Risoul: Belvédère de l'Homme de Pierre loop hike

Crête de Martinat Risoul

Risoul (1850 m), a mountain resort above Guillestre, offers several great hiking itineraries during the summer season. 

We are in the Southern French Alps, in the department of Hauts-Alps.

The following loop hike must be one of the most popular walks in Risoul. We saw families on the trail. Some of them might have just hiked to the mountain top and back, instead of completing the loop.

Start of trail at Pelinche Risoul
Signpost at 1975m Risoul
View to east from Risoul
Larch forest above Risoul

We started from the spacious Pelinche chair lift parking (1900 m), located the dirt track which ran under the Pelinche ski lift and ascended to a crossroads with a signpost ( elev.1975 m; 2nd image) showing the itinerary to the summit. We forked left and ascended along a trail, initially in a larch wood. We crossed another path in a clearing and continued the ascent.

View to northeast from Risoul
Short steep section of trail above Risoul
l'Homme de Pierre in sight

The path soon turned to southwest, we left the woods and had alpine meadows on both sides. We climbed over a small summit and had Belvédère de l’Homme de Pierre (2374 m) in sight (a telecom mast, ski lift). The summit marked the highest point of this hike. 

We continued the circuit by following the path to the northwest then north where we descended along the magnificent Crête de Martinat. This part of the hike was definitely the highlight of the itinerary. We had the Durance River Valley deep under us. Further away, we had a glimpse of Lake Serre Ponçon.

Belvédère de l'Homme de Pierre summit
Leaving l'Homme de Pierre summit
Serre Ponçon Lake seen from Risoul

We eventually reached a dirt track, a clearing with a hut and a picnic table. At this point, we forked sharply right (southeast) and walked past Lac du Pré du Laus, then ascended a bit before descending back to Risoul along the same track.

Image of our track below 

Duration: 4 h

Distance: 12 km

Climb: 570 m

Map: 3537 ET “Guillestre Vars Risoul”

Risoul loop track
Risoul loop track

Black rice risotto with shrimp

Black rice has the most anti-oxidants of all the rice types. No wonder that in the Ancient China it was reserved to the Emperor and his extended family. Nowadays in Nice we can buy Italian black rice from supermarkets and Asian black rice from organic food shops.

The following Black rice risotto recipe is inspired by a newsclip on the French morning TV TeleMatin. I didn’t follow the French chef’s recipe; I simply prepared my black rice risotto like a classic risotto from carnaroli or arborio rice, see Risotto with scallops. But there are two differences: the cooking time for black rice is longer about 45 minutes, unless it is parboiled which has about 20 min. cooking time. You won’t achieve the creaminess of the classic risotto because black rice is a whole grain. So, there is no point stirring it continuously while cooking, just occasionally.

Serve the black rice risotto with cooked and peeled shrimp, wilted spinach and roasted cherry tomatoes.

2 servings

120 ml black rice
Olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
150 ml white wine
About 900 ml chicken stock (you may not use it all)
A handful of grated parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
About 200 g cooked and peeled shrimp
Fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 handfuls of baby spinach
About 10 cherry tomatoes

In a large heavy casserole, warm 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium-low heat and gently sauté the shallot and garlic for about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir until well coated by oil. Raise the heat to medium- high and pour in the wine. Stir occasionally.

When the wine has evaporated, add about 200 ml stock. Stir occasionally and add more stock in batches after the previous one has evaporated. There should always be some liquid in the casserole. The rice should be done after 45 minutes. When the rice is cooked to your preference remove the casserole from heat and stir in the parmesan.

While the rice is cooking, prepare the vegetables and quickly reheat the shrimp in olive oil.

Wash and dry the cherry tomatoes. Place in a small oven-proof dish and coat with a little olive oil. Roast in the oven 200° C for 10 minutes.

Warm 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat in a large casserole and wilt the spinach. This takes only about 3- 5 minutes.

Vars: La Mayt hike

View to southwest from La Mayt

Hiking during the summer season in ski resorts has its advantages. The trails are usually easy to follow, the markings satisfactory and the start of the trails can be easily accessed either by foot or by car. In spite of all the ski lifts etc you’ll almost always find pristine nature a bit further away. The added bonus is that sometimes hikers can take a lift to reach a higher elevation.

