Mont Blanc_27-12-2019_@La Rosière Tourisme

The “Petit Saint-Bernard” pass

 

LIVE (update11.02.2023) : Since the November 2nd 2023, the Col du Petit Saint-Bernard is closed for the winter 2023-2024 .

Before entering the Italian territory, please read the information to travellers on https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/italy/entry-requirements#entry-rules-in-response-to-coronavirus-covid-19

ACCESSIBILITY

At an altitude of 2 ,188m, the Petit-Saint-Bernard pass (Col du Petit Saint-Bernard in French or Colle del Piccolo San Bernardo in Italian) marks the border between France and Italy

In summer, visitors can drive, cycle or take a bus from La Rosière to the pass , but in winter it can only be reached by ski, via the slopes of the Espace San Bernardo.

Once you enter the pass, you cannot help but admire the beauty of the landscapes and quickly realise that the site has been the backdrop for many important historic events.

Thanks to its position between to valleys, the pass has been considered a strong strategic foothold since earliest Antiquity, both as a site for discussions and a site for conflicts. Today, however, the border control building is empty and the customs officers are long gone! Visitors can look around the Chanousia botanical gardens, stroll through the Cromlech − which dates back to the Neolithic period − or enjoy a meal at the Petit-Saint-Bernard hospice.

Crossing the pass

During the Antiquity, the Salassi, the gallic tribe linving in Aosta valley used to reach the pass to meet their neighbours from Tarentaise, the Ceutrones. According some historic authors, Hannibal crossed the Petit-Saint-Bernard pass in 218BC with his 40 elephants to join the Pô Valley.

In 45 BC, the Roman Empire started to built a roman road, between Milan and Vienne (near Lyon) going through the pass. This road remained the only access to the pass until the beginning of the 20th Century, all year round. It’s now a MTB or pedestrian track.

The current road was built between 1858 and 1873 and officially opened in 1897 by the French Republic President Félix Faure. Yet, the first car to take this road did it in 1905.

Petit Saint-Bernard Hospice

It was back in the 11th century that Saint Bernard de Menthon, had the Petit-Saint-Bernard hospice built on the actual italian side of the pass. Around 100 year later, Pierre II, bischop of Tarentaise had it rebuilt at his current place. A hospice was a religious house that welcomed in everyone for a shelter and food. Each person paid a fee depending on their income. Over the years, the building has suffered greatly at the hands of history and climate. It was originally administrated by, the convent of Saint-Gilles-de-Verrès in Aosta valley.  In 1466, the hospice was assigned to the Grand-Saint-Bernard hospice and run by three priests. The two hospices were separated in 1752 and from this date the hospice pertains to the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus. During the Second World War, the hospice was caught up in many battles. Partially destroyed, it was forced to close.

In 1993, an association created by Jean-Luc Penna put the wheels in motion to restore the Hospice. A collaborative project run by this association, the Communauté de Communes de Haute-Tarentaise, the county of Savoie, the village of La Thuile in Valle d’Aosta and the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus led to the restoration of the building.

Since 2014, the building has recovered its original mission as a place providing hospitality, although pilgrims have now been replaced by hikers, tourists and other travellers who choose to eat or spend the night in this building steeped in history.

The Hospice also houses a tourist information point, which provides information and documentation about the Haute Tarentaise, as well as temporary exhibitions. The Petit-Saint-Bernard Hospice is managed by Sophie Bornet, who receive guests and serve meals day and night!