Les cols du Saint-Bernard
Spectacular high-altitude hike straddling the Swiss/Italian border: three scenic cols, an idyllic cluster of alpine lakes and the Great St Bernard Pass with its ancient hospice and famous kennels.
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The Great St Bernard Pass has been an important alpine crossing since Roman times, a major link between northern and southern Europe. The historic pass road also gives access to thrilling hiking terrain. This trail starting at the pass is a high-altitude loop featuring three climbs to mountain cols, each revealing different views. A little past midway round the loop, the Lacs de Fenêtre are three idyllic mountain lakes on a flower-filled plateau at about 2,500 m. The view of Mont Blanc and its neighbouring snow-capped peaks is sublime. Hikers should allow time to explore the pass area and its historical hospice, founded in the 11th century to offer shelter to travellers and pilgrims. Highlights include a fine baroque church and its glittering treasury. A small museum explores the local fauna and flora, geology and climate, and traces the pass’s eventful history – including Napoleon’s crossing in 1800 with an army of 40,000. Throughout the Middle Ages, pilgrims crossed the pass on their way to Rome – following an itinerary first described by Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury, who passed this way at the end of the 10th century. Today, the Via Francigena once again offers hikers a historical trail all the way from Canterbury to Rome – which our alpine loop follows for its final climb up to the pass. The stars of the hospice, however, are the St Bernard dogs, kept by monks here for centuries. Today, the breeding kennel is in Martigny, run by the Fondation Barry, but every year some of the dogs return to spend the summer up at the pass – now in new kennels, inaugurated in 2017. Visitors can accompany dogs on guided walks in the surrounding mountains. Admission to the kennels and museum is free with the PASS Saint-Bernard – which also covers a wide variety of other attractions in the region plus public transport. Highlights Dramatic scenery – one pass, three cols, three mountain lakes, spectacular views Historic hospice, church and museum St Bernard dog kennels