La Mayt (2577 m) is a mountaintop above Vars, with two ski lift upper stations and a meteorological radar on the summit.

Lac de Peyrol
Start from Peyrol to La Mayt
View to east from trail to La Mayt
Vars seen from trail to La Mayt
Track to La Mayt higher up
Vars Valley seen from trail to La Mayt
Razis seen from La Mayt
L'Alpet between Razis and La Mayt

Some ski lifts were running in summer. We drove to the village of Vars Ste-Marie (1638 m) and took the chair lift (Telesiège de Ste-Marie/Peyrol) as far as to Peyrol (2142 m). The second ski lift went as far as La Mayt. The lake, Lac de Peyrol, is artificial, built to supply water for the snow cannons. The lake is also used for trout farming.

From Peyrol, we started along a track that passed some larches, then continued to southwest in open terrain, with alpine meadows on both sides. The ascent was quite steep in some parts. We passed the Lièvre ski lift upper station, then continued along the track under La Mayt, forked sharply right (east). We walked under La Mayt ski lift, turned left and climbed near the summit, behind the upper Peyrol ski lift.

We were quite near Razis (2575 m) in Risoul. Further away, the panorama included Les Ecrins massif, Font Sancte, the Chambeyron massif and many other peaks in the Southern Alps.

We started the descent from Col du Vallon and eventually came to a wide piste which ran in a larch forest as far as to our starting point.

We decided to hike all the way back to Ste-Marie along the ski runs. In places there was a path, but some parts were quite overgrown and steep. Poles were useful.

Duration: 3h 30

Distance: 8,5 km

Climb: 400 m (descent about 900 m)

Map:  3537 ET “Guillestre Vars Risoul”

La Mayt loop track
La Mayt loop track

Lac de l'Etoile from Col de Vars

Lac de l'Etoile Vars

Having previously hiked to Paneyron (2785 m) from Col de Vars, we now wanted to explore the trail which continued further northeast from the summit. Our goal was Lac de l’Etoile (2755 m).

It was a gorgeous July morning. We had to drive up to Col de Vars (2108 m) early as the road was to be closed later in the morning because of a cycling event.

From Col de Vars, we took the dirt road which went to a shepherd’s hut. The trail to the summit forked right just before it, and we started to ascend along the southwestern flank of Paneyron.  The trail first passed Alpine meadows, but soon the landscape became rockier and arid. Next to the summit, we came to a signpost showing Lac de l’Etoile to the right (east). After a rapid detour to the summit, we followed the trail which soon descended quite steeply. We had to focus on every step as there were loose stones and gravel. But we later found out that this path was one of the trail runners’ itinerary!

After the descent we ascended from 2655 m to 2731 m, followed by several smaller climbs and descents which increased our cumulative climb. The trail itself was easy to see, there were cairns and sporadic fading yellow markings.

We passed an unnamed lake. We had simultaneous views to the Les Ecrins massif, Aguille de Chambeyron in the east and above all, the imposing massif in front of us: la Mortice, Pics des Houerts and many other 3000 m+ summits.

The shores of Lac de l’Etoile were still partly covered with snow. The lake lies in dark flysch terrain (shale/sandstone). Other geological wonders nearby include the huge karst formation below La Mortice, the highest in Europe.

We headed back along the same trail. Just before Col de Vars, we took the path which circled the hill between the Col and the hut (map below).

Climb: 1024 m

Distance: 13 km

Duration: 5h 30

IGN Map: 3538 ET « Aguille de Chambeyron Cols de Larche et de Vars »

Lac de l'Etoile track
Lac de l'Etoile track

Lemon ricotta with strawberries

Lemon ricotta with strawberries

What a delight it is to find the first tasty local spring strawberries! And nowadays we can buy them organic. For dessert, strawberries are usually served with sweetened whipped cream.

For a change, try serving them with ricotta mixed with lemon juice. It is important to use original Italian ricotta in the recipe because “ricottas” made in some other countries just don’t have the desired consistency and don’t mix so easily with lemon juice. Great taste but less calories and no added sugar.

