circles Tête du Garnier (1906 m), and it is possible to take a short detour to the summit. This hike is especially great if you wish to experience the start of the summer in an alpine environment with Mont Mounier (2817 m) looming in the background not that far in the north.

At the entrance of Beuil from direction of Valberg we located signpost #31, our starting point. We ascended to a meadow full of spring flowers. There were tracks here and there. Passing a watering trough, we saw signpost #39 partly hidden. We were supposed to continue more or less straight but there was not a clear path. We took a longer route that forked slightly right heading north. We soon came to a forest road that descended quite a bit to signpost #42, then turned west and started to climb. Passing some huts, we came to an intersection where signpost #38a was supposed to be. We did not find it, but saw the yellow-marked trail that ascended through the woods to Col de l’Espaul (1748 m).

Now halfway through the loop trail, near signpost #7, we found a perfect spot for picnic.

The trail continued south, passing Lac de Beuil (signpost #37), and the intersection of the trail to the summit. From here, the trail gradually descended to Col de Ste-Anne at Les Launes by the RD28 road. The last part of the hike back to Beuil followed the GR52A just under the RD28 road.

Length: 11 km

Duration: 3h 30 walking time

Vertical climb: 470 m (170m more with the summit)

Map: “Haut Cians” 3640 OT

Squid tagliatelle

Squid tagliatelle

In spite of the name there’s no pasta in this recipe; the sliced squid replaces the pasta. The Italian word tagliare means to cut.

The recipe is adapted from Julie Andrieu’s TV-programme, Les carnets de Julie avec Thierry Marx, in which an Italian lady cooked her Seiche tagliatelle in France. NB! The dish contains raw eggs like the famous Pasta alla Carbonara. That is why I think that it is important to choose organic eggs from free-range chickens, because these chickens are much healthier than battery chickens. If you wish to have less liquid in the dish you can very well omit the egg.

Like the Italian lady said this dish offers culinary tastes that are pure enjoyment.
Ingredients for 2 servings squid tagliatelle

2 servings

3- 4 cleaned large squid
50 g pancetta
1 tbsp. olive oil
A generous handful of chopped parsley
1 clove garlic
A small glass of white wine
Black pepper
Grated zest of 1 organic lemon plus about 2 tsp. lemon juice
1- 2 organic eggs
About 4 handfuls of finely grated parmesan

First make the parmesan- egg paste. In a bowl, whip 1- 2 organic eggs and mix with about 4 handfuls of finely grated parmesan to make a paste. Place the bowl in the fridge. If you wish to omit the egg, just grate the parmesan.

Cut the pancetta into small pieces. Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and sauté for a few minutes. Wash and dry the squid and cut into rounds. Add the squid and the minced garlic to the pan and sauté a few more minutes. Add the white wine, lots of parsley, and black pepper. Cook gently for about 10 minutes.

Remove the frying pan from the heat and add the egg- parmesan paste from the fridge. Mix well and add the rest of the parsley, lemon zest, and 2 tsp. lemon juice. Mix and divide on the plates.

Serve with good whole wheat bread to mop up the sauce, and a green salad for a simple but tasty lunch or supper.

Mediterranean Pasta Sauce

Mediterranean pasta sauce

Mediterranean antioxidant-rich diet has been shown over and over again in several scientific studies to be the best nutritional strategy in preventing chronic diseases.

This tasty lactovegetarian pasta sauce recipe is inspired by a dish cooked by a chef in Antibes on the French TV’s Télé Matin. This is a summer recipe to be made when the tomatoes, bell peppers, and basil are at their best. Use your best olive oil for the dish. Heart healthy olive oil is a vital component of the Mediterranean diet.

The recipe makes two generous servings for main course, four servings if a smaller amount of pasta is served before the main course the Italian way.

2- 4 servings

1 aubergine
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
2 small tomatoes
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. lavender honey
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of salt
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Fresh basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 180° C.

Wash and dry the aubergine, bell peppers and tomatoes. Peel the onion. Line a large ovenproof tray with baking paper. Cut the vegetables into halves and place on the tray. Peel two cloves of garlic and add on the tray. Sprinkle the vegetables with 1 tbsp. olive oil and 2 tsp. lavender honey. Roast in the oven for 40- 45 minutes.

Remove the tray from the oven and let the vegetables cool for a few minutes. With a spoon scoop out the inside of aubergine. Peel the bell peppers. Transfer the vegetables into a blender, add black pepper, salt and chopped basil leaves. Save a few basil leaves for decoration. Purée the vegetables into a thick consistence.

Meanwhile cook the pasta, preferably whole wheat pasta for added vitamins and fiber. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and pour into a large bowl. Add the vegetable purée and mix. Divide the pasta into individual bowls, decorate with basil leaves and serve with grated parmesan.

