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GSB: A guide to crossing the Great St Bernard Pass

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timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
A Guide to crossing the Great St Bernard Pass (this is a long post: you might want to grab a coffee before you start!;))

I crossed the pass twice last year and did not find a single site or book which gathered together all the information I wanted, so I thought I would put something on record myself. I was somewhat confused, not knowing quite where the road and the tunnel began and ended, nor what the different options were. Many people did help me with information at that time, both on this forum and elsewhere and I renew my thanks to them. I hope others will be able to add to this post, and in particular to make corrections and to update it.

The Great St Bernard Pass, or the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard, or the Colle del Gran San Bernardo (henceforth GSB) is at 2473m (8114 ft) and it is the commonest place for pilgrims walking to Rome to cross from Switzerland into Italy. You can of course walk in the opposite direction.

The highest point of the pass is in Switzerland, but at that point you are just about 200m from the Italian border. There are no border formalities, just a sign at the edge of the road and an unmanned customs post. If you are walking from Canterbury to Rome, the GSB is more or less the halfway point of your journey, depending on your route. It is about 1000km from Canterbury.

The pass has been used for a very long time with evidence it was of usage during the Bronze Age. It was very important during the duration of the Roman Empire. Hannibal probably didn’t cross the Alps at that point, see here (though alternative myths, legends and facts are available). Napoleon certainly did.

There are essentially for the walker three ways to cross the pass:
When is the pass ‘open”? The pass is ALWAYS open – but it is not always passable. This is the opposite to the Route Napoleon for crossing the Pyrenees from St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles on the Camino Frances. That route is officially closed during the winter months for safety reasons and if you use it and require to be rescued you will be fined.

The famous hospice of the Canons Regular of St Bernard of Menton is situated at the pass in Switzerland, and has been there for over 1000 years, during which time it has “never closed”. Canons by the way are priests who live in community, but who are not technically monks. These priests staff the Hospice and a number of parishes in the mountains around about.

So, if the pass is ‘always open’, what is the big issue? The big issue is snow. In 2017-2018 the snowfall during the winter was 18m. It is very, very cold by night and by day, it snows often and it can also be very windy and very foggy. Note that the big issue is not the altitude per se. The rate of ascent on footpath or road is not a problem for a fit walker and your ascent is over several days.

What is usually meant, I think, when people ask ‘is the pass open?’ is: ‘is the tarmac road open?’ And this is the key. There is an old tarmac road which runs through the pass from Switzerland into Italy. It is a perfectly normal tarred road, with one lane in either direction, which winds gently up through the pass and down the other side. It is clearly well maintained in what must be very punishing conditions.

I am considering the default way to the pass to be by foot. The footpath is very well waymarked with yellow-and-black painted lozenges and frequent signposts. It is very narrow in parts and clings to the side of the mountains but never in a dangerous way or in a way which would disturb people who do not like heights. (I am uncomfortable with heights myself.) In terms of difficulty I would say that the stretch from Martigny to Orsières, and in particular from Martigny to Sembrancher was much more physically challenging than any part of the road over the pass during the summer.

When there is no snow, I think the footpath would be the obvious way of choice and it is shorter than the road (because it is steeper in parts and doesn’t meander as much). If you start in Bourg St Pierre, a village with hotels and bars, you cross the valley and walk up on a path on the far side of a large reservoir, with the road clearly visible at all times back across the valley on the “village side”. You are committed to staying on that side of the reservoir until you come to Bourg St Pierre, the last-named habitation in Switzerland before the pass. If you change your mind and want to walk on the road, you will have to walk back to Bourg St Pierre first. If you change your mind and don't want to use the footpath, NOTE that you will have to walk back to Bourg St Pierre and THEN TAKE TRANSPORT (a bus or a lift), as far as the tunnel in Bourg St Bernard because you CANNOT walk through the galleries over the road leading up to the tunnel. There is nothing in Bourg St Bernard except the tunnel offices, and an old and dilapidated and very definitely (in 2018) abandoned road café.

So at Bourg St Pierre you finally make your choice. If the weather is good, continue on the clearly marked and very lovely footpath, which will bring you all the way to the hospice at the pass, crossing the tarmac road once or twice and bringing you past an emergency refuge which is open and which you can visit.

If the weather is poor, because of wind or rain, or particularly fog, or if there is snow on the path which is more than you are comfortable with, you can cross over very easily back to the tarmac road at this point. I am grateful to a clarification from Gaetan Tornay on this point. You CANNOT walk on the road from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard because you CANNOT walk through the galleries. So if you don't want to walk on the footpath across the valley, but want to take the road after the tunnel entrance you will have to get a lift or the bus from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard. You can of course also walk up from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard on the road, though there will always be traffic, even in winter as it is the road to the tunnel. In the last few kilometres prior to the tunnel there are “galleries” – a flat roof over the road, open on the valley side, which stops snow, avalanches and rockfalls from landing on the carriageway but these do not constitute part of the tunnel. They are very noisy.

The entrance to the tunnel is enclosed in a gallery. There are kiosks for paying the toll but no other facilities. Bourg St Bernard is also a bus stop and you can get on or off the bus there. The Swiss bus continues through the tunnel south to Aosta with perhaps half a dozen stops along the way in Italy. There is a useful app with timetables. Note that the bus does not operate every day of the week in the winter. You can also hitch a lift. I did this, and despite being old and benign-looking, I waited about two hours in sub-zero temperatures for someone to stop,

If the road is open, you can continue on the road, now much quieter in terms of traffic because much of the traffic will choose the tunnel. The road is dangerous in winter and is closed absolutely from about late September to early June ,and you cannot then drive or walk on it. The exact dates vary from year to year.

The road is opened by being cleared of snow, by heavy machinery, initially leaving walls of snow to right and left. These are dangerous and likely to fall onto the road. Once the road is formally opened, there will still at first be a lot of snow around, but I think the key is that once the road is officially open it is cleared every day of any snow which later accumulates. It can snow all year around – I had a snow shower at the pass in July.

The photo in this article will give you a good idea of both cleared road and remaining snow.
https://www.rts.ch/info/regions/valais/9624838-le-col-du-grand-saint-bernard-a-nouveau-ouvert-aux-voitures-pour-l-ete.html

So from June to September you are essentially guaranteed to be able to walk across easily because the road is available as a backup in case the footpath is difficult. Or you may simply prefer the road.

In what sense is the pass ‘always open’? You can get to it at any time of the year by cross-country skiing – and that is how the priests at the hospice travel up and down when necessary throughout the winter. I am not a skier, but I think you would need to have prior skill and experience to do this, and probably a guide.

There is an intermediate time, in the weeks before the road is opened and after the road is closed, when the footpath may still be passable on foot. You can borrow or rent snowshoes (racquettes) if you plan to walk in the snow. You can rent them from Cristal Sports which is in Orsières. It is a regular sports shop easy to find in the small town. I understand that you can make an arrangement by phone to be served “out of hours’ if necessary, although I have no experience of this.

Here is what I did. I was time-constrained and had to leave Canterbury on April 1st so I arrived in Bourg St Pierre on May 6th. I had never expected to be able to walk across the pass in May and was expecting to take the bus. However, I was in contact with a few people ahead of me on Facebook and I think two pairs and a threesome had reached the pass separately on snowshoes during the ten days ahead of me, which meant I was open to trying. But the road itself was absolutely closed.

I decided to stay in the very comfortable and not cheap, but hugely friendly, Bivouac Napoleon Hotel. It is at the site where Napoleon and his troops bivvied in 1800. They are very knowledgeable about the conditions and were encouraging about my chances. You need to check every day. I also phoned the priests at the hospice and was told it was feasible to attempt the trip on snowshoes next day. The Bivouac gives free loan of snowshoes to guests – you return them to a bar on the far side and they come back with the postman. There is a similar arrangement for Cristal Sports. I had not come upon any snow on any road or path up to Bourg St Pierre, though there was snow certainly on the mountains around. I woke early on the Monday morning to dazzling light through the curtains as it had snowed moderately heavily during the night. There is no bus on a Monday, and it was clearly impossible to walk, so I decided to stay for the day in the hotel. I would decide later in the day: if I couldn't walk by Tuesday, I would need to get the bus through the tunnel then. There is a nice church and a friendly bar in the village where you could idle an hour or two. There is even a swimming pool. During the day, the temperature rose and the snow on the main road outside the hotel cleared. I discussed my options and was encouraged to try the next day, so I was loaned snowshoes and practised a little walking in them.

Next morning, I left at 0800 and crossed the valley and walked on the waymarked footpath from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard. It was not easy but was not too difficult. There was snow on the path, and I needed to use the snowshoes for many stretches, though I found them an encumbrance when the snow cleared occasionally. It was very cold, but not windy nor raining and I did not find the cold a problem while I was moving. For that 10km I could always see ahead of me the next waymarker. It was difficult at times and on a few occasions, I had to take my own diversion because the footpath was blocked with a mini-avalanche – perhaps a height of 10 feet of snow. There was wispy fog, but visibility was over 50m. I am a fairly careful person, and I don’t take unnecessary risks, and can honestly say I did not feel in any danger for this stage of the walk. I took a twenty-minute break at the southern end of the reservoir, where it is possible to cross over back to the tarmac road and where you are at the beginning of the tunnel and from where the tarmac road continues up to the pass.

I continued onward on the footpath and from here the path initially is a moderately steep climb. I continued for another one and a half or two kilometres in increasingly difficult conditions, and two things made me decide to turn back. I sank up to my knees two or three times in fresh snow and eventually I came to a point where I could not see the next waymarker on any rock or tree. So I turned around and came down again which was not extremely easy! However after about 40 mins I was back at the point at which you can cross to the road.

I rested outside the crumbling café building and rang the hospice. Absolument non! I was told when I asked if I could walk up on the road. “Under no circumstances.” So that was the end of that adventure. I waited inside the cavernous, cold and dark tunnel entrance for a lift for two hours, by now shivering vigorously. Two things would have made a slight difference. If I had rung the hospice at 0800 that day, they would have told me not to attempt walking. And having a walking companion for that one day would have made things a bit easier.