2 servings

About 2 handfuls of local organic strawberries
150 g Italian ricotta
Juice of ½ small lemon

Wash the strawberries under running water and let dry on kitchen paper.

In a bowl, whip the ricotta and lemon juice with a spoon. Divide into 2 dessert bowls.

Slice the strawberries and divide on top of the ricotta. Enjoy!

Mont Brune between Esteron and Var River Valleys

Viewing Mercantour summits from Mont Brune
Viewing Mercantour summits from Mont Brune

 At 1518 m, Mont Brune is the second highest peak in the mountain ridge dividing the Esteron and Var River Valleys. We have previously hiked to the highest, Mont Vial (1550 m) as well as to Cime de Collettes (1513 m).

The mountains here, south of the Var River are Castellane Prealps. This particular summit seems to be much less visited. The easiest way to explore this peak is to start from Col de Vé Gautier by the narrow and sinuous D27 road 5 km west of Toudon

View from Col de Vé Gautier
Path from forest road to Mont Brune
Path after signpost#96
View towards Ascros
We found a good parking by the D27 road, just opposite the forest trail that actually zigzags all the way to a clearing under Mont Brune. The hiking trail crosses this dirt track several times and sometimes follows it.

We started to ascend along the forest trail from D27 road and located the hiking trail after the second bend where we forked right. This part of the trail was a narrow, sometimes overgrown path and yellow markings were sporadic. We reached signpost #96, and followed its instructions. Now heading northwest along Mont Brune’s southern flank, the trail became a little wider and easier to follow.

Shortcut to Baisse du Mont Brune
Cime de Collettes and Mont Vial
On the trail to Mont Brune
Var River seen from Mont Brune
At signpost #95, we turned sharply to the east, and climbed to signpost #94 by the dirt road, which we followed about 150 m before making a shortcut again. We climbed along a narrow path, quite steeply for about 30 m. The trail then levelled off and came back to the dirt road a little before signpost #93 at Baisse du Mont Brune. Here, at a clearing, water reservoir and helipad we took the final leg to the summit. Parts of the trail were steep and in places the vegetation was dense. Just before the summit the trail made a 90° turn west (a cairn). We then climbed, sometimes off-piste, to the top of Mont Brune.

View from Mont Brune eastern flank
Easy scramble before Mont Brune summit
Summit of Mont Brune
The summit itself was marked with a bigger cairn and a stick. The panorama was perfect. We descended back to Baisse du Mont Brune and then took the forest road down to D27 road for a change.

Climb: 430 m

Distance: 7,7 km

Duration: 3h 10 active

Map: IGN Vallée de l’Esteron Vallée du Loup 3642 ET

Mont Brune hike track
Mont Brune hike track

Zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta, parmesan and black olives

It is a true sign of summer when zucchini flowers, fleurs des courgettes, appear in our supermarket in Nice

The following lacto- vegetarian recipe reflects the Italian influence in the Niçois cuisine. Serve this dish with a heap of cherry tomatoes and some good bread for a healthy and carefree lunch.

2 servings

8 zucchini blossoms
150 g ricotta
4 tbsp. black olives, pitted and sliced
A handful of grated parmesan
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
12- 16 cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 spring onion, finely sliced
Basil leaves to decorate

Warm the oven to 200° C.

Mix the ricotta with parmesan, black pepper, 2 tbsp. olive oil, and half of the sliced olives.

Wash the zucchini blossoms and let dry on kitchen paper. Spread some olive oil in the bottom of a large oven- proof dish. Stuff the zucchini blossoms with about 1 tbsp. of the ricotta mixture per each blossom and fold the rest of the blossoms to make a small pocket. Place them on the oven-proof dish and sprinkle with 2 tbsp. olive oil. Cook in the oven for 7 minutes.

To make the cherry tomato salad, wash and dry the tomatoes, then chop them and let drain in colander for a while to remove the extra liquid. Mix the tomatoes with the sliced spring onion, the rest of the sliced olives, some black pepper and 1 tbsp. vinaigrette.

Divide the cherry tomato salad in the middle of the plates and place the zucchini blossoms around. Decorate with basil leaves.