From Tinée Valley to Roure

Tinée River Valley

Climatically, the village of Roure (1104 m) above Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée (500 m) has a beneficial location. The south facing mountain side between the two villages has plenty of sunshine, and terraces have been built during centuries to cultivate figs, olives, walnuts and chestnuts.

Some parts of the GR5 trail from Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée to Roure date from Roman times. In 1927 a cable car for agricultural purposes linked the two villages, but it was as late as in 1935 that a road reached Roure.

We started ascending from Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée from signpost 170. We crossed the Tinée River along an ancient Roman bridge following the familiar white and red GR markings. We crossed the M30 road several times. Seen from the starting point, the slope between the villages looked rather steep, but the good trail zigzagged nicely making the ascent quite easy. We walked past signposts #232, 234, 235, 237 and 238, respectively. In the old times Roure was famous for its production of dried figs, but nowadays we didn’t see any trace of cultivation except some olive trees. The landscape by the trail certainly proved that there’s a microclimate. In front of one hut, we saw a palm tree at almost 800 m! Approaching the village, we passed the first houses, many of them built with slate roofs, typical of this region.

We walked past the church and climbed to the viewing point (belvedere du Castel; 1104 m) just above the village. From here, we had a great view of the verdant Tinée Valley, the still snow-capped mountains, and Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée 600 m below us.

We descended back to our starting point along the same trail. It is also possible to fork right at signpost #235 on the way down and descend to River Vionène, a Tinée tributary, and continue back to Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée along this smaller path.

Hiking time: 3h 15
Terrace cultivation in Roure

Climb: 630 m

Distance: 8,5 km

Map: Moyen Tinée 3641 ET

Donkeys enjoying the April sunshine in Roure

Roure trail image

Rocca Sparvièra

Mont Ferion seen from Rocca Sparviera

The mountaintop above Coaraze (620 m) in the Nice hinterland has a Nissart name: Rocca Sparvièra (1110 m), or the sparrow hawk rock.

Around the summit, there are ruins of an abandoned village from the 17th century. The medieval village has a dark history; diseases, murders, and a series of earthquakes in the 16th and 17th centuries that preceded the demise of this isolated hamlet. Legend has it that Queen Joanna I of Naples was hiding in the village because she was accused of having her first husband murdered. On Christmas Eve 1357, she went for a mass in Coaraze. Once back, she found her children, nanny and chaplain killed. She cursed the village, burned her castle there, and never returned.

When we tried to hike to Rocca Sparvièra a year ago, the trail was closed for some reason, and we ascended to nearby Mont Férion instead.  Maybe there had been a landslide, we did not know. The trail is not recommended during or after heavy rain as a few narrow parts of the trail can become dangerous. In addition, the ruins of the village are fragile, and going under them should be avoided.

It was late March, temperatures soaring over 20°C with clear skies. We parked near the Coaraze entrance and ascended from signpost #200 by the RD15 road passing the blue chapel, then signposts #201 and 202. You can’t get lost on this trail. At signpost #203 we forked right and continued along a path straight north, circling above several gorges. Some parts were narrow, but nevertheless easy to negotiate. We even met some mountain bikers! We could nevertheless understand that on a rainy day the trail would be slippery. On the other hand, on a sunny summer day, it can get very hot during the ascent. We came to Col St-Michel (970 m), signpost #443 and a crossroads. Seen from here, the ruins of Rocca Sparvièra almost merged with the grey rock of the summit. The path to our goal circled the mountain’s steep western flank. It was said to be a bit aérien or precipitous, and some surefootedness was needed, but really nothing special. We reached Chapel Saint-Michel (1089 m) built in the 18th century, and the ruins of Rocca Sparvièra were just above us.

One wonders why people who built the village here in the middle ages chose such an isolated and steep mountain? Obviously one important reason was that it was easy to defend. However, it is not the only ghost village in the region. If you don’t like ruins, as there really isn’t that much to see, you will certainly enjoy the fantastic views from the trail and from the mountain top to Paillon and Vésubie River valleys and beyond.

Alternative routes up here start from Duranus in the Vésubie River Valley or from Engravin by the RD15 road above Coaraze.

We returned to Coaraze along the same trail.
At Rocca Sparviera

Duration : 3h 50

Climb: 500 m
Descending from Rocca Sparviera

Map: “Vallées de la Bévéra et des Paillons” 3741 ET

The French Randoxygène guide has a description of this hike
Spring flowers on the trail to Rocca Sparviera

Rocca Sparviera trail image

Quinoa bolognese

Quinoa bolognese

Spaghetti Bolognese is a classic Italian dish known to everybody. But why not make a modern version of it by replacing the pasta with quinoa?

Quinoa is a gluten free and protein-rich seed. It is good for our hearts to eat as much as possible vegetable protein so that we can reduce animal protein in our diets.