The tunnel is passed in a matter of minutes, it is only about 5km. The road thereafter through galleries goes down quickly and soon I was in St Rhemy-en-Bosses on a beautiful late spring day. I alighted and stayed there the night.

Was it dangerous? Yes. Was it foolhardy or reckless? I don’t think so. If I made a mistake it was not ringing the hospice on the same morning I walked and instead depending on the advice I had received the previous day.

Epilogue. Another 1000km of walking saw me to Rome and I arrived on 28th June, the day before the important feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. I had a few days in hand before I had to get back home so I took an overnight bus from Rome to Aosta and then took a local bus back across the pass. During the summer, this is two buses. There is a local bus from Aosta to the pass which drops you at the door of the hospice. After half an hour a Swiss bus comes to bring you back over the road and on I think to Martigny. I got off at Bourg St Bernard, just at the tunnel entrance (though the bus obviously does not come through the tunnel in summer.) And so on July 1st I made my way to the very spot where I had abandoned my journey on May 8th. It was high summer, with only the last vestiges of snow in deep gullies. The footpath was like walking though the English Lake District in Summer. At the very place where I had stopped and turned back there was a man fishing in a stream and a young couple sunbathing.

I walked easily back up towards the hospice, passing many recreational walkers who had made the day trip to the pass. I visited the emergency refuge and then came back to the hospice where I had changed buses a few hours before. Coach loads of chattering tourists filled the place. There is a hotel across the road from the hospice linked by a ‘bridge’. There is a bar and souvenir shop. If you walk the few hundred metres around the lake you come to Italy (and a huge drop in prices of beer, coffee and snacks). There is another hotel on the Italian side. Both hotels are only open in the summer.

I stayed for two nights in the hospice and I have to say I benefitted from the enormously generous 100% discount for priests. It is a hugely fascinating place, steeped in history, with a beautiful chapel and another prayer space in the crypt. The crowds at the pass on the Sunday were a little much for me but the Monday was quiet and gentle. Monday night there was a heavy snow and hail storm for about an hour which turned everything white, though it didn’t ‘stick’. And even in July it was very cold at night.

Finally next day I took the footpath back down to St Rhemy-en Bosses where I picked up the bus to Aosta. Along that final stretch of footpath is possibly the most haunting monument of the whole way – a simple white marble plaque dedicated to an unspecified number of zingari (‘gypsies’) ‘consumed in a whirlwind of snow.’ There is no date. Not everyone is walking for fun or recreation or pilgrimage…..for some it is a difficult way of life, up to the present day.

Tips.
  1. Ring ahead to the hospice on the morning of your walk if it is winter. The situation changes all the time and you need the most up-to-date information.
  2. If possible, walk with another person if you are crossing the pass in winter .
  3. If your plan is to start your walk in GSB I would strongly advise, whether you are coming at it from the Italian or the Swiss side, to go to Bourg St Bernard, or even to Bourg St Pierre and walk to the hospice from there. It is a stunning and unique walk and during the summer is not physically difficult and it is only a few hours walk. It is quite possible in the summer to continue on downhill in Italy but if you can afford the time and the money I would recommend a night or two at the pass.
Website of the tunnel http://www.letunnel.com/homepage.asp?l=3
A very useful website in French https://gsbernard.com/fr/?page=meteo-gsb
The Canons of St Bernard http://www.gsbernard.ch/
 
Last edited:

domigee

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF(x4), Fisterra/Muxía(x2), VdlP, Jerusalem, VF, Walsingham,
C inglés. Next: Gd St Bernard to Rome
What a very informative post, thank you.
 

mspath

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances, autumn/winter; 2004, 2005-2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
Thank you for sharing these unforgetable moments and most practical tips with your digital family and friends via this forum.

"...But to have been,
This once, completely, even if only once:
To have been at one with the earth, seems beyond undoing
."
Rainer Maria Rilke,
9th Duino Elegy
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Thank you for sharing these unforgetable moments and most practical tips with your digital family and friends via this forum.

"...But to have been,
This once, completely, even if only once:
To have been at one with the earth, seems beyond undoing
."
Rainer Maria Rilke,
9th Duino Elegy
What a wonderful and quite perfect quote. I know some of Rainer Maria Rilke, but not this!
 

kazrobbo

Tassie Kaz
Camino(s) past & future
CF(2012)
CP('15)
St Olavs Way Norway('16)
88 Temples Japan('17)
PWC & VF(2019)
Mozarabe & VdlP(2020)
A Guide to crossing the Great St Bernard Pass (this is a long post: you might want to grab a coffee before you start!;))

I crossed the pass twice last year and did not find a single site or book which gathered together all the information I wanted, so I thought I would put something on record myself. I was somewhat confused, not knowing quite where the road and the tunnel began and ended, nor what the different options were. Many people did help me with information at that time, both on this forum and elsewhere and I renew my thanks to them. I hope others will be able to add to this post, and in particular to make corrections and to update it.

The Great St Bernard Pass, or the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard, or the Colle del Gran San Bernardo (henceforth GSB) is at 2473m (8114 ft) and it is the commonest place for pilgrims walking to Rome to cross from Switzerland into Italy. You can of course walk in the opposite direction.

The highest point of the pass is in Switzerland, but at that point you are just about 200m from the Italian border. There are no border formalities, just a sign at the edge of the road and an unmanned customs post. If you are walking from Canterbury to Rome, the GSB is more or less the halfway point of your journey, depending on your route. It is about 1000km from Canterbury.

The pass has been used for a very long time with evidence it was of usage during the Bronze Age. It was very important during the duration of the Roman Empire. Hannibal probably didn’t cross the Alps at that point, see here (though alternative myths, legends and facts are available). Napoleon certainly did.

There are essentially for the walker three ways to cross the pass:
When is the pass ‘open”? The pass is ALWAYS open – but it is not always passable. This is the opposite to the Route Napoleon for crossing the Pyrenees from St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles on the Camino Frances. That route is officially closed during the winter months for safety reasons and if you use it and require to be rescued you will be fined.

The famous hospice of the Canons Regular of St Bernard of Menton is situated at the pass in Switzerland, and has been there for over 1000 years, during which time it has “never closed”. Canons by the way are priests who live in community, but who are not technically monks. These priests staff the Hospice and a number of parishes in the mountains around about.

So, if the pass is ‘always open’, what is the big issue? The big issue is snow. In 2017-2018 the snowfall during the winter was 18m. It is very, very cold by night and by day, it snows often and it can also be very windy and very foggy. Note that the big issue is not the altitude per se. The rate of ascent on footpath or road is not a problem for a fit walker and your ascent is over several days.

What is usually meant, I think, when people ask ‘is the pass open?’ is: ‘is the tarmac road open?’ And this is the key. There is an old tarmac road which runs through the pass from Switzerland into Italy. It is a perfectly normal tarred road, with one lane in either direction, which winds gently up through the pass and down the other side. It is clearly well maintained in what must be very punishing conditions.

I am considering the default way to the pass to be by foot. The footpath is very well waymarked with yellow-and-black painted lozenges and frequent signposts. It is very narrow in parts and clings to the side of the mountains but never in a dangerous way or in a way which would disturb people who do not like heights. (I am uncomfortable with heights myself.) In terms of difficulty I would say that the stretch from Martigny to Orsières, and in particular from Martigny to Sembrancher was much more physically challenging than any part of the road over the pass during the summer.

When there is no snow, I think the footpath would be the obvious way of choice and it is shorter than the road (because it is steeper in parts and doesn’t meander as much). If you start in Bourg St Pierre, a village with hotels and bars, you cross the valley and walk up on a path on the far side of a large reservoir, with the road clearly visible at all times back across the valley on the “village side”. You are committed to staying on that side of the reservoir until you come to Bourg St Pierre, the last-named habitation in Switzerland before the pass. If you change your mind and want to walk on the road, you will have to walk back to Bourg St Pierre first. There is nothing in Bourg St Bernard except the tunnel offices, and an old and dilapidated and very definitely (in 2018) abandoned road café.

So at Bourg St Pierre you finally make your choice. If the weather is good, continue on the clearly marked and very lovely footpath, which will bring you all the way to the hospice at the pass, crossing the tarmac road once or twice and bringing you past an emergency refuge which is open and which you can visit.

If the weather is poor, because of wind or rain, or particularly fog, or if there is snow on the path which is more than you are comfortable with, you can cross over very easily back to the tarmac road at this point. **I am grateful to a clarification from Gaetan Tornay on this point.** You CANNOT walk on the road from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard because you CANNOT walk through the galleries. So if you don't want to walk on the footpath across the valley, but want to take the road after the tunnel entrance you will have to get a lift or the bus from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard. You can of course also walk up from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard on the road, though there will always be traffic, even in winter as it is the road to the tunnel. In the last few kilometres prior to the tunnel there are “galleries” – a flat roof over the road, open on the valley side, which stops snow, avalanches and rockfalls from landing on the carriageway but these do not constitute part of the tunnel. They are very noisy.

The entrance to the tunnel is enclosed in a gallery. There are kiosks for paying the toll but no other facilities. Bourg St Bernard is also a bus stop and you can get on or off the bus there. The Swiss bus continues through the tunnel south to Aosta with perhaps half a dozen stops along the way in Italy. There is a useful app with timetables. Note that the bus does not operate every day of the week in the winter. You can also hitch a lift. I did this, and despite being old and benign-looking, I waited about two hours in sub-zero temperatures for someone to stop,

If the road is open, you can continue on the road, now much quieter in terms of traffic because much of the traffic will choose the tunnel. The road is dangerous in winter and is closed absolutely from about late September to early June ,and you cannot then drive or walk on it. The exact dates vary from year to year.

The road is opened by being cleared of snow, by heavy machinery,I nitially leaving walls of snow to right and left. These are dangerous and likely to fall onto the road. Once the road is formally opened, there will still at first be a lot of snow around, but I think the key is that once the road is officially open it is cleared every day of any snow which later accumulates. It can snow all year around – I had a snow shower at the pass in July.

