Great St Bernard Attractions
Great St BernardIn Switzerland and in ItalyHeight of pass: 2,469 m/8,101ftThe road over the Great St Bernard pass, between the Mont Blanc group and the Valais Alps, the highest pass road in the Swiss Alps after the Umbrail road, is for the most part excellently engineered (maximum gradient 11%), but is usually open only from the middle or end of June until October.
The drive through the defiles of the Drance valley on the north side and above all the descent from the rugged world of the mountains into the southern beauty of the Aosta valley is a great scenic experience.The construction of the St Bernard tunnel (5,828 m/19,122ft long, carriageway 7.5 m/25ft; toll) in 1959-63 made the road passable throughout the year and shortened the distance between western Switzerland and Italy in winter by several hundred kilometers.This ancient and historic traffic route was used by the Celts, from 105 B.C. onwards by the Romans, in 547 by the Lombards and later by many German emperors traveling to Italy (Charlemagne in 773, Henry IV on his journey to Canossa in 1077, Frederick Barbarossa in 1175). In May 1800 Napoleon led an army of 30,000 men over the pass to Aosta and Milan in order to expel the Austrians from Italy (Battle of Marengo).
Bourg-St-Pierre (Grand Combin)
From Martigny the road climbs the wild narrow valley of the Drance, passing through the village of Sembrancher at the mouth of the Val de Bagnes, to Orsières, and then up the featureless Vallée d'Entremont to Bourg-St-Pierre (1,634 m/5,631ft), a little market town in a wider part of the valley at the mouth of the Valsorey. The parish church (1739) has an 11th C. tower. Beside the church is a Roman milestone (fourth century AD). From here a number of difficult climbs can be undertaken including Mont Vélan (3,765 m/12,353ft; seven-eight hours, with guide) and the Grand Combin (4,317 m/ 14,164ft; 11 hours, with guide).
Great St Bernard Tunnel
From Bourg-St-Pierre a covered concrete road (8 m/26ft wide, maximum gradient 6% (1 in 16) runs up the east side of the valley above the Défilé de Saraire and past the Lac des Toules (1,800 m/5,906ft), an artificial lake (capacity 20million cu. m/706million cu. ft) formed by a dam 80 m/262ft high (short tunnel).The road then reaches Bourg-St-Bernard, at the entrance (station, 1,915 m/6,283ft; passport and customs control; toll charge) to the Great St Bernard tunnel. To the left are the Petit Vélan (3,233 m/10,607ft) and the snow-capped summit of Mont Vélan.Cableway (2,530 m/8,301ft, 14minutes) to the Col de Menouve (2,753 m/9,033ft; Super-St-Bernard winter sports center; magnificent ski trails).From here the route continues either through the tunnel (maximum speed in tunnel 60km/h;37 m.p.h.) and on a covered road (9.5km/6mi long, 9 m/30ft wide) to beyond St-Rhémy, or on the old road over the Great St Bernard.
Over the Great St Bernard
The road over the Great St Bernard runs southwest over the Alpine meadows, strewn with rock debris, of the Plan de Proz to the Cantine d'en Haut (1,905 m/6,250ft), and from there through a wild gorge, the Pas de Marengo, to the huts of Hospitalet (2,100 m/6,899ft). After crossing the Drance on the Pont Nudry (2,190 m/7,185ft) it winds its way up to the pass through the desolate Combe des Morts, which is filled with snow right into the height of summer.
Great St Bernard Pass
The Great St Bernard pass (2,469 m/8,101ft), used since ancient times, crosses the main ridge of the Alps, between the Mont Mort (2,867 m/9,407ft) on the left and the Pic de Drona (2,950 m/9,679ft) on the right. In summer the Swiss customs control takes place here.
The Mauvoisin Dam (alt 1,961m/6,433ft) is one of the highest arched-type dams in the world (237m/778ft). The dam blocks a wild ravine in the Upper Bagnes Valley, creating a reservoir of 40,000 million gallons of water for the Fionnay and Riddes power stations.
The famous Hospice founded about 1049 by St Bernard of Menthon (d. 1081) to succor distressed travelers is now occupied by Augustinian Canons. In the old buildings (16th C.) are the monks' quarters and the guest-rooms of the hospice, which now accommodate only groups of young people. The new building (1898) has been occupied by a hotel since 1925. In the church (1676-78) is the tomb of the French General Desaix, who was killed in the Battle of Marengo. The Museum contains Celtic and Roman antiquities from the Plan de Jupiter, relics of Napoleon, a natural history collection and a library of 30,000 volumes. The Hospice is famous also for the St Bernard dogs bred by the monks and used to scent out travelers lost in the snow.Chairlift (10 minutes) to La Chenalette (2,800 m/9,187ft) from which there are superb views.
Great-Saint-Bernard - Hospice Treasure
Church treasures are on display including altar clothes, crosses, and chalices.
Plan de Jupiter to Aosta (Italy)
The Great St Bernard road to Aosta (Italy) skirts a small lake, rarely ice-free even in summer, through which runs the Swiss-Italian frontier (Italian customs control in summer). To the right is the Plan de Jupiter, with a stone cross (1816) and a bronze statue of St Bernard (1905). The name Plan de Jupiter, like the earlier name of the pass, Mont Joux (Mons Jovis), recalls a Roman temple to Jupiter Poeninus which stood here. The road now descends in a wide curve past the hamlet of La Baux and a large crag, the Gour des Fous, to the Cantine d'Aoste (2,217 m/7,274ft; Italian customs), in a green hollow. From here it winds its way down to Aosta. To the left is the exit from the tunnel (1,875 m/6,152ft; Italian and Swiss passport and customs control for entry to Switzerland). The road then crosses the expressway coming from the tunnel and descends, with two sharp turns, to the left bank of the Torrente Artanavaz and the village of St Rhémy (1,632 m/5,355ft) which is situated in a wooded defile. The expressway bypasses the village to the west. The road then bears right through the deeply eroded Combes des Bosses, and in another 2.5km/2mi is joined by the expressway from the tunnel exit (9.5km/6mi).
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