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Colle del Gran San Bernardo 2473m

Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc) 4807m

Col de la Forclaz



The Alpine Mountains & Valleys

Alpine Passes* (with links)

Monte Bianco


Colle d. Gran San Bernardo (this page)


Monte Cervino (The Matterhorn)


Colle d. Piccolo San Bernardo


Val d'Aosta


Col de Montgenevre


Link to Wikipedia page on alpine passes

*and still on our list - the Simplon and San Gotthard passes






Still below the tree line on the way up in early July 2006 - that's James Fletcher standing, not sure who is lying down.  In the middle ground is the start of the upper Monte Bianco Galleria (tunnel).



Nothing like a scorching hot July (2005) Sunday to lure large crowds of Italians in cars and motorbikes up the 2 x Punto (in the good places) wide switchback road through the gorges and mountain meadows to the 2473M Gran San Bernardo Pass.  One of these years we are going to drive it going south (down) as the views must be spectacular.  The old (upper) Mont Blanc / Gran San Bernardo tunnel heads off under the mountains on the left of the bridge you can see in the distance on the first photo, and rejoins the pass road on the other (Swiss) side. 



On the Swiss side of the lake at the pass (below) is the Hospice on the site of the one originally built in the 960s by the Archdeacon of Aosta, Bernard di Menthon (Saint Bernard of Menthon 923 - 1008 (81)) (statue, above, on the Italian / Swiss border), to cement control of the pass after it had been cleared of Saracen "toll collectors".  Fascinating how far inland into Europe quite large groups of Saracens (Arabs) penetrated in the 800s and 900s, though they must have been bloody freezing up here.  The Hospice, now the home of the Canons Regular of Sant'Agostino, has an interesting museum and library, and also still has a few token St-Bernard dogs lazing around in summer, though they no longer take part in the rescue operations for which they were originally bred by the canons.  Nearby there are also some ruins from the earlier Roman guard station.


The other, much more famous San Bernardo (1090 - 1153 (63)), would also have used this, or the Piccolo San Bernardo (di Menthon) Pass, on the three or more trips he made to Italy from his Abbey of Clairvaux in Burgundy.  He was the driving force behind the huge 1100s expansion of the Cistercians (including into Lombardy), Chief Spruiker of the disastrous (for the crusaders) Second Crusade (1147 - 1149), writer of the Constitution of the Knights Templar and generally top mover and shaker of Christian Europe in the 1120s, 30s and 40s.


Another famous crosser was Napoleon, who came over the pass in 1800 on his way to pillage Italy.  This event was famously captured (4 times) by Jaques-Louis David and his studio - the version below being in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.  Napoleon had an army of 40,000 with him but still had to also offer financial bonuses to the local populus to help carry his heavy canons over the pass.  Later the great plunderer reneged on this and other payment promises, leading to a very very long running dispute which has only recently been formally settled.  


The pass is so high that it is only open to road traffic for a few months in summer.  Our July crossings in 2005 and 2006 were both blessed with stunning weather, but this is the exception rather than the rule -  only a couple of weeks before the 2005 crossing the temperature here had been nearly freezing, there was a gale force wind blowing and it was raining!!  The hospice / hotel is open all year, and is usually well populated in winter months with ski based pilgrim adventurers.


Link to Wikipedia page on alpine passes




The Hospice on the Swiss side of the Gran San Bernardo Pass border (first established in the 960s)




Looking back on Italy from the old hospice (where they bred the famous Saint Bernard dogs) on the Swiss side of the Gran San Bernardo Pass (2,473 M).  The main road below goes past the Swiss border control (on the right) then anticlockwise round the lake to the Italian border control just to the left of the white building, then down a steep hill which begins at the building at the top left of the lake. 


Left:  Looking back during the descent from the Colle del Gran San Bernardo on the Swiss side, this is the first view of the Alps that pilgrims travelling the other way (south) on the Via Roma / Francigena would have had.


Team Paradox has done this crossing twice, both times going north to Burgundy.  To achieve this you hang a left at Martigny (Switzerland)  and take the beautiful road to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (France) over the Col. de la Forclaz.  This more benign mountain pass road is full of hikers and cyclists at weekends and (on a good day) spectacular vistas of the Mont-Blanc range and glaciers through the pine forests.  We like to think that it is the most likely way the monks of the Clunaic and Cistercian Abbeys (including San Bernardo (1090 - 1153 (63)), would have made their pilgrimages to Rome.



Mont Blanc (4807m) from the East - heading towards the lower (tolled) Mont Blanc Tunnel on the way to Italy in June 2006



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