The photo in this article will give you a good idea of both cleared road and remaining snow.
https://www.rts.ch/info/regions/valais/9624838-le-col-du-grand-saint-bernard-a-nouveau-ouvert-aux-voitures-pour-l-ete.html

So from June to September you are essentially guaranteed to be able to walk across easily because the road is available as a backup in case the footpath is difficult. Or you may simply prefer the road.

In what sense is the pass ‘always open’? You can get to it at any time of the year by cross-country skiing – and that is how the priests at the hospice travel up and down when necessary thrughout the winter. I am not a skier, but I think you would need to have prior skill and experience to do this, and probably a guide.

There is an intermediate time, in the weeks before the road is opened and after the road is closed, when the footpath may still be passable on foot. You can borrow or rent snowshoes (racquettes) if you plan to walk in the snow. You can rent them from Cristal Sports which is in Orsières. It is a regular sports shop easy to find in the small town. I understand that you can make an arrangement by phone to be served “out of hours’ if necessary, although I have no experience of this.

Here is what I did. I was time-constrained and had to leave Canterbury on April 1st so I arrived in Bourg St Pierre on May 6th. I had never expected to be able to walk across the pass in May and was expecting to take the bus. However, I was in contact with a few people ahead of me on Facebook and I think two pairs and a threesome had reached the pass separately on snowshoes during the ten days ahead of me, which meant I was open to trying. But the road itself was absolutely closed.

I decided to stay in the very comfortable and not cheap, but hugely friendly, Bivouac Napoleon Hotel. It is at the site where Napoleon and his troops bivvied in 1800. They are very knowledgeable about the conditions and were encouraging about my chances. You need to check every day. I also phoned the priests at the hospice and was told it was feasible to attempt the trip on snowshoes next day. The Bivouac gives free loan of snowshoes to guests – you return them to a bar on the far side and they come back with the postman. There is a similar arrangement for Cristal Sports. I had not come upon any snow on any road or path up to Bourg St Pierre, though there was snow certainly on the mountains around. I woke early on the Monday morning to dazzling light through the curtains as it had snowed moderately heavily during the night. There is no bus on a Monday, and it was clearly impossible to walk, so I decided to stay for the day in the hotel. I would decide later in the day: if I couldn't walk by Tuesday, I would need to get the bus through the tunnel then. There is a nice church and a friendly bar in the village where you could idle an hour or two. There is even a swimming pool. During the day, the temperature rose and the snow on the main road outside the hotel cleared. I discussed my options and was encouraged to try the next day, so I was loaned snowshoes and practised a little walking in them.

Next morning, I left at 0800 and crossed the valley and walked on the waymarked footpath from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard. It was not easy but was not too difficult. There was snow on the path, and I needed to use the snowshoes for many stretches, though I found them an encumbrance when the snow cleared occasionally. It was very cold, but not windy nor raining and I did not find the cold a problem while I was moving. For that 10km I could always see ahead of me the next waymarker. It was difficult at times and on a few occasions, I had to take my own diversion because the footpath was blocked with a mini-avalanche – perhaps a height of 10 feet of snow. There was wispy fog, but visibility was over 50m. I am a fairly careful person, and I don’t take unnecessary risks, and can honestly say I did not feel in any danger for this stage of the walk. I took a twenty-minute break at the southern end of the reservoir, where it is possible to cross over back to the tarmac road and where you are at the beginning of the tunnel and from where the tarmac road continues up to the pass.

I continued onward on the footpath and from here the path initially is a moderately steep climb. I continued for another one and a half or two kilometres in increasingly difficult conditions, and two things made me decide to turn back. I sank up to my knees two or three times in fresh snow and eventually I came to a point where I could not see the next waymarker on any rock or tree. So I turned around and came down again which was not extremely easy! However after about 40 mins I was back at the point at which you can cross to the road.

I rested outside the crumbling café building and rang the hospice. Absolument non! I was told when I asked if I could walk up on the road. “Under no circumstances.” So that was the end of that adventure. I waited inside the cavernous, cold and dark tunnel entrance for a lift for two hours, by now shivering vigorously. Two things would have made a slight difference. If I had rung the hospice at 0800 that day, they would have told me not to attempt walking. And having a walking companion for that one day would have made things a bit easier.

The tunnel is passed in a matter of minutes, it is only about 5km. The road thereafter through galleries goes down quickly and soon I was in St Rhemy-en-Bosses on a beautiful late spring day. I alighted and stayed there the night.

Was it dangerous? Yes. Was it foolhardy or reckless? I don’t think so. If I made a mistake it was not ringing the hospice on the same morning I walked and instead depending on the advice I had received the previous day.

Epilogue. Another 1000km of walking saw me to Rome and I arrived on 28th June, the day before the important feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. I had a few days in hand before I had to get back home so I took an overnight bus from Rome to Aosta and then took a local bus back across the pass. During the summer, this is two buses. There is a local bus from Aosta to the pass which drops you at the door of the hospice. After half an hour a Swiss bus comes to bring you back over the road and on I think to Martigny. I got off at Bourg St Bernard, just at the tunnel entrance (though the bus obviously does not come through the tunnel in summer.) And so on July 1st I made my way to the very spot where I had abandoned my journey on May 8th. It was high summer, with only the last vestiges of snow in deep gullies. The footpath was like walking though the English Lake District in Summer. At the very place where I had stopped and turned back there was a man fishing in a stream and a young couple sunbathing.

I walked easily back up towards the hospice, passing many recreational walkers who had made the day trip to the pass. I visited the emergency refuge and then came back to the hospice where I had changed buses a few hours before. Coach loads of chattering tourists filled the place. There is a hotel across the road from the hospice linked by a ‘bridge’. There is a bar and souvenir shop. If you walk the few hundred metres around the lake you come to Italy (and a huge drop in prices of beer, coffee and snacks). There is another hotel on the Italian side. Both hotels are only open in the summer.

I stayed for two nights in the hospice and I have to say I benefitted from the enormously generous 100% discount for priests. It is a hugely fascinating place, steeped in history, with a beautiful chapel and another prayer space in the crypt. The crowds at the pass on the Sunday were a little much for me but the Monday was quiet and gentle. Monday night there was a heavy snow and hail storm for about an hour which turned everything white, though it didn’t ‘stick’. And even in July it was very cold at night.

Finally next day I took the footpath back down to St Rhemy-en Bosses where I picked up the bus to Aosta. Along that final stretch of footpath is possibly the most haunting monument of the whole way – a simple white marble plaque dedicated to an unspecified number of zingari (‘gypsies’) ‘consumed in a whirlwind of snow.’ There is no date. Not everyone is walking for fun or recreation or pilgrimage…..for some it is a difficult way of life, up to the present day.

Tips.
1. Ring ahead to the hospice on the morning of your walk if it is winter. The situation changes all the time and you need the most up-to-date information.
2. If possible, walk with another person if you are crossing the pass in winter .
3. If your plan is to start your walk in GSB I would strongly advise, whether you are coming at it from the Italian or the Swiss side, to go to Bourg St Bernard, or even to Bourg St Pierre and walk to the hospice from there. It is a stunning and unique walk and during the summer is not physically difficult and it is only a few hours walk. It is quite possible in the summer to continue on downhill in Italy but if you can afford the time and the money I would recommend a night or two at the pass.

Website of the tunnel http://www.letunnel.com/homepage.asp?l=3
A very useful website in French https://gsbernard.com/fr/?page=meteo-gsb
The Canons of St Bernard http://www.gsbernard.ch/
Thanks for sharing this info & your experience Tim. I'm anticipating (if on schedule & all has gone according to plan...!) reaching Bourg St Pierre around 6th or 7th of May. It will be interesting to see the situation then with weather & seasons being so unpredictable year to year. I'm assuming I won't be able to cross & have planned accordingly. If by some chance (mild winter, early spring, etc) there is the possibility to cross, that will be my alternative rather than the other way around 🙂 🏂
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Thanks for sharing this info & your experience Tim. I'm anticipating (if on schedule & all has gone according to plan...!) reaching Bourg St Pierre around 6th or 7th of May. It will be interesting to see the situation then with weather & seasons being so unpredictable year to year. I'm assuming I won't be able to cross & have planned accordingly. If by some chance (mild winter, early spring, etc) there is the possibility to cross, that will be my alternative rather than the other way around 🙂 🏂
Exactly! That was my expectation. It was only when I heard from those who had crossed ahead of me - none alone, which I think is very significant - that I even considered trying to walk across in May. Obviously I was a bit disappointed but I had always intended coming back up from Rome. Good luck with the plans. T
 
Last edited:

John R McLean

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Completed Camino Frances (2016)
Camino Portuguese from Porto (2017)
Iona-Rome-Jerusalem (2019-20)
A Guide to crossing the Great St Bernard Pass (this is a long post: you might want to grab a coffee before you start!;))

I crossed the pass twice last year and did not find a single site or book which gathered together all the information I wanted, so I thought I would put something on record myself. I was somewhat confused, not knowing quite where the road and the tunnel began and ended, nor what the different options were. Many people did help me with information at that time, both on this forum and elsewhere and I renew my thanks to them. I hope others will be able to add to this post, and in particular to make corrections and to update it.

The Great St Bernard Pass, or the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard, or the Colle del Gran San Bernardo (henceforth GSB) is at 2473m (8114 ft) and it is the commonest place for pilgrims walking to Rome to cross from Switzerland into Italy. You can of course walk in the opposite direction.

The highest point of the pass is in Switzerland, but at that point you are just about 200m from the Italian border. There are no border formalities, just a sign at the edge of the road and an unmanned customs post. If you are walking from Canterbury to Rome, the GSB is more or less the halfway point of your journey, depending on your route. It is about 1000km from Canterbury.

The pass has been used for a very long time with evidence it was of usage during the Bronze Age. It was very important during the duration of the Roman Empire. Hannibal probably didn’t cross the Alps at that point, see here (though alternative myths, legends and facts are available). Napoleon certainly did.

There are essentially for the walker three ways to cross the pass:
When is the pass ‘open”? The pass is ALWAYS open – but it is not always passable. This is the opposite to the Route Napoleon for crossing the Pyrenees from St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles on the Camino Frances. That route is officially closed during the winter months for safety reasons and if you use it and require to be rescued you will be fined.

