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⛪ Great St Bernard Hospice

1946 Bourg-Saint-Pierre
Phone 1
2017 Aug
  • Date de Visite

Great St Bernard Hospice

The Great St. Bernard Hospice is located for almost 1000 years at the top of the Great St. Bernard Pass at an altitude of 2473 metres, which is one of the major communication routes between the South and the North of the Alps.

Location of the pass various curiosities
Location of the pass various curiosities

Although the dogs of the hospice are the emblematic figures of the pass, there are a multitude of curiosities near the hospice:

  • Hospice (tomb and treasure)
  • Hospice Inn
  • Souvenir shop
  • Kennel
  • Museum
  • Lake
  • Old customs
  • Swiss-Italian border
  • Bernard of Menthon statue



Parking just before the hospice or just after along the lake or on the Italian side near the Statue of Bernard of Menthon.


The use of the Great St. Bernard Pass is very old and dates back to before the Romans, but it was the Romans who built a road with bridges, trenches and tunnels as well as several buildings at the summit. The pass is open from May to mid-October before being covered by snow.

Road sign for the Great St. Bernard Pass.
 Road sign for the Great St. Bernard Pass.

Together with the Gotthard Pass in Switzerland and the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy, the Great St. Bernard Pass is one of the most important Alpine passes for crossing the Alps on the north-south axis. The Great St. Bernard Pass is the third highest road pass in Switzerland after the Umbrail Pass (2503 m) and the Nuffenen Pass (2480 m). The Umbrail Pass is located in Graubünden on the Italian border and the Nufenen Pass is entirely within Switzerland between the cantons of Valais and Ticino.

The site of the Great St Bernard in winter when the pass is closed to traffic. Photo: Arnaud Dorsaz, Instagram.
The site of the Great St Bernard in winter when the pass is closed to traffic

Great St Bernard Hospice

The monuments built by the Romans disappeared at the end of their empire around the 500’s. It was around the year 1000 that Bernard of Menthon (1021-1080) had a hospice built to help and rescue travellers. It is in his honour that the pass then takes its name, the pass was previously called Col du Mont-Joux, Joux meaning Jupiter in Latin. Bernard became a Saint at his canonization in 1123.

It should be noted that Bernard de Menthon had another hospice built at the pass between the Val d’Aoste in Italy and Savoy in France, which also took his name and was called Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard because the pass is lower (2188m) than its counterpart in Switzerland.

The “Plane of Jupiter” archaeological site.
The "Plane of Jupiter" archaeological site.

In the Great St Bernard hospice, one can visit:

  • The treasury, which has been open to the public since 1992 and houses objects from the 11th century.
  • The tomb of the French general Louis Desaix (1764-1800).

Desaix was a soldier who distinguished himself in Egypt before dying in the battle of Marango in Italy against the Austrians. In 1806 Napoleon had a tomb sent to him from Paris, which is now on the stairs between the first and second floors. Desaix’s body is buried in the chapel.

The hospice treasury.
The hospice treasury.

The Tomb of General Desaix.
The Tomb of General Desaix.


The pass is entirely within Switzerland, the border is 100 meters below and is symbolized by a stone marker. The Swiss border post, which no longer appears to be in operation, is located just before the boundary marker on the lakeshore. Indeed, the Schengen agreements, of which Switzerland is a part, have abolished border controls at the borders of their members.

Stone border post dating from 1931 and Swiss border post.
 Stone border post dating from 1931 Swiss border post.


Located in Italy and Switzerland at 2444 m, the lake flows on the Italian side to form the Great Saint Bernard torrent.

The lake of the Great-Saint-Bernard.
The lake of the Great-Saint-Bernard.

Bernard of Menthon statue

On the Italian side, there are a few small houses selling tourist products and a pretty peninsula where you can enjoy picnic tables. The statue of Bernard of Menthon is standing on a small hillock. He holds the devil at his feet on a leash.

Bernard of Menthon statue.
Bernard of Menthon statue.


The Great St Bernard hospice is connected to the Inn by a covered passageway on the road to the pass. On the ground floor there is a souvenir shop.

The entrance to the hostel with the passageway on the road.
The entrance to the hostel the passageway on the road.

Adjacent to the hostel is the entrance to the monastic store with the Kennel and the Museum.

Monastic store

The monastic shop allows you to find some souvenirs and gives access to the Kennel and the museum.

The monastic store.
The monastic store.


The museum adjacent to the hostel presents the history of the pass and its hospice on several floors. It contains a lot of information, such as the local weather records with a total snowfall of 24 m in 1914 and winds of 268 km/h in 1990.

Napoleon is the emblematic figure who crossed the pass in May 1800 accompanied by 40’000 armed men to link Italy. The museum shows the various people who crossed the pass with a notorious mistake, that of Hannibal, who is now known not to have used the pass to fight the Romans.

A well-known painting of Napoleon crossing the Great St Bernard Pass painted by Jean-Louis David.
A well-known painting of Napoleon crossing the Great St Bernard Pass painted by Jean-Louis David.

The Lombards coming from Italy crossed it to help the troops of the Duke of Burgundy during the Burgundian Wars at the end of the 15th century.

Photos of the museum.
Great St Bernard Hospice museum Great St Bernard Hospice museum


The presence of the Dogs at the Great St. Bernard Hospice dates back to the 17th century and was intended to help or find lost travellers. Breeding from farm dogs from the region led to the current breed, which was recognized at the end of the 19th century and took the name of the pass.

In 2005 the canons handed over the dog breeding to the Barry Foundation. Since then, the dogs no longer live permanently on the pass but only during the summer opening of the pass to perpetuate the tradition and the tourist symbol. The dogs live in Martigny in the Barryland, a name that comes from an emblematic dog, Barry, who lived in the early 1800s and saved dozens of people.

Les cages du chenil.
Les cages du chenil près de l'Hospice du Grand-Saint-Bernard

Cable car

Slightly higher than the museum are the remains of the departure station of the old cable car, which operated from 1954 to 1986 and allowed, in summer, to enjoy the view of Mont Blanc.


A 6 km long tunnel was dug in 1964 between Bourg-St-Pierre and Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses in Italy in order to allow crossing the Alps in all seasons. Unlike the St Gotthard, the tunnel is not free of charge.


A video about the pass site.

A video about the attractions located at the pass.


Related attractions

Attractions in the canton of Valais
Attractions in the region of Entremont

Religious buildings in Western Switzerland

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