The Grand-St-Bernard Pass
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Passo del San Gottardo : Click to enlarge picture
San Gottardo
© Ticino Tourism

The Grand-St-Bernard Pass is the oldest Alpine pass route (see here), protected by monks inhabiting the hospice on top for almost a millennium. The views aren’t outstanding, and the souvenir stalls are an eyesore, but the sense of history is what draws you in – for centuries, this was the only road between northern Europe and southern Europe for hundreds of miles on either flank, and countless travellers have arrived to the same view of the little summit lake backed by the same mountain panorama. The interesting museum (daily: July & Aug 8am–6.30pm; June & Sept 9am–6pm; Fr.6) documents the history of the pass, and includes several quaking accounts of fatal or near-fatal crossings. The two buildings which make up the hospice, exposed to winter storms which have been known to bring 25m of snow with them and temperatures of -30°C, date from 1560 and 1898; the older one contains a Baroque church. If you walk down from the hospice, the Italian frontier guards will let you cross the international border to explore the rocky area behind the customs post and Italian hospice; around the statue of St Bernard atop its round pillar (1905) you’ll find traces of the Roman road cut into the bedrock.

In summer, it’s possible to stay in the hospice, which is still a functioning religious community (027/787 12 36, fax 787 11 07; a), either in plain, cosy rooms, or dorms (Fr.17); the cooking is suitable hearty and warming and the atmosphere jovial. During the winter months (Nov–June) and over Easter, you can arrange an individual retreat, to take advantage of the solitude for personal reflection. The hospice also runs mountaineering courses and weekend hiking and skiing excursions.

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