The famous hospice of the Canons Regular of St Bernard of Menton is situated at the pass in Switzerland, and has been there for over 1000 years, during which time it has “never closed”. Canons by the way are priests who live in community, but who are not technically monks. These priests staff the Hospice and a number of parishes in the mountains around about.

So, if the pass is ‘always open’, what is the big issue? The big issue is snow. In 2017-2018 the snowfall during the winter was 18m. It is very, very cold by night and by day, it snows often and it can also be very windy and very foggy. Note that the big issue is not the altitude per se. The rate of ascent on footpath or road is not a problem for a fit walker and your ascent is over several days.

What is usually meant, I think, when people ask ‘is the pass open?’ is: ‘is the tarmac road open?’ And this is the key. There is an old tarmac road which runs through the pass from Switzerland into Italy. It is a perfectly normal tarred road, with one lane in either direction, which winds gently up through the pass and down the other side. It is clearly well maintained in what must be very punishing conditions.

I am considering the default way to the pass to be by foot. The footpath is very well waymarked with yellow-and-black painted lozenges and frequent signposts. It is very narrow in parts and clings to the side of the mountains but never in a dangerous way or in a way which would disturb people who do not like heights. (I am uncomfortable with heights myself.) In terms of difficulty I would say that the stretch from Martigny to Orsières, and in particular from Martigny to Sembrancher was much more physically challenging than any part of the road over the pass during the summer.

When there is no snow, I think the footpath would be the obvious way of choice and it is shorter than the road (because it is steeper in parts and doesn’t meander as much). If you start in Bourg St Pierre, a village with hotels and bars, you cross the valley and walk up on a path on the far side of a large reservoir, with the road clearly visible at all times back across the valley on the “village side”. You are committed to staying on that side of the reservoir until you come to Bourg St Pierre, the last-named habitation in Switzerland before the pass. If you change your mind and want to walk on the road, you will have to walk back to Bourg St Pierre first. There is nothing in Bourg St Bernard except the tunnel offices, and an old and dilapidated and very definitely (in 2018) abandoned road café.

So at Bourg St Pierre you finally make your choice. If the weather is good, continue on the clearly marked and very lovely footpath, which will bring you all the way to the hospice at the pass, crossing the tarmac road once or twice and bringing you past an emergency refuge which is open and which you can visit.

If the weather is poor, because of wind or rain, or particularly fog, or if there is snow on the path which is more than you are comfortable with, you can cross over very easily back to the tarmac road at this point. **I am grateful to a clarification from Gaetan Tornay on this point.** You CANNOT walk on the road from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard because you CANNOT walk through the galleries. So if you don't want to walk on the footpath across the valley, but want to take the road after the tunnel entrance you will have to get a lift or the bus from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard. You can of course also walk up from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard on the road, though there will always be traffic, even in winter as it is the road to the tunnel. In the last few kilometres prior to the tunnel there are “galleries” – a flat roof over the road, open on the valley side, which stops snow, avalanches and rockfalls from landing on the carriageway but these do not constitute part of the tunnel. They are very noisy.

The entrance to the tunnel is enclosed in a gallery. There are kiosks for paying the toll but no other facilities. Bourg St Bernard is also a bus stop and you can get on or off the bus there. The Swiss bus continues through the tunnel south to Aosta with perhaps half a dozen stops along the way in Italy. There is a useful app with timetables. Note that the bus does not operate every day of the week in the winter. You can also hitch a lift. I did this, and despite being old and benign-looking, I waited about two hours in sub-zero temperatures for someone to stop,

If the road is open, you can continue on the road, now much quieter in terms of traffic because much of the traffic will choose the tunnel. The road is dangerous in winter and is closed absolutely from about late September to early June ,and you cannot then drive or walk on it. The exact dates vary from year to year.

The road is opened by being cleared of snow, by heavy machinery,I nitially leaving walls of snow to right and left. These are dangerous and likely to fall onto the road. Once the road is formally opened, there will still at first be a lot of snow around, but I think the key is that once the road is officially open it is cleared every day of any snow which later accumulates. It can snow all year around – I had a snow shower at the pass in July.

The photo in this article will give you a good idea of both cleared road and remaining snow.
https://www.rts.ch/info/regions/valais/9624838-le-col-du-grand-saint-bernard-a-nouveau-ouvert-aux-voitures-pour-l-ete.html

So from June to September you are essentially guaranteed to be able to walk across easily because the road is available as a backup in case the footpath is difficult. Or you may simply prefer the road.

In what sense is the pass ‘always open’? You can get to it at any time of the year by cross-country skiing – and that is how the priests at the hospice travel up and down when necessary thrughout the winter. I am not a skier, but I think you would need to have prior skill and experience to do this, and probably a guide.

There is an intermediate time, in the weeks before the road is opened and after the road is closed, when the footpath may still be passable on foot. You can borrow or rent snowshoes (racquettes) if you plan to walk in the snow. You can rent them from Cristal Sports which is in Orsières. It is a regular sports shop easy to find in the small town. I understand that you can make an arrangement by phone to be served “out of hours’ if necessary, although I have no experience of this.

Here is what I did. I was time-constrained and had to leave Canterbury on April 1st so I arrived in Bourg St Pierre on May 6th. I had never expected to be able to walk across the pass in May and was expecting to take the bus. However, I was in contact with a few people ahead of me on Facebook and I think two pairs and a threesome had reached the pass separately on snowshoes during the ten days ahead of me, which meant I was open to trying. But the road itself was absolutely closed.

I decided to stay in the very comfortable and not cheap, but hugely friendly, Bivouac Napoleon Hotel. It is at the site where Napoleon and his troops bivvied in 1800. They are very knowledgeable about the conditions and were encouraging about my chances. You need to check every day. I also phoned the priests at the hospice and was told it was feasible to attempt the trip on snowshoes next day. The Bivouac gives free loan of snowshoes to guests – you return them to a bar on the far side and they come back with the postman. There is a similar arrangement for Cristal Sports. I had not come upon any snow on any road or path up to Bourg St Pierre, though there was snow certainly on the mountains around. I woke early on the Monday morning to dazzling light through the curtains as it had snowed moderately heavily during the night. There is no bus on a Monday, and it was clearly impossible to walk, so I decided to stay for the day in the hotel. I would decide later in the day: if I couldn't walk by Tuesday, I would need to get the bus through the tunnel then. There is a nice church and a friendly bar in the village where you could idle an hour or two. There is even a swimming pool. During the day, the temperature rose and the snow on the main road outside the hotel cleared. I discussed my options and was encouraged to try the next day, so I was loaned snowshoes and practised a little walking in them.

Next morning, I left at 0800 and crossed the valley and walked on the waymarked footpath from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard. It was not easy but was not too difficult. There was snow on the path, and I needed to use the snowshoes for many stretches, though I found them an encumbrance when the snow cleared occasionally. It was very cold, but not windy nor raining and I did not find the cold a problem while I was moving. For that 10km I could always see ahead of me the next waymarker. It was difficult at times and on a few occasions, I had to take my own diversion because the footpath was blocked with a mini-avalanche – perhaps a height of 10 feet of snow. There was wispy fog, but visibility was over 50m. I am a fairly careful person, and I don’t take unnecessary risks, and can honestly say I did not feel in any danger for this stage of the walk. I took a twenty-minute break at the southern end of the reservoir, where it is possible to cross over back to the tarmac road and where you are at the beginning of the tunnel and from where the tarmac road continues up to the pass.

I continued onward on the footpath and from here the path initially is a moderately steep climb. I continued for another one and a half or two kilometres in increasingly difficult conditions, and two things made me decide to turn back. I sank up to my knees two or three times in fresh snow and eventually I came to a point where I could not see the next waymarker on any rock or tree. So I turned around and came down again which was not extremely easy! However after about 40 mins I was back at the point at which you can cross to the road.

I rested outside the crumbling café building and rang the hospice. Absolument non! I was told when I asked if I could walk up on the road. “Under no circumstances.” So that was the end of that adventure. I waited inside the cavernous, cold and dark tunnel entrance for a lift for two hours, by now shivering vigorously. Two things would have made a slight difference. If I had rung the hospice at 0800 that day, they would have told me not to attempt walking. And having a walking companion for that one day would have made things a bit easier.

The tunnel is passed in a matter of minutes, it is only about 5km. The road thereafter through galleries goes down quickly and soon I was in St Rhemy-en-Bosses on a beautiful late spring day. I alighted and stayed there the night.

Was it dangerous? Yes. Was it foolhardy or reckless? I don’t think so. If I made a mistake it was not ringing the hospice on the same morning I walked and instead depending on the advice I had received the previous day.

Epilogue. Another 1000km of walking saw me to Rome and I arrived on 28th June, the day before the important feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. I had a few days in hand before I had to get back home so I took an overnight bus from Rome to Aosta and then took a local bus back across the pass. During the summer, this is two buses. There is a local bus from Aosta to the pass which drops you at the door of the hospice. After half an hour a Swiss bus comes to bring you back over the road and on I think to Martigny. I got off at Bourg St Bernard, just at the tunnel entrance (though the bus obviously does not come through the tunnel in summer.) And so on July 1st I made my way to the very spot where I had abandoned my journey on May 8th. It was high summer, with only the last vestiges of snow in deep gullies. The footpath was like walking though the English Lake District in Summer. At the very place where I had stopped and turned back there was a man fishing in a stream and a young couple sunbathing.

I walked easily back up towards the hospice, passing many recreational walkers who had made the day trip to the pass. I visited the emergency refuge and then came back to the hospice where I had changed buses a few hours before. Coach loads of chattering tourists filled the place. There is a hotel across the road from the hospice linked by a ‘bridge’. There is a bar and souvenir shop. If you walk the few hundred metres around the lake you come to Italy (and a huge drop in prices of beer, coffee and snacks). There is another hotel on the Italian side. Both hotels are only open in the summer.

I stayed for two nights in the hospice and I have to say I benefitted from the enormously generous 100% discount for priests. It is a hugely fascinating place, steeped in history, with a beautiful chapel and another prayer space in the crypt. The crowds at the pass on the Sunday were a little much for me but the Monday was quiet and gentle. Monday night there was a heavy snow and hail storm for about an hour which turned everything white, though it didn’t ‘stick’. And even in July it was very cold at night.

