Great Saint Bernard Pass, Italy travel guide and highlights

Photo of Great Saint Bernard Pass (Aosta valley region)

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Visit Great Saint Bernard Pass

The Great Saint Bernard Pass - the Colle del San Gran Bernardo - lies on the border between Italy and Switzerland, in the Alps of northern Valle dAosta at a height of 2469 metres above sea level.

As well as being famous for its scenic attractions, the Colle di San Gran Bernardo is the place where the renowned Saint Bernard rescue dogs were trained from the 11th century onwards. Not sure if the dog was named after the pass, or the other way around?

...in fact both are named after the monastery in the 'valley' - at the highest point on the road and historically a shelter for pilgrims en-route for Rome.

The pass has been important over a very long period of time - originally there was a trail here 5000 years ago, and the Romans also had a road across the col - you can see parts of this road in places near the summit, a little higher up the hillside than the current road.

More recently, Napoleon and his army used the Great Saint Bernard Pass to enter Italy in 1800 - an even immortalised in a very famous painting by Jaques David. (I have been told that he actually crossed the pass on a donkey, but that would have made for a rather less heroic image.)

The monastery itself is still open to visitors, and also contains an interesting small museum on the mountain pass (note: the monastery is just across the border in Switzerland, so bring a passport if you plan to visit).

The Saint Bernard Pass itself is well worth visiting for the mix of forested valley and dramatic mountain scenery that it provides, although access is restricted (by the weather) outside the summer months, and is typically only open from June to September.

At the highest point, the lake and monastery with a backdrop of mountains is quite an exceptional sight.

If you prefer to leave the car behind there is a popular trail that leads to the pass. The absence of large traffic also make this old route across the Saint Bernard Pass a very popular cycling route - or rather, cycling challenge, since 2000 metres of climb is no mean feat!

Note: it is no longer necessary to cross the pass when travelling between Italy and Switzerland - 50 years ago a tunnel was built through the mountain - so the route is now primarily used for leisure and sport.

Main photo is view of the Gran San Bernardo mountain crossing from the Italian border.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Aosta valley guide.

See also:

Map of Great Saint Bernard Pass and places to visit

Places to visit near Great Saint Bernard Pass

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