4 servings

About 300- 350 g low-fat minced meat
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
50 ml red lentils
200 g good tomato sauce
2 tbsp. tomato purée
400 ml beef stock
2 tsp. provençal herbs
Black pepper
About 2 handfuls of grated parmesan
Parsley to decorate
For the quinoa:
About 200 g quinoa
About 1,2 l water

In a large casserole bring the water to the boil. Add the quinoa, cover and cook 20 minutes. Check the quinoa now and then; you may need to add some more water. When the quinoa is cooked, set aside and keep warm.

Meanwhile warm the olive oil over medium- high heat in a heavy casserole and start frying the minced meat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the shallots and garlic. Stir and cook for a few minutes.

Then add the red lentils, tomato sauce, tomato purée, beef stock, provençal herbs and black pepper. Bring to the boil, then cover and reduce the heat to slowly cooking. Cook for 20 minutes.

Divide the quinoa into bowls and top with Bolognese sauce. Sprinkle with grated parmesan and decorate with chopped parsley.

Pic de Courmettes

Pic de Courmettes

We call them the twin peaks. Dominating the landscape northwest of Nice, Pic de Courmettes (1248 m) and Puy de Tourrettes (1268 m) are connected by a col. We have climbed to Puy de Tourrettes several times, from Tourrettes-sur-Loup and Courmes.

This time we wanted to hike to Pic de Courmettes, the peak nearer the coast. Its western flank towards the Loup River Valley is very steep, making it more impressive.

The Randoxygène guide has recently added this hike in the guidebook. However, their version comprises the ascent from Courmes (630 m) and taking the same trail back. As we knew the region, we opted for a more interesting loop hike that continued straight north from the first summit to the plateau of Puy de Tourrettes. In addition, the steep section before Pic de Courmettes is always easier to climb than to descend. In other words, we climbed our twin peaks during the same hike!

The narrow but paved D503 road connects Courmes with the D6 road that runs along the Loup River Valley. The village has a surprisingly spacious parking.

We started from signpost 88 right behind the parking, heading south along the GR51, gradually climbing along the wide trail. We came to a DFCI reservoir and a dirt road, and left the GR51 trail. We continued along the dirt track a bit, ascending to a clearing with nice views at about 940 m alt. Here, at signpost #80, we forked left (east) and climbed along the steep trail with sporadic yellow markings to the summit. In places, easy scramble was necessary. On a clear April day, we had great views down to the coast.

After a break, we continued straight north, with Puy de Tourrettes and its treeless southern face in front of us. We soon came to the saddle between the two mountains, and ascended along the well visible trail. Once on the summit plateau, the trail became less evident but you could walk almost anywhere. The summit was marked with a heap of stones. We did not go there, but headed NNW and soon came to the unmarked but frequently used trail that descended to the GR51 trail.

We continued along the GR51 south, and eventually came to a crossroads where we forked right, taking the signposted shortcut back to Courmes. The shortcut route then merged with the GR51 just before the village.
Puy de Tourrettes and the Mercantour summits

Duration: 4 h (walking time)

The saddle between Pic de Courmettes and Puy de Tourrettes

Total climb: 750 m -Note that the French guide claims that the climb to Courmettes alone is 730 m but in fact, as the climb from the village is continuous, the vertical climb to the summit is 620 m.
Courmes and Gorges du Loup

Map: IGN Cannes Grasse 3643 ET Côte d’Azur

Pic de Courmettes GPS track

Hike in the Cap Sicié Peninsula

The eastern side of the Cap Sicié peninsula merges with Toulon’s suburb La Seyne-sur-Mer, while the southern end is in a natural state with high cliffs and forests.

The Chapel Notre-Dame du Mai was built in 1625 on the southern tip of the peninsula, and it is still a pilgrimage site. The 360° panorama from the summit (360 m) it simply stunning.

We started the hike from the little harbour of Le Brusc, ascending along the route to Mont Salva. The small road was first called Chemin de la Gardiole, then route de la Lèque. The trail was marked with yellow and white faded signs. There were sporadic “sentier littoral” signposts. The paved road changed to a dirt road higher up, and finally continued as just a path.

We reached a crossroads: The lower more “sportive” trail, and the higher “familial” trail that forked left. As this was still early March and the beginning of the season for us, we chose the easier trail. Even this one had a short steep section where easy scrambling was needed.

The weather was exceptionally warm with no wind. We stopped and changed into shorts, and the going was much lighter. We reached another crossroads on the ridge with no signposts, just a white sign painted on a rock. We headed east towards the chapel. The big telecom mast next to the chapel was already visible.

At the chapel, we were rewarded with a magnificent panorama. Needless to say, it was a perfect spot for our picnic. We used the same scenic route back to Le Brusc.
Chapel Notre-Dame du Mai
Toulon seen from Chapel Notre-Dame du Mai

There were several ascents and descents during the hike, hence our GPS recorded 480 m total climb. The registered distance was nearly 14 km of which some 6 km comprised paved streets or roads. Total hiking time was about 4 h.