Finally next day I took the footpath back down to St Rhemy-en Bosses where I picked up the bus to Aosta. Along that final stretch of footpath is possibly the most haunting monument of the whole way – a simple white marble plaque dedicated to an unspecified number of zingari (‘gypsies’) ‘consumed in a whirlwind of snow.’ There is no date. Not everyone is walking for fun or recreation or pilgrimage…..for some it is a difficult way of life, up to the present day.

Tips.
1. Ring ahead to the hospice on the morning of your walk if it is winter. The situation changes all the time and you need the most up-to-date information.
2. If possible, walk with another person if you are crossing the pass in winter .
3. If your plan is to start your walk in GSB I would strongly advise, whether you are coming at it from the Italian or the Swiss side, to go to Bourg St Bernard, or even to Bourg St Pierre and walk to the hospice from there. It is a stunning and unique walk and during the summer is not physically difficult and it is only a few hours walk. It is quite possible in the summer to continue on downhill in Italy but if you can afford the time and the money I would recommend a night or two at the pass.

Website of the tunnel http://www.letunnel.com/homepage.asp?l=3
A very useful website in French https://gsbernard.com/fr/?page=meteo-gsb
The Canons of St Bernard http://www.gsbernard.ch/
Thank you for the fantastic post. I start my pilgrimage in May from Iona in Scotland so I'm hoping to be over the pass before the winter weather starts but at least I have your great information now.
Cheers!
John
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Thank you for the fantastic post. I start my pilgrimage in May from Iona in Scotland so I'm hoping to be over the pass before the winter weather starts but at least I have your great information now.
Cheers!
John
That sounds wonderful! Buon cammino!
 

Carel5

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
2016 Mozarabe: Almeria - Merida
2018 Francigena: GSB - Massa
(2019) Francigena: Massa - Roma
So it is the best to go over GSB between 1 June and 30 September. If you want to go earlier or later, be well prepared with Tim's advice. Here is some footage of a Dutch couple in the snow and the cold. It is not clear for me in which month they crossed GSB.

 

bobbogram

Member
Camino(s) past & future
El Norte San Sebastián to Santiago; Portuguese Lisbon to Porto; Porto to Santiago; Geneva west
Great article. For seniors like me (70), starting at the top of the Aosta valley is breathtaking but a 4,000 foot steep descent on old basketball knees was unpleasant. I ended up with a dermatitis condition that precluded continuing. If a peregrino looks at the profile view, they can seen it is the most steep descent on the Italian section. Descents are more stressful on knees and hiking polls slow down progress while stabilizing, but don’t propel the hiker. Better conditioning on my part may have prepared me. Cheers.
 

caminka

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
A Guide to crossing the Great St Bernard Pass (this is a long post: you might want to grab a coffee before you start!;))

I crossed the pass twice last year and did not find a single site or book which gathered together all the information I wanted, so I thought I would put something on record myself. I was somewhat confused, not knowing quite where the road and the tunnel began and ended, nor what the different options were. Many people did help me with information at that time, both on this forum and elsewhere and I renew my thanks to them. I hope others will be able to add to this post, and in particular to make corrections and to update it.

The Great St Bernard Pass, or the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard, or the Colle del Gran San Bernardo (henceforth GSB) is at 2473m (8114 ft) and it is the commonest place for pilgrims walking to Rome to cross from Switzerland into Italy. You can of course walk in the opposite direction.

The highest point of the pass is in Switzerland, but at that point you are just about 200m from the Italian border. There are no border formalities, just a sign at the edge of the road and an unmanned customs post. If you are walking from Canterbury to Rome, the GSB is more or less the halfway point of your journey, depending on your route. It is about 1000km from Canterbury.

The pass has been used for a very long time with evidence it was of usage during the Bronze Age. It was very important during the duration of the Roman Empire. Hannibal probably didn’t cross the Alps at that point, see here (though alternative myths, legends and facts are available). Napoleon certainly did.

There are essentially for the walker three ways to cross the pass:
When is the pass ‘open”? The pass is ALWAYS open – but it is not always passable. This is the opposite to the Route Napoleon for crossing the Pyrenees from St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles on the Camino Frances. That route is officially closed during the winter months for safety reasons and if you use it and require to be rescued you will be fined.

The famous hospice of the Canons Regular of St Bernard of Menton is situated at the pass in Switzerland, and has been there for over 1000 years, during which time it has “never closed”. Canons by the way are priests who live in community, but who are not technically monks. These priests staff the Hospice and a number of parishes in the mountains around about.

So, if the pass is ‘always open’, what is the big issue? The big issue is snow. In 2017-2018 the snowfall during the winter was 18m. It is very, very cold by night and by day, it snows often and it can also be very windy and very foggy. Note that the big issue is not the altitude per se. The rate of ascent on footpath or road is not a problem for a fit walker and your ascent is over several days.

What is usually meant, I think, when people ask ‘is the pass open?’ is: ‘is the tarmac road open?’ And this is the key. There is an old tarmac road which runs through the pass from Switzerland into Italy. It is a perfectly normal tarred road, with one lane in either direction, which winds gently up through the pass and down the other side. It is clearly well maintained in what must be very punishing conditions.

I am considering the default way to the pass to be by foot. The footpath is very well waymarked with yellow-and-black painted lozenges and frequent signposts. It is very narrow in parts and clings to the side of the mountains but never in a dangerous way or in a way which would disturb people who do not like heights. (I am uncomfortable with heights myself.) In terms of difficulty I would say that the stretch from Martigny to Orsières, and in particular from Martigny to Sembrancher was much more physically challenging than any part of the road over the pass during the summer.

When there is no snow, I think the footpath would be the obvious way of choice and it is shorter than the road (because it is steeper in parts and doesn’t meander as much). If you start in Bourg St Pierre, a village with hotels and bars, you cross the valley and walk up on a path on the far side of a large reservoir, with the road clearly visible at all times back across the valley on the “village side”. You are committed to staying on that side of the reservoir until you come to Bourg St Pierre, the last-named habitation in Switzerland before the pass. If you change your mind and want to walk on the road, you will have to walk back to Bourg St Pierre first. There is nothing in Bourg St Bernard except the tunnel offices, and an old and dilapidated and very definitely (in 2018) abandoned road café.

So at Bourg St Pierre you finally make your choice. If the weather is good, continue on the clearly marked and very lovely footpath, which will bring you all the way to the hospice at the pass, crossing the tarmac road once or twice and bringing you past an emergency refuge which is open and which you can visit.

If the weather is poor, because of wind or rain, or particularly fog, or if there is snow on the path which is more than you are comfortable with, you can cross over very easily back to the tarmac road at this point. I am grateful to a clarification from Gaetan Tornay on this point. You CANNOT walk on the road from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard because you CANNOT walk through the galleries. So if you don't want to walk on the footpath across the valley, but want to take the road after the tunnel entrance you will have to get a lift or the bus from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard. You can of course also walk up from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard on the road, though there will always be traffic, even in winter as it is the road to the tunnel. In the last few kilometres prior to the tunnel there are “galleries” – a flat roof over the road, open on the valley side, which stops snow, avalanches and rockfalls from landing on the carriageway but these do not constitute part of the tunnel. They are very noisy.

The entrance to the tunnel is enclosed in a gallery. There are kiosks for paying the toll but no other facilities. Bourg St Bernard is also a bus stop and you can get on or off the bus there. The Swiss bus continues through the tunnel south to Aosta with perhaps half a dozen stops along the way in Italy. There is a useful app with timetables. Note that the bus does not operate every day of the week in the winter. You can also hitch a lift. I did this, and despite being old and benign-looking, I waited about two hours in sub-zero temperatures for someone to stop,

If the road is open, you can continue on the road, now much quieter in terms of traffic because much of the traffic will choose the tunnel. The road is dangerous in winter and is closed absolutely from about late September to early June ,and you cannot then drive or walk on it. The exact dates vary from year to year.

The road is opened by being cleared of snow, by heavy machinery,I nitially leaving walls of snow to right and left. These are dangerous and likely to fall onto the road. Once the road is formally opened, there will still at first be a lot of snow around, but I think the key is that once the road is officially open it is cleared every day of any snow which later accumulates. It can snow all year around – I had a snow shower at the pass in July.

The photo in this article will give you a good idea of both cleared road and remaining snow.
https://www.rts.ch/info/regions/valais/9624838-le-col-du-grand-saint-bernard-a-nouveau-ouvert-aux-voitures-pour-l-ete.html

So from June to September you are essentially guaranteed to be able to walk across easily because the road is available as a backup in case the footpath is difficult. Or you may simply prefer the road.

In what sense is the pass ‘always open’? You can get to it at any time of the year by cross-country skiing – and that is how the priests at the hospice travel up and down when necessary thrughout the winter. I am not a skier, but I think you would need to have prior skill and experience to do this, and probably a guide.

There is an intermediate time, in the weeks before the road is opened and after the road is closed, when the footpath may still be passable on foot. You can borrow or rent snowshoes (racquettes) if you plan to walk in the snow. You can rent them from Cristal Sports which is in Orsières. It is a regular sports shop easy to find in the small town. I understand that you can make an arrangement by phone to be served “out of hours’ if necessary, although I have no experience of this.

Here is what I did. I was time-constrained and had to leave Canterbury on April 1st so I arrived in Bourg St Pierre on May 6th. I had never expected to be able to walk across the pass in May and was expecting to take the bus. However, I was in contact with a few people ahead of me on Facebook and I think two pairs and a threesome had reached the pass separately on snowshoes during the ten days ahead of me, which meant I was open to trying. But the road itself was absolutely closed.

