Great Saint Bernard Pass

Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard is one of the most famous roads in the Alps

Great St Bernard Pass is an international high mountain pass at an elevation of 2.469m (8,100ft) above the sea level, located on the border of Switzerland and Italy.

How long is the Great St Bernard Pass?

Set high in the heart of the Alps, the road to the summit is totally paved. It’s called Road 21 (in Switzerland) and Strada Statale 27 (in Italy). The pass is 74.6 km (46.35mi) long running from Martigny, in the canton of Valais in Switzerland, towards Aosta, the capital of the Valle d’Aosta region, in northwestern Italy.  Perhaps the most famous of the mountain passes in the European Alps, with its majestic scenery and diverting views, is one of the most renowned attractions of the country. The iconic opening scenes of the Italian Job movie were filmed here.

Where is the Great Saint Bernard Pass?

Set high in the Alps, the pass links the Aosta Valley region of north-western Italy and the canton of Valais in Switzerland. The pass, known as Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard in French and Colle del Gran San Bernardo in Italian, has been very important during 3000 years, because it was an easy way to cross the Alps. It’s one of the most ancient passes through the Western Alps. The Roman troops, with Julius Caesar, crossed this pass in 57 BC, and the French troops, with Napoleon and 46,000 soldiers, did it in 1800. The actual roved the pass was built in 1905. The pass had long been used as a commercial trade route, starting with the Romans during the Empire's peak, though today it serves mostly as a tourist destination for motorists who want to take it slow and soak in the impressive, sometimes perilous, sights along this route once traveled by Napoleon Bonaparte and his army during his march toward Italy in 1800. Despite its importance, the Great St. Bernard had to wait until 1906 for a road to be built over the pass, due to disagreements between the authorities in the Valais and the Aosta Valley, as well as technical difficulties. The summit hosts a beautiful mountain lake, hotels and restaurants. The pass is also famous because a hospice founded 1049. The hospice later became famous for its use of St. Bernard dogs in rescue operations, that were first mentioned in 1709 and has become an icon of the Alps. During the 17th century, the monks that maintained the hospice grounds began selectively breeding and training their dogs, which were said to be gifts from travelers and villagers from nearby towns. You guessed it: the resulting breed was the St. Bernard, primarily used during this time to guard the hospice, though later they were used as rescue animals. The monks still maintain the grounds and give comfort and information to travelers today.

Is the Great St Bernard Pass steep?

The pass has been climbed several times by the Tour of France and the Giro d'Italia bicycle races. To reach the summit there are 2 possible routes. From Sembrancher, in Switzerland, the ascent is 30.6 km long with an elevation gain of 1.752 meters. The average percentage is 5.7 %. And from Aosta, in Italy, the ascent is 32.05 km long and the elevation gain is 1.878 meters. The average percentage is 5.9 %.

Is the Great St Bernard Pass open?

The road to the summit is usually open from the end of May to mid October, although this can change depending on snow fall and weather each year. Remember weather in the Alps can be cold at night, even during the summer months, so make sure you pack warm clothes. You might encounter snow even during the summer. The snow in the pass in winter may be as much as 10 meters deep. The temperature may drop as low as -30°C. The lake in the pass is frozen for 265 days per year. A tunnel through the mountains that was built in 1964 allows travelers to make the journey unhindered during the winter, which is good news if you decide to visit during that time. Opened at 1915 meters above sea level, the road link has largely been safe against winter weather since then.

 

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