Great St. Bernard Pass (Fr. Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard, It. Colle del Gran San Bernardo) (el. 2469 m.) is the third highest road pass in Switzerland. It connects Martigny in the Canton of Valais in Switzerland to Aosta in Italy. It is the lowest pass lying on the ridge between the two highest summits of the Alps, Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa.
The Great Saint Bernard Pass, in French language named Col du Grand Saint Bernard, runs almost exactly north to south and connects Switzerland, the Canton of Valais (Valais, VS) in the north, to Italy and the Aosta Valley in the south. This Alps crossing is an important route between Geneva and Turino, and was therefore in addition to the pass crossing, equipped with a toll tunnel. This allows to keep that connection open for the whole year, whereby the pass road across the summit is usually reopend from the beginning of June at the Pentecost weekend.
Starting in Martigny, the town where tours in three directions can be started, namely to the north across the Col de la Croix, to the west across the Col de la Forclaz or south across the Great Saint Bernard Pass, the road runs in a valley to the south, very well developed with good light curves up the mountain.
The route leads uphill past several small village like Liddes and Bourg-St-Pierre and you already have direct view to the Mont Velan (3,731m), where to the right the pass road continues from Switzerland over to Italy. A short distance, when you look to that mountain chain from the South, to the left of the pass you will find the border triangle of Switzerland, France and Italy. This three country border point was placed exactly on the summit of Mont Dolent (3,820m). You notice on the altitude that we already approach the 4,000m mark, since we are already in the Mont Blanc massif region.
In Bourg Saint Pierre we pass the last gas station before the pass and we reach after a view miles the Lac des Toules dam at 1,840m above sea level. Here the road enters in an avalanche tunnel. After about 3km ride in the avalanche tunnel and approximately at 1,920m altitude, the road leads straight into the toll tunnel and an exit to the right allows to leave the tunnel up to the “Col” (pass summit). We leave the avalanche tunnel and reach a plateau with buildings for the tunnel maintenance and an ugly graveled parking lot. From here, the pass road runs in many small curves and serpentines, following a nice little valley, up to the pass summit.
The road is in good condition, in several sections secured with barriers and winds up at the right side of the valley to the top of the pass, where at the last mile falling rocks are a risk. This means that some precaution must be taken, smaller and medium-sized rocks may lay on the road, especially shortly after the opening of the pass. This is caused by the melting process of the iced stone walls aside the road. On the pass summit you then reach the hospice with the Saint Bernard dogs. The buildings are connected to an archway over the road. After the archway, you will overlook a small lake and on the other side of the lake the border to Italy. The famous Bernhardiner dogs are no longer kept up here with the moncs, but now kept down in Martigny.
When you have passed the two border stations in Switzerland and Italy, the pass road is then leaving in a right turn the small plateau and disappears instantly and again in a small avalanche gallery. As the pictures show, we navigated this pass in June and in October. In June we had snow piled up to 7m and the warm wind produced lots of snow drifts. At this Pentecost weekend we saw already the first campers driving up to the summit. This resulted, due to the narrow canyon road and the snow walls, in a few small traffic jams.
After about 14km winding roads riding fun downhill, we reach the tree line and the pass road hits at 1,460m at Saint Rhemy En Bosses back on to the wide road from the tunnel. At this toll station you will also find a small refreshment bar with a gas station. From here the road runs very wide extended in long curves down to Aosta into the Aosta valley.”