Col du Grand St. Bernard Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

Col du Grand St. Bernard


This route has been used by Cesar and Napolean

Page Contributor(s): Ard Oostra, Switzerland

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Climb Summary

Cycling Col du Grand St. Bernard (Swiss side)

Photos by PJAMM Contributor Ard Oostra, Switzerland.

The Col

Winter at the Col

Great St. Bernard Pass Is the third highest road pass in Switzerland. It connects Martigny in the canton of Valais in Switzerland with Aosta in the region Aosta Valley in Italy. It is the lowest pass lying on the ridge between the two highest mountains of the Alps, Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa. The pass itself is located in Switzerland in the canton of Valais, very close to Italy.  Wikipedia - Great St Bernard Pass

This is a historical pass that dates back to well Before Common Era.  According to Wikipedia, the pass first appears in history in 390 BC when Celtic tribes of the Boii and Lingones used it to invade Italy.  Famous generals of note have used the pass for military purposes - one going north and the other south:

1.        First came Julius Caesar (or actually his top commander, Servius Galba) in 57 BC.  Galba having failed to seize the pass.  Augustus later succeeded in securing the pass for Rome and a road soon thereafter built under the direction of Roman Emperor Claudius.

2.        Next up - Napoleon from the north. In May, 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte sent 40,000 men over the pass to attack an Austrian army that had laid siege to French-occupied Genoa.  See, Wikipedia - Great St Bernard Pass

So to has the French Grand Tour passed over Colle del Gran San Bernardo 5 times in the past. Great St Bernard Pass 

It appears the pass name derives from the hospice for travellers constructed there in 1049 by, you guessed it Saint Bernard of Menthon.  So to does the name for the great snow rescue dog derive! Wikipedia - Great St Bernard Hospice

“Having been bypassed by easier and more practical routes, particularly the Great St Bernard Tunnel which opened in 1964, its value today is mainly historical and recreational.” Wikipedia

The Great St Bernard Tunnel . . . is a road tunnel complementing the Great St Bernard Pass, linking Martigny (in the Swiss canton of Valais) with Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses (in the Aosta Valley, in north western Italy). . . . For most of its 5,798-metre (6,341 yd) length the tunnel runs in a straight line, but incorporating a gentle slope. The northern end is 1,918 m (6,293 ft) above sea level while the southern end is only 1,875 m (6,152 ft) above sea level. . . .

Before the tunnel was constructed, the frontier was passable here only using the Great St Bernard Pass. The pass remains an option in summer, but is normally closed by snow between October and May, and sometimes for longer. The tunnel is intended to be usable for 365 days every year.” [Emphasis added;  Wikipedia - Great St Bernard Tunnel

Our Swiss friend from Montreux, Ard Oostra, writes:

“I climbed St Bernard pass many times in the last 20 years and always went through the tunnel.
Since this road normally doesn't have much traffic and a large section is "galeries" (which means it is mostly open / windows on the right hand side when going uphill) instead of being a closed tunnel, I think that its doable.
In fact going up from Martigny towards the Col there are three tunnels: The first one, prohibited in the uphill for cyclists, can be avoided by the external parallel road (some 800m long ?)

The second one is the 6km or so long tunnel-galerie section. Before you get from the second tunnel into the third tunnel which leads to the border and into Italy (the third tunnel is tollway and prohibited for cyclists) there is an exit in the second tunnel which leads you to the last 6 kms of open road towards the pass. In fact these last 6 kms are the most worthwhile and hardest. (Did you check all my photos on Challenge BIG website?)

So, I'm aware that there are roads along the (artificial) lake, but I never took them and don't know if they are asphalted or (partly) gravel. It could be a good alternative.

Maybe next May when the roads are open again I may have a look for you:-)”

Will from Cycling Challenge (Col du Grand Saint Bernard) writes:

“I prefer beautiful routes to complete routes and I have avoided this great pass for a long time because quite honestly the lower part of the Swiss side is a lousy route. It’s on a main road with fast traffic and plenty of tunnels; and trucks heading for Italy.

But as the route climbs, seven kms from the Col, the main road becomes a huge tunnel right through the Alps. And
there is a little turn off to the old route (trucks are forbidden). From here on it’s a great ride.

My cunning plan: Drive to this turn-off and cycle up. And then descend the other side into Italy until the old route meets up with the main road again.

While purists will be appalled at not “doing the whole climb”, this worked perfectly for me and by combining two climbs it still resulted in almost 1500 metres (5000 feet) of climb.”  [Emphasis added] 

Love Cour Mayeur:  “CYCLING THE COL DU GRAND SAINT BERNARD - Cycling the Col du Grand Saint Bernard:  This is one of the highest cycling cols in the Alps with an elevation of 2,469m (8,100feet) and one of the longest at 45km from the Swiss side.   Part of the route is on a main road with alot of traffic, trucks and tunnels. Once you get to the huge tunnel, take the small turn off just before the tunnel and onto the old road where trucks are forbidden.”  [Emphasis added] 

Here is a potential route around the last tunnel: (we will personally chart this route in August, 2018):

  • At the tunnel - the 15 km mark (if coming from Orsières), turn right to take the Old Road around the tunnel and on the west side of Lac des Toules - here is the Old Road route, as best we can tell: 
  • From the “detour” the climb is 14.9 km / 1,073 m / 5.9%
  • The “detour” point appears to be where Will (Cycling Challenge) started his climb - see quote above.

Strava members regarding the route around the last tunnel:

Juan Manuel San Juan Hi John, The route is safe. Go up to the port by road avoiding the tunnel. We made the route with mountain bike. We had no problem. The bad weather forced us to ride more than half of the route by road. The weather is very changeable in the Alps. I send you the link of ET 5/7 and the complete Tour Mont Blanc & Grand Combin Greetings, and enjoy the route. JM  

Yvan Vouillamoz Bonjour, oui par cette route vous évitez la galerie d’accès au col du Grand St-Bernard. C est un chemin pour VTT.   Hello, yes by this road you avoid the access gallery at the Grand St-Bernard pass. It is a path for mountain bikes.

Question - can it be ridden on cross or road bike with bigger tires?  Answer: Oui je pense, mais il y a des passages où il faut porter le vélo. Actuellement ça n est pas possible, route enneigée  Yes I think, but there are passages where you have to carry the bike. Currently it is not possible, snowy road

Diego Micheloud Bonjour John,l'ancienne route est parfaite en VTT ou en CX elle contourne le tunnel par le barrage,très belle option  .Hello John, the old road is perfect in mountain bike or CX it bypasses the tunnel by the dam, very nice option.

Steepest Gradients - Swiss Side

Steepest kilometer starts at km  20.1 (9.4%)

Steepest Gradients - Italy Side


Steepest kilometer starts at km 29 (7.5%)