Le Chapeau de Gendarme 2682 m

Summit of Chapeau de Gendarme 2682 m

The ascent to Chapeau de Gendarme (2682 m) is a classic hike in the Ubaye Valley. The mountain gets its name, the gendarme’s hat, from its particular form that is well visible from the Valley. The summit offers great 360° panorama views over the region.

We ascended to the summit using the standard and also shortest route along comfortable paths. It is a straightforward and well-marked itinerary.

We drove up to Super Sauze ski resort (1700 m asl). We located our first signpost on a nursery slope and took a dirt track uphill (south), following it about 1 km. We then forked left along a trail, re-joined the dirt track heading first east, then southwest in a larch forest, crossing the Brec ski lift. After about 1,8 km from start, we forked right along a path that took us past a spring (la Goutta).

We climbed further above the tree line, passed an immense vertical rock wall (Le Queiron) at about 2300 m elev. We had the sharp figure of Brec Second (2596 m) and Col du Gyp in front of us. At the crossroads, the direct trail continued to Col du Gyp. We forked right, and ascended along the rocky and steep east face of Chapeau de Gendarme. Markings of the trail were yellow, occasionally with other colours. There was a signpost at 2670 m just under the geographical summit.

The heatwave continued in France, and it was unusually hot even at the summit on this clear and almost windless day. Needless to say, we had packed extra bottles of water and sport drink in the morning!

We took the same trail back.

Duration: 5 h

Elevation gain: 980 m

Distance: 12 km

Map: IGN Barcelonette 3540 OT

Duck legs with melting potatoes

Duck legs with melting potatoes

Confit de canard  is the traditional way to preserve and prepare duck legs. My recipe is a modern version made from fresh duck legs and with less salt and duck fat.

 Serve your duck legs with melting new potatoes and some greens. In the picture, they are served with French style peas.

2 servings

2 fresh duck legs
1 onion
1 clove garlic
5- 8 new potatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
Black pepper
A pinch of salt
200 ml water
Parsley to decorate

Preheat the oven to 210°C.

Spread 1 tbsp. olive oil in the bottom of an oven proof dish. Peel and slice the onion and place in the dish. Peel and mince the garlic clove and scatter over the onion.

Prepare the duck legs by cutting away the extra fat on the side of the legs. Place the legs on top of the onions. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, black pepper, and olive oil.

Wash the new potatoes and cut into smaller pieces. Place them in the dish around the duck legs. Pour 200 ml water in the dish.

Roast in 210° C for 15 minutes, the reduce the temperature to 180° C and continue roasting for 60 minutes. Baste now and again with cooking juices and cover after 30 minutes. Add a little water if it starts looking a bit dry.

Decorate with chopped parsley and serve with some greens.

Mont Guillaume above Embrun

Chapel St Guillaume

Mont Guillaume (2550 m) offers magnificent views over Embrun, Savines-le-Lac and the Serre-Ponçon Lake in the Durance River Valley.

In February 1897, a Swedish-born Lt Charles Eric Widman of the French Alpine Hunters climbed to the summit of Mont Guillaume from Embrun (1681 m vertical climb!) with skis on his shoulder. He skied back down in 1h 30. As a Swede, he was a strong advocate of implementing skiing instead of snowshoeing for the French military. The main trail to the summit carries his name.

On the summit, a new chapel was built on the ancient ruins in the 1990s. There’s an annual pilgrimage to the summit in July.

We used the Sentier Widman on our hike. The trail started from the spacious Parking de la Forêt (1587 m) which we reached from Embrun along a narrow but paved road initially named Route de Caléyère/D465.

Several itineraries start from the parking. The Widman Trail is clearly marked. We forked left, then immediately right along a path that ascended through a livestock pasture in the larch forest. The trail then continued either along dirt tracks or good paths, still in a verdant forest. Signposts showed the itinerary to Séyères and Mont Guillaume. A place named Pré-Clos was left on the right-hand side.

At Séyères (2056 m), about halfway to the summit, we walked past a chapel and a spring. We continued along the north-eastern flank of Mont Guillaume in an increasingly alpine environment. Wild rhododendrons were starting to blossom by the trail. Some parts of the trail were still covered with snow.

Once on the mountaintop, we first met the rebuilt chapel and a large cross facing it. The geographical summit was about 100 m to the west from the chapel.

Our hike coincided with the heat wave that hit France in late June.  The day was cloudless but very hazy.

Climb: 960 m

Duration: 5 h (active); ascent 2h45

Distance: 12 km round trip

Map: IGN 3438 ET Embrun   

Mont Guillaume hike track

Saint-Sauveur sur Tinée to Rimplas

Snow-capped Mont Mounier viewed from Rimplas

This trail is part of the first day trek of a 4-day itinerary named Via Alpina 2, which starts from St-Sauveur-sur-Tinée (500 m) and ends in Sospel. Several years ago, we made a shortened version starting from St-Martin Vesubie.

We have since made great day hikes from both St-Sauveur-sur-Tinée and Rimplas (1000 m) so this time we wanted to explore the GR 5 between these villages.

The trail was well marked but not much frequented. We even saw a snake in the middle of the trail. After google search, it turned out to be a rather harmless western whip snake. In fact, we rarely have spotted snakes during our hikes in the South of France.

From the spacious parking next to the Tinée River in St-Sauveur-sur-Tinée, we followed the GR markings heading south along the main street/M2205 road. After about 300 m we forked left at signpost # 167 and followed a paved road to Chapel St-Roch. 

The hiking trail ran partly in the woods, following the paved road. Behind the chapel, the GR5 continued a bit along a cemented track, then along a good path. The ascent was continuous but never steep, i.e. an easy itinerary. Gradually higher, we had great views of the verdant Tinée River Valley and the still snow-capped peaks in the north.