I decided to stay in the very comfortable and not cheap, but hugely friendly, Bivouac Napoleon Hotel. It is at the site where Napoleon and his troops bivvied in 1800. They are very knowledgeable about the conditions and were encouraging about my chances. You need to check every day. I also phoned the priests at the hospice and was told it was feasible to attempt the trip on snowshoes next day. The Bivouac gives free loan of snowshoes to guests – you return them to a bar on the far side and they come back with the postman. There is a similar arrangement for Cristal Sports. I had not come upon any snow on any road or path up to Bourg St Pierre, though there was snow certainly on the mountains around. I woke early on the Monday morning to dazzling light through the curtains as it had snowed moderately heavily during the night. There is no bus on a Monday, and it was clearly impossible to walk, so I decided to stay for the day in the hotel. I would decide later in the day: if I couldn't walk by Tuesday, I would need to get the bus through the tunnel then. There is a nice church and a friendly bar in the village where you could idle an hour or two. There is even a swimming pool. During the day, the temperature rose and the snow on the main road outside the hotel cleared. I discussed my options and was encouraged to try the next day, so I was loaned snowshoes and practised a little walking in them.

Next morning, I left at 0800 and crossed the valley and walked on the waymarked footpath from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard. It was not easy but was not too difficult. There was snow on the path, and I needed to use the snowshoes for many stretches, though I found them an encumbrance when the snow cleared occasionally. It was very cold, but not windy nor raining and I did not find the cold a problem while I was moving. For that 10km I could always see ahead of me the next waymarker. It was difficult at times and on a few occasions, I had to take my own diversion because the footpath was blocked with a mini-avalanche – perhaps a height of 10 feet of snow. There was wispy fog, but visibility was over 50m. I am a fairly careful person, and I don’t take unnecessary risks, and can honestly say I did not feel in any danger for this stage of the walk. I took a twenty-minute break at the southern end of the reservoir, where it is possible to cross over back to the tarmac road and where you are at the beginning of the tunnel and from where the tarmac road continues up to the pass.

I continued onward on the footpath and from here the path initially is a moderately steep climb. I continued for another one and a half or two kilometres in increasingly difficult conditions, and two things made me decide to turn back. I sank up to my knees two or three times in fresh snow and eventually I came to a point where I could not see the next waymarker on any rock or tree. So I turned around and came down again which was not extremely easy! However after about 40 mins I was back at the point at which you can cross to the road.

I rested outside the crumbling café building and rang the hospice. Absolument non! I was told when I asked if I could walk up on the road. “Under no circumstances.” So that was the end of that adventure. I waited inside the cavernous, cold and dark tunnel entrance for a lift for two hours, by now shivering vigorously. Two things would have made a slight difference. If I had rung the hospice at 0800 that day, they would have told me not to attempt walking. And having a walking companion for that one day would have made things a bit easier.

The tunnel is passed in a matter of minutes, it is only about 5km. The road thereafter through galleries goes down quickly and soon I was in St Rhemy-en-Bosses on a beautiful late spring day. I alighted and stayed there the night.

Was it dangerous? Yes. Was it foolhardy or reckless? I don’t think so. If I made a mistake it was not ringing the hospice on the same morning I walked and instead depending on the advice I had received the previous day.

Epilogue. Another 1000km of walking saw me to Rome and I arrived on 28th June, the day before the important feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. I had a few days in hand before I had to get back home so I took an overnight bus from Rome to Aosta and then took a local bus back across the pass. During the summer, this is two buses. There is a local bus from Aosta to the pass which drops you at the door of the hospice. After half an hour a Swiss bus comes to bring you back over the road and on I think to Martigny. I got off at Bourg St Bernard, just at the tunnel entrance (though the bus obviously does not come through the tunnel in summer.) And so on July 1st I made my way to the very spot where I had abandoned my journey on May 8th. It was high summer, with only the last vestiges of snow in deep gullies. The footpath was like walking though the English Lake District in Summer. At the very place where I had stopped and turned back there was a man fishing in a stream and a young couple sunbathing.

I walked easily back up towards the hospice, passing many recreational walkers who had made the day trip to the pass. I visited the emergency refuge and then came back to the hospice where I had changed buses a few hours before. Coach loads of chattering tourists filled the place. There is a hotel across the road from the hospice linked by a ‘bridge’. There is a bar and souvenir shop. If you walk the few hundred metres around the lake you come to Italy (and a huge drop in prices of beer, coffee and snacks). There is another hotel on the Italian side. Both hotels are only open in the summer.

I stayed for two nights in the hospice and I have to say I benefitted from the enormously generous 100% discount for priests. It is a hugely fascinating place, steeped in history, with a beautiful chapel and another prayer space in the crypt. The crowds at the pass on the Sunday were a little much for me but the Monday was quiet and gentle. Monday night there was a heavy snow and hail storm for about an hour which turned everything white, though it didn’t ‘stick’. And even in July it was very cold at night.

Finally next day I took the footpath back down to St Rhemy-en Bosses where I picked up the bus to Aosta. Along that final stretch of footpath is possibly the most haunting monument of the whole way – a simple white marble plaque dedicated to an unspecified number of zingari (‘gypsies’) ‘consumed in a whirlwind of snow.’ There is no date. Not everyone is walking for fun or recreation or pilgrimage…..for some it is a difficult way of life, up to the present day.

Tips.
  1. Ring ahead to the hospice on the morning of your walk if it is winter. The situation changes all the time and you need the most up-to-date information.
  2. If possible, walk with another person if you are crossing the pass in winter .
  3. If your plan is to start your walk in GSB I would strongly advise, whether you are coming at it from the Italian or the Swiss side, to go to Bourg St Bernard, or even to Bourg St Pierre and walk to the hospice from there. It is a stunning and unique walk and during the summer is not physically difficult and it is only a few hours walk. It is quite possible in the summer to continue on downhill in Italy but if you can afford the time and the money I would recommend a night or two at the pass.

Website of the tunnel http://www.letunnel.com/homepage.asp?l=3
A very useful website in French https://gsbernard.com/fr/?page=meteo-gsb
The Canons of St Bernard http://www.gsbernard.ch/
most informative, thank you!

I just found this on google video maps. there is a cabane with beds and half-pension about 2km climb from the VF path and about 1700m climb from the main road shortly after the highway disappears into the tunnel at bourg-st-bernard. on their site it says it reopens in march 2019. this looks like a very promising option for those to whom a single day from bourg-st-pierre might not be enough or if the conditions for the climb to the pass are not favourable.

Cabane du Plan du Jeu, + 41 (0)79 428 01 75, a dorm with 22 beds and duvets, showers, toilets, dinner and a hearthy breakfast, half-pension chf 79. at the height of 2052m.

https://www.vicheres.ch/fr/sejourner/reservez-votre-hebergement/annuaire-des-hebergements/item/4980-cabane-du-plan-du-jeu
http://www.esprit-liberte.ch/cabane-du-plan-du-jeu
https://www.facebook.com/GiteDuPlanDuJeu/
 

Avian

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2015) Le Puy Camino (2017) Kumano Kodo (2018)
A Guide to crossing the Great St Bernard Pass (this is a long post: you might want to grab a coffee before you start!;))

I crossed the pass twice last year and did not find a single site or book which gathered together all the information I wanted, so I thought I would put something on record myself. I was somewhat confused, not knowing quite where the road and the tunnel began and ended, nor what the different options were. Many people did help me with information at that time, both on this forum and elsewhere and I renew my thanks to them. I hope others will be able to add to this post, and in particular to make corrections and to update it.

The Great St Bernard Pass, or the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard, or the Colle del Gran San Bernardo (henceforth GSB) is at 2473m (8114 ft) and it is the commonest place for pilgrims walking to Rome to cross from Switzerland into Italy. You can of course walk in the opposite direction.

The highest point of the pass is in Switzerland, but at that point you are just about 200m from the Italian border. There are no border formalities, just a sign at the edge of the road and an unmanned customs post. If you are walking from Canterbury to Rome, the GSB is more or less the halfway point of your journey, depending on your route. It is about 1000km from Canterbury.

The pass has been used for a very long time with evidence it was of usage during the Bronze Age. It was very important during the duration of the Roman Empire. Hannibal probably didn’t cross the Alps at that point, see here (though alternative myths, legends and facts are available). Napoleon certainly did.

There are essentially for the walker three ways to cross the pass:
When is the pass ‘open”? The pass is ALWAYS open – but it is not always passable. This is the opposite to the Route Napoleon for crossing the Pyrenees from St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles on the Camino Frances. That route is officially closed during the winter months for safety reasons and if you use it and require to be rescued you will be fined.

The famous hospice of the Canons Regular of St Bernard of Menton is situated at the pass in Switzerland, and has been there for over 1000 years, during which time it has “never closed”. Canons by the way are priests who live in community, but who are not technically monks. These priests staff the Hospice and a number of parishes in the mountains around about.

So, if the pass is ‘always open’, what is the big issue? The big issue is snow. In 2017-2018 the snowfall during the winter was 18m. It is very, very cold by night and by day, it snows often and it can also be very windy and very foggy. Note that the big issue is not the altitude per se. The rate of ascent on footpath or road is not a problem for a fit walker and your ascent is over several days.

What is usually meant, I think, when people ask ‘is the pass open?’ is: ‘is the tarmac road open?’ And this is the key. There is an old tarmac road which runs through the pass from Switzerland into Italy. It is a perfectly normal tarred road, with one lane in either direction, which winds gently up through the pass and down the other side. It is clearly well maintained in what must be very punishing conditions.

I am considering the default way to the pass to be by foot. The footpath is very well waymarked with yellow-and-black painted lozenges and frequent signposts. It is very narrow in parts and clings to the side of the mountains but never in a dangerous way or in a way which would disturb people who do not like heights. (I am uncomfortable with heights myself.) In terms of difficulty I would say that the stretch from Martigny to Orsières, and in particular from Martigny to Sembrancher was much more physically challenging than any part of the road over the pass during the summer.

When there is no snow, I think the footpath would be the obvious way of choice and it is shorter than the road (because it is steeper in parts and doesn’t meander as much). If you start in Bourg St Pierre, a village with hotels and bars, you cross the valley and walk up on a path on the far side of a large reservoir, with the road clearly visible at all times back across the valley on the “village side”. You are committed to staying on that side of the reservoir until you come to Bourg St Pierre, the last-named habitation in Switzerland before the pass. If you change your mind and want to walk on the road, you will have to walk back to Bourg St Pierre first. There is nothing in Bourg St Bernard except the tunnel offices, and an old and dilapidated and very definitely (in 2018) abandoned road café.

