The Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard (Colle del Piccolo San Bernardo) is a twisting mountain road connecting the Aosta Valley in Italy with the Savoie region of France. It’s widely recognized as one of the most spectacular mountain drives in the world.
Keep reading to find out more about when and how you can take the drive, as well as some of the notable sights you’ll see.
How Long is the Drive Through the Little St. Bernard Pass?
From Bourg-Saint-Maurice on the French side of the Alps, the Col du Petit Saint-Bernard is 16.46 miles long. You’ll climb 4,423 feet over the course of the drive, with an average slope of around 5.1%. The steepest and most spectacular areas of the drive actually have a slope of up to 8.1%. The first 9.6 miles ending at La Rosière is the Montée d'Hauteville climb. From Pré-Saint-Didier in the Aosta Valley on the Italian side, the pass is 14.6 mi long. You’ll climb a total of 3,885 feet with an average slope of 5.1%. You should expect the drive in either direction to take a little under two hours.
When Can I Drive Through the Little St. Bernard Pass?
The road to the summit tops out at 2.188m (7,178ft) above the sea level. The Little St. Bernard Pass is at its most scenic between June and September. During these months everything is in bloom and the weather is consistently clear and gorgeous. From the right vantage point, you can see for miles in every direction. You won’t be able to drive the pass in the winter months. That section of the Alps gets meters and meters of snow every year. The pass is usually shut down from snowfall by October at the lastest, and rarely reopens before the beginning of June. You can get part of the way up from the Italian side to La Thuile, a delightful ski town.
If you want to experience the Alps with their full cap of snow go late May to early June. You may even get to drive with a 10-foot wall of snow around you at certain points. Check real-time conditions to find out just how spectacular the views will be for the next few days.
Taking the Drive
The Little St. Bernard Pass is just to the south of the Mont Blanc Massif. The route has been used for thousands of years, dating back historically to at least the Roman Republic.
Many sources say that this is the very route Hannibal took with his army and elephants when marching south to take his war to Rome. Today though we have a well-maintained drive across some of the most spectacular terrain in the world. Coming from the French side you’ll have a truly stunning view down into the Aosta Valley. There are a few spots you can stop and really take in the sight if you wish.
Continuing on there are a few serpentine sections and even a tunnel or two.
Other than the natural scenery, which is gorgeous, you’ll also see some traditional private homes. The mountains around the Little St. Bernard Pass offer some of the most remote living spaces in all of Western Europe.
Which direction you take through the Little St. Bernard Pass determines what kind of drive you’ll have. The most intense hairpin turns are located on the Italian side of the pass. Some of you love to zip your way through them coming down, while others prefer to take a leisurely route up them.
L'Hospice du Gd-St-Bernard - For the animal lovers among you, it’s worth a stop at L'Hospice du Gd-St-Bernard. It’s a combination museum, active monastery, restaurant, and hostel. The food is delicious and the museum is interesting and can be seen in under an hour. The Hospice is the birthplace of the famous St. Bernard breed of dogs, and there are always some about the place for the sake of tradition. It’s just a little further on up the Grand St. Bernard Pass.
La Thuile Ski Resort - About halfway through the pass you’ll reach the town of La Thuile. If you’re looking for some true Alpine skiing it’s hard to beat. The resort town includes delicious restaurants, world-class skiing, and some very comfortable hotels.
A Truly Scenic Drive
For those of you who love to spend an hour or so ambling along a gorgeous roadway, there are few better trips than that offered by the Little St. Bernard Pass. It has the elevation, the natural beauty, and the thrilling mountain turns that get every good gearhead ready to go.