Approaching Rimplas, the trail became wider, following a steep mountain flank. There were some small rockslides on the trail just before Rimplas. Keeping a very moderate pace, we reached Rimplas in 1h 50.

After a brief break and picnic, we descended along the same trail. Even our snake was still on the trail!

Climb: 530 m
Duration: 3h 20 (active) 

Distance: 11,9 km

GR5 trail between St-Sauveur sur Tinée and Rimplas

Chickpea and spinach stew with burrata

Chickpea and spinach stew with burrata

Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese. The outer shell is solid mozzarella, while the inside contains stracciatella and cream giving it a soft runny texture and making it a great cheese to top vegetables.
The following recipe makes a tasty lacto-vegetarian and super healthy lunch.

2 servings

About 3 tbsp. olive oil
1 organic onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp powdered ginger
½ tsp Piment d’Espelette or other mild chilli powder
1 bag organic baby spinach
1 jar chickpeas, pref. organic
10- 12 halved organic cherry tomatoes
1 burrata

Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for about 5- 10 minutes. Add the ginger and chilli and cook about 1 minute more. Add a bit of water and stir.

Rinse and drain the chickpeas and add to the pan. Wash and halve the cherry tomatoes and add to the skillet. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the spinach and cook for a few more minutes until the spinach has wilted. With a fork mash some of the chickpeas for a thicker texture.

Drain and halve the burrata and place on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle a little olive oil over the cheese.  Serve the stew with some good rye bread.

Exploring the southernmost leg of GR5 from Aspremont


The mythic GR5 footpath starts in the Netherlands and ends in Nice. During this day hike starting from the village of Aspremont, we followed the trail south.

The trail proper ends in a picnic parc called l’Aire St-Michel, and after that the GR5 follows streets down to Nice, with white-red markings.

We had not hiked along this part of the GR5 before. It seemed to be popular among local hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers.

The trail from Aspremont is very well marked and signposted. From the village, we first descended a bit, crossed the M14 road (Route de Nice), and climbed along a paved street passing a school. We soon forked right near some tennis courts and continued along the western flank of Mont Chauve d’Aspremont. The trail soon levelled off, heading south. After the crossroads to Mont Chauve, the GR5 trail ran along Crête de Graus towards Nice, slowly descending. The best views were mostly down to the Var Valley and beyond, and to Nice. The trail ran along the western flank of the ridge, not on the top. The vegetation on both sides was mostly dense shrub land, maquis.

We hiked to the end of Crête de Graus, our planned turning point. There was a ruined house surrounded by pines, and from here the trail started to descend to l’Aire St-Michel and to the Gairaut neighbourhood in northern Nice. We used the same trail back to Aspremont.

Distance: 11 km       
Crete de Graus GR5 trail image

Duration: 3h 50

Climb: 410 m

Map: « Nice Menton » Côte d’Azur 3742OT

Cod with tomatoes and parmesan

Cod with tomatoes and parmesan

This recipe reflects summer flavours: ripe tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, shallot and basil. The cod is covered with chopped tomatoes, then shallot and garlic lightly cooked in olive oil, and topped with parmesan. It is then baked in the oven.
Serve the fish with cooked green lentils and rocket. The peppery taste of rocket compliments well cod and tomatoes.

2 servings

2 nice pieces of cod fillet
2 ripe tomatoes
1 shallot
1 clove garlic
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
A handful of grated parmesan
100 ml green lentils
A handful of rocket
Lemon wedges

Start by cooking the green lentils in 500 ml water for about 25- 30 minutes. When the water has evaporated and the lentils are tender, cover and set aside until needed.

Warm 1 tbsp. olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Peel the shallot and garlic clove. Chop the shallot and mince the garlic. Sauté for about 10 minutes until soft.

Preheat the oven to 200° C.

Place the cod in an oven- proof dish. Wash and chop the tomatoes and place on the fish. Grind over some black pepper. Divide the shallot and garlic on top of the tomatoes, then top with grated parmesan. Sprinkle 1- 2 tbsp. olive oil over the cheese. Bake in the oven for 20- 25 minutes depending on the thickness of the cod fillet. The fish should be just done and opaque, but not overcooked.

When the cod is done, divide it on the plates. Gently mix the rocket with lentils and divide on he plates. Serve with lemon wedges.

Guggenheim Exhibition in Hôtel de Caumont Aix-en-Provence

Hôtel de Caumont Aix-en-Provence

Hôtel de Caumont was a prestigious private mansion built in 1715-1745. The ownership of the property changed several times, and in the beginning of WWII it had completely lost its former glory. It had been divided into several apartments and was run by a lady who belonged to the French resistance. She bravely sheltered many Resistance fighters at the mansion before it was seized by the authorities.

In 1964 the building was sold to the city of Aix-en-Provence and became a conservatory of music and dance. In 2010 Culturespaces became the new owner, starting the renovation work in 2013. In May 2015 the Caumont Centre d’Art opened its doors. Every year, its hosts two temporary exhibitions as well as concerts and musical performances.

This summer’s exhibition (1 May-29 September 2019) features Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Foundation, New York.  The works are from the Justin Thannhauser Collection presenting paintings and sculptures by the masters of impressionism and post-impressionism from Manet to Picasso. Thannhauser was a personal friend of Picasso. For the first time, about 50 works from this collection are presented in Europe in an exhibition that started in the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao.

We were really impressed by the high quality of this exhibition. After all, masterpieces of several famed artists were displayed simultaneously in a relatively small museum. The beautifully renovated building is a piece of art itself.