So at Bourg St Pierre you finally make your choice. If the weather is good, continue on the clearly marked and very lovely footpath, which will bring you all the way to the hospice at the pass, crossing the tarmac road once or twice and bringing you past an emergency refuge which is open and which you can visit.

If the weather is poor, because of wind or rain, or particularly fog, or if there is snow on the path which is more than you are comfortable with, you can cross over very easily back to the tarmac road at this point. I am grateful to a clarification from Gaetan Tornay on this point. You CANNOT walk on the road from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard because you CANNOT walk through the galleries. So if you don't want to walk on the footpath across the valley, but want to take the road after the tunnel entrance you will have to get a lift or the bus from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard. You can of course also walk up from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard on the road, though there will always be traffic, even in winter as it is the road to the tunnel. In the last few kilometres prior to the tunnel there are “galleries” – a flat roof over the road, open on the valley side, which stops snow, avalanches and rockfalls from landing on the carriageway but these do not constitute part of the tunnel. They are very noisy.

The entrance to the tunnel is enclosed in a gallery. There are kiosks for paying the toll but no other facilities. Bourg St Bernard is also a bus stop and you can get on or off the bus there. The Swiss bus continues through the tunnel south to Aosta with perhaps half a dozen stops along the way in Italy. There is a useful app with timetables. Note that the bus does not operate every day of the week in the winter. You can also hitch a lift. I did this, and despite being old and benign-looking, I waited about two hours in sub-zero temperatures for someone to stop,

If the road is open, you can continue on the road, now much quieter in terms of traffic because much of the traffic will choose the tunnel. The road is dangerous in winter and is closed absolutely from about late September to early June ,and you cannot then drive or walk on it. The exact dates vary from year to year.

The road is opened by being cleared of snow, by heavy machinery,I nitially leaving walls of snow to right and left. These are dangerous and likely to fall onto the road. Once the road is formally opened, there will still at first be a lot of snow around, but I think the key is that once the road is officially open it is cleared every day of any snow which later accumulates. It can snow all year around – I had a snow shower at the pass in July.

The photo in this article will give you a good idea of both cleared road and remaining snow.
https://www.rts.ch/info/regions/valais/9624838-le-col-du-grand-saint-bernard-a-nouveau-ouvert-aux-voitures-pour-l-ete.html

So from June to September you are essentially guaranteed to be able to walk across easily because the road is available as a backup in case the footpath is difficult. Or you may simply prefer the road.

In what sense is the pass ‘always open’? You can get to it at any time of the year by cross-country skiing – and that is how the priests at the hospice travel up and down when necessary thrughout the winter. I am not a skier, but I think you would need to have prior skill and experience to do this, and probably a guide.

There is an intermediate time, in the weeks before the road is opened and after the road is closed, when the footpath may still be passable on foot. You can borrow or rent snowshoes (racquettes) if you plan to walk in the snow. You can rent them from Cristal Sports which is in Orsières. It is a regular sports shop easy to find in the small town. I understand that you can make an arrangement by phone to be served “out of hours’ if necessary, although I have no experience of this.

Here is what I did. I was time-constrained and had to leave Canterbury on April 1st so I arrived in Bourg St Pierre on May 6th. I had never expected to be able to walk across the pass in May and was expecting to take the bus. However, I was in contact with a few people ahead of me on Facebook and I think two pairs and a threesome had reached the pass separately on snowshoes during the ten days ahead of me, which meant I was open to trying. But the road itself was absolutely closed.

I decided to stay in the very comfortable and not cheap, but hugely friendly, Bivouac Napoleon Hotel. It is at the site where Napoleon and his troops bivvied in 1800. They are very knowledgeable about the conditions and were encouraging about my chances. You need to check every day. I also phoned the priests at the hospice and was told it was feasible to attempt the trip on snowshoes next day. The Bivouac gives free loan of snowshoes to guests – you return them to a bar on the far side and they come back with the postman. There is a similar arrangement for Cristal Sports. I had not come upon any snow on any road or path up to Bourg St Pierre, though there was snow certainly on the mountains around. I woke early on the Monday morning to dazzling light through the curtains as it had snowed moderately heavily during the night. There is no bus on a Monday, and it was clearly impossible to walk, so I decided to stay for the day in the hotel. I would decide later in the day: if I couldn't walk by Tuesday, I would need to get the bus through the tunnel then. There is a nice church and a friendly bar in the village where you could idle an hour or two. There is even a swimming pool. During the day, the temperature rose and the snow on the main road outside the hotel cleared. I discussed my options and was encouraged to try the next day, so I was loaned snowshoes and practised a little walking in them.

Next morning, I left at 0800 and crossed the valley and walked on the waymarked footpath from Bourg St Pierre to Bourg St Bernard. It was not easy but was not too difficult. There was snow on the path, and I needed to use the snowshoes for many stretches, though I found them an encumbrance when the snow cleared occasionally. It was very cold, but not windy nor raining and I did not find the cold a problem while I was moving. For that 10km I could always see ahead of me the next waymarker. It was difficult at times and on a few occasions, I had to take my own diversion because the footpath was blocked with a mini-avalanche – perhaps a height of 10 feet of snow. There was wispy fog, but visibility was over 50m. I am a fairly careful person, and I don’t take unnecessary risks, and can honestly say I did not feel in any danger for this stage of the walk. I took a twenty-minute break at the southern end of the reservoir, where it is possible to cross over back to the tarmac road and where you are at the beginning of the tunnel and from where the tarmac road continues up to the pass.

I continued onward on the footpath and from here the path initially is a moderately steep climb. I continued for another one and a half or two kilometres in increasingly difficult conditions, and two things made me decide to turn back. I sank up to my knees two or three times in fresh snow and eventually I came to a point where I could not see the next waymarker on any rock or tree. So I turned around and came down again which was not extremely easy! However after about 40 mins I was back at the point at which you can cross to the road.

I rested outside the crumbling café building and rang the hospice. Absolument non! I was told when I asked if I could walk up on the road. “Under no circumstances.” So that was the end of that adventure. I waited inside the cavernous, cold and dark tunnel entrance for a lift for two hours, by now shivering vigorously. Two things would have made a slight difference. If I had rung the hospice at 0800 that day, they would have told me not to attempt walking. And having a walking companion for that one day would have made things a bit easier.

The tunnel is passed in a matter of minutes, it is only about 5km. The road thereafter through galleries goes down quickly and soon I was in St Rhemy-en-Bosses on a beautiful late spring day. I alighted and stayed there the night.

Was it dangerous? Yes. Was it foolhardy or reckless? I don’t think so. If I made a mistake it was not ringing the hospice on the same morning I walked and instead depending on the advice I had received the previous day.

Epilogue. Another 1000km of walking saw me to Rome and I arrived on 28th June, the day before the important feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. I had a few days in hand before I had to get back home so I took an overnight bus from Rome to Aosta and then took a local bus back across the pass. During the summer, this is two buses. There is a local bus from Aosta to the pass which drops you at the door of the hospice. After half an hour a Swiss bus comes to bring you back over the road and on I think to Martigny. I got off at Bourg St Bernard, just at the tunnel entrance (though the bus obviously does not come through the tunnel in summer.) And so on July 1st I made my way to the very spot where I had abandoned my journey on May 8th. It was high summer, with only the last vestiges of snow in deep gullies. The footpath was like walking though the English Lake District in Summer. At the very place where I had stopped and turned back there was a man fishing in a stream and a young couple sunbathing.

I walked easily back up towards the hospice, passing many recreational walkers who had made the day trip to the pass. I visited the emergency refuge and then came back to the hospice where I had changed buses a few hours before. Coach loads of chattering tourists filled the place. There is a hotel across the road from the hospice linked by a ‘bridge’. There is a bar and souvenir shop. If you walk the few hundred metres around the lake you come to Italy (and a huge drop in prices of beer, coffee and snacks). There is another hotel on the Italian side. Both hotels are only open in the summer.

I stayed for two nights in the hospice and I have to say I benefitted from the enormously generous 100% discount for priests. It is a hugely fascinating place, steeped in history, with a beautiful chapel and another prayer space in the crypt. The crowds at the pass on the Sunday were a little much for me but the Monday was quiet and gentle. Monday night there was a heavy snow and hail storm for about an hour which turned everything white, though it didn’t ‘stick’. And even in July it was very cold at night.

Finally next day I took the footpath back down to St Rhemy-en Bosses where I picked up the bus to Aosta. Along that final stretch of footpath is possibly the most haunting monument of the whole way – a simple white marble plaque dedicated to an unspecified number of zingari (‘gypsies’) ‘consumed in a whirlwind of snow.’ There is no date. Not everyone is walking for fun or recreation or pilgrimage…..for some it is a difficult way of life, up to the present day.

Tips.
  1. Ring ahead to the hospice on the morning of your walk if it is winter. The situation changes all the time and you need the most up-to-date information.
  2. If possible, walk with another person if you are crossing the pass in winter .
  3. If your plan is to start your walk in GSB I would strongly advise, whether you are coming at it from the Italian or the Swiss side, to go to Bourg St Bernard, or even to Bourg St Pierre and walk to the hospice from there. It is a stunning and unique walk and during the summer is not physically difficult and it is only a few hours walk. It is quite possible in the summer to continue on downhill in Italy but if you can afford the time and the money I would recommend a night or two at the pass.

Website of the tunnel http://www.letunnel.com/homepage.asp?l=3
A very useful website in French https://gsbernard.com/fr/?page=meteo-gsb
The Canons of St Bernard http://www.gsbernard.ch/
Firstly my apologies for not replying sooner- I did want to have the coffee and take the time your writings deserved so it has been only now that I have been able to do so. I enjoyed what you had to say very much and it was so informative so thank you so much for sharing all this knowledge. Did you take advantage of any luggage moving businesses? and if so do you have their details? Many thanks again cheers Anne
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Firstly my apologies for not replying sooner- I did want to have the coffee and take the time your writings deserved so it has been only now that I have been able to do so. I enjoyed what you had to say very much and it was so informative so thank you so much for sharing all this knowledge. Did you take advantage of any luggage moving businesses? and if so do you have their details? Many thanks again cheers Anne
Hello @Avian, many thanks.
I will state, simply as a fact, and without any judgment ;):), that I have never made use of any luggage movers anywhere!
I think probably they are only to be found in the latter stages maybe Tuscany onward, but I leave other people with direct experience to confirm that. It is one of the respects in which the infrastructure of the whole VF differs from the Camino - and I guess it is simply because of the HUGE difference in numbers doing the walk. As numbers increase I suspect such services will follow. But until you get beyond Lucca, the numbers of people remain small.
Have a look at this - it seems a bit limited and a bit expensive
The Sloways people do the free app for the GPS track of the VF within Switzerland and Italy and it is indispensable. (Get it from App Store or Goggle play) Although it is almost identical to the "official Via Francigena app" (also free) for some reason that constantly crashed on my phone, while Sloways never failed.
They seem a very friendly group, as much as you can judge from a website! I hoped to call into their place, somewhere near Ivrea, after Val D'Aosta, but it was closed when I passed.
There is also http://www.bon-bags.com/sito/en/luggage-transport-and-storage/transport-luggage-italy/transport-luggage-via-francigena-rome.html
I guess this means that baggage transfer is appearing, but it looks very expensive to me, compared to the Camino.
I am just idly planning now for the Via Egnatia from Bari to Istanbul and still trying to see how I could shed a few more 100g from my bag!!!!
Good luck with your plans. Tim
 

Avian

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2015) Le Puy Camino (2017) Kumano Kodo (2018)
Hello @Avian, many thanks.
I will state, simply as a fact, and without any judgment ;):), that I have never made use of any luggage movers anywhere!
I think probably they are only to be found in the latter stages maybe Tuscany onward, but I leave other people with direct experience to confirm that. It is one of the respects in which the infrastructure of the whole VF differs from the Camino - and I guess it is simply because of the HUGE difference in numbers doing the walk. As numbers increase I suspect such services will follow. But until you get beyond Lucca, the numbers of people remain small.
Have a look at this - it seems a bit limited and a bit expensive
The Sloways people do the free app for the GPS track of the VF within Switzerland and Italy and it is indispensable. (Get it from App Store or Goggle play) Although it is almost identical to the "official Via Francigena app" (also free) for some reason that constantly crashed on my phone, while Sloways never failed.
They seem a very friendly group, as much as you can judge from a website! I hoped to call into their place, somewhere near Ivrea, after Val D'Aosta, but it was closed when I passed.
There is also http://www.bon-bags.com/sito/en/luggage-transport-and-storage/transport-luggage-italy/transport-luggage-via-francigena-rome.html
I guess this means that baggage transfer is appearing, but it looks very expensive to me, compared to the Camino.
I am just idly planning now for the Via Egnatia from Bari to Istanbul and still trying to see how I could shed a few more 100g from my bag!!!!
Good luck with your plans. Tim
Thank you Tim for all this information- it gives me so much help for planning. I look forward to actually getting to the walk. All the best for your next walk - it sounds fabulous and I'm sure will be amazing. Hopefully we will hear about it on this forum one day. kind regards Anne
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Thank you Tim for all this information- it gives me so much help for planning. I look forward to actually getting to the walk. All the best for your next walk - it sounds fabulous and I'm sure will be amazing. Hopefully we will hear about it on this forum one day. kind regards Anne
@Avian Just thinking that for information on baggage moving services, you should start a new thread, as few will see your request here! Definitely there are some services and there will be people who can give you up to date info. Tim
 

caminka

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
does anyone know the opening hours of the main bus station in aosta? there seem to be ticket offices on the google maps. if it is closed, is there an alternative? on the bus? kiosks? tourist office?
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
@caminka I was there in July last year, after getting the overnight bus up from Rome, so I arrived something like 0630 I think. And it was open then. It is a fairly busy little bus station, next to the railway station, very close to the town. You can head into the main street for a coffee after you buy your ticket, rather than wait there. You can certainly buy your ticket easily there for the bus up to the pass or for Milan, as I did on different occasions.
 

omar504

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016,2017,2018
I got a bit lost going up the pass and yes..I walked on the road..a hair raising experience having trucks whiz past at 80kph. Was very relieved when I got to the point where the tunnel continiues and a minor road heads up to the hotel at the top..however it seemed to have been used as a bit of a race track for motorbikes. Needless to say I was grateful to flop down in the hotel
 

caminka

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
@caminka I was there in July last year, after getting the overnight bus up from Rome, so I arrived something like 0630 I think. And it was open then. It is a fairly busy little bus station, next to the railway station, very close to the town. You can head into the main street for a coffee after you buy your ticket, rather than wait there. You can certainly buy your ticket easily there for the bus up to the pass or for Milan, as I did on different occasions.
thanks, @timr, that puts my mind to rest (for this little tidbit of travel). :)
 

caminka

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
I got a bit lost going up the pass and yes..I walked on the road..a hair raising experience having trucks whiz past at 80kph. Was very relieved when I got to the point where the tunnel continiues and a minor road heads up to the hotel at the top..however it seemed to have been used as a bit of a race track for motorbikes. Needless to say I was grateful to flop down in the hotel
there is a vintage(?) car race/gathering on the second weekend of june this year, so walkers can expect a crowded road up to the pass from both sides, I would think. plus, a BBC team doing a documentary on the VF. crowds!! :eek:
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
there is a vintage(?) car race/gathering on the second weekend of june this year, so walkers can expect a crowded road up to the pass from both sides, I would think. plus, a BBC team doing a documentary on the VF. crowds!! :eek:
Eek!
 

caminka

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
another GSB bus question. if I understand the things correctly, there are two companies that ferry over/under the pass. italian SAVDA (€20 to martigny or orsieres, on June 12th timetables change for the summer runs: http://www.savda.it/it/35/valle-d-aosta-milano/) and swiss POSTBUS (timetables: https://www.postauto.ch/en). they both run on tuesdays, fridays and sundays at the same hours, at 11h and 16h (sundays only at 16h). they both depart from the aosta bus station. I assume that if tickets are bought in aosta, you can pay in euros regardless of the company?
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
another GSB bus question. if I understand the things correctly, there are two companies that ferry over/under the pass. italian SAVDA (€20 to martigny or orsieres, on June 12th timetables change for the summer runs: http://www.savda.it/it/35/valle-d-aosta-milano/) and swiss POSTBUS (timetables: https://www.postauto.ch/en). they both run on tuesdays, fridays and sundays at the same hours, at 11h and 16h (sundays only at 16h). they both depart from the aosta bus station. I assume that if tickets are bought in aosta, you can pay in euros regardless of the company?
Hello @caminka oh it is rather confusing isn't it?! My recollection is that when I was looking to get the bus from Bourg St Pierre to St Rémy en Bosses during winter (May) it would have been Postbus on Tuesday. Certainly no bus on Monday. And that bus would have gone through the tunnel. I didn't get it.
In Summer, I don't THINK there is a direct service. There is a bus from Aosta up to the hospice at the pass. Then an hour or so later different bus takes you on towards Martigny. I did it on a Sunday morning in July. I don't realize it was not a daily service during the summer.
I'm sure there is no problem paying in Euros.
I suspect the Savda/Postbus must be a sort of 'codeshare' during the winter. I don't think there's are two parallel services.
@Gaëtan Tornay (on Facebook but not I think on this forum) will give a definitive answer.
 
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caminka

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
Hello @caminka oh it is rather confusing isn't it?! My recollection is that when I was looking to get the bus from Bourg St Pierre to St Rémy en Bosses during winter (May) it would have been Postbus on Tuesday. Certainly no bus on Monday. And that bus would have gone through the tunnel. I didn't get it.
In Summer, I don't THINK there is a direct service. There is a bus from Aosta up to the hospice at the pass. Then an hour or so later different bus takes you on towards Martigny. I did it on a Sunday morning in July. I don't realize it was not a fault service during the summer.
I'm sure there is no problem paying in Euros.
I suspect the Savda/Postbus must be a sort of 'codeshare' during the winter. I don't think there's are two parallel services.
@Gaëtan Tornay (on Facebook but not I think on this forum) will give a definitive answer.
it's super confusing. as I understand the SAVDA bus schedule, there is three-days-a-week bus under the pass and a daily bus over the pass (from June 13th/15th? from aosta to GSB, from July 1st onwards from GSB into switzerland).

a summer savda schedule from aosta to GSB only! has come up, June 13th till September 11th: http://www.savda.it/public/linee/allegati/820_it.pdf.

the schedule search engine still puts out the 11h and 16h buses to orsieres/martigny on friday, 14th June.

I don't get it.

POSTBUS also has 11h and 16h buses from aosta to orsieres/martigny on the 14th.

I hope there will be one bus on that friday, with a free seat for me!
 

Galloglaigh2

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances / Via Francigena
If you want the informtion confirmed closer to the time, then contact the Tourist Information Office at Martigny. They were super helpful the other week for me. Email is info@martigny.com. They will reply in English.

As regards the schedules, TIO explained that TMR is the cantonal transport service. SAVDA is Italian. Don’t know how Postbus fits but there is a Postbus app you can download.
 

caminka

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
Bus station in aosta is open 6.30 - 19.30. There are free toilets snd snack machines. Only one bus goes to Switzerland (SAVDA), it has 16 places and according to regular users is never full. It was full when I went, filled by a group of 8 hijers. Cost to Orsieres or Martigny €20.
 

caminka

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
The last part of the path on both sides of the pass is still under snow. We walked on the road.n the swiss side from l'hopitalet, on the italian side from where the path goes right down from the road to cantina fonteinte. There were still three snow crossings after that, a bit tricky in the hard morning snow.
 

caminka

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
The road on this beautifel weekend was crazy full! Bikers, campers, two-seatets with removable rpof, cyclists, pilgrims, and a bus! On the swiss side postbus made two runs up to the pass on sunday.
 

caminka

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
Also, there are a few tricky torrents on both sides to cross. The trickiest was the one on the italian side, almost down at the road, where I rather took my boots off. It was surprisingly refreshing and not difficult to cross.
 

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