The Grand St Bernard pass is a historic crossing point of the Western Alps between Switzerland and Italy. The journey for pilgrims, merchants and travellers used to be very dangerous. Therefore St Bernard of Menthon established the monastery and hospice on the col over 9 centuries ago, to provide a safe haven for those passing through.
This fascinating establishment remains an active monastery, and is snowbound in winter, that is to say it is only accessible on foot.
Steeped in history, it is a unique place in which to spend the night. There is plenty to hold the visitor’s attention, including an incredible chapel (complete with working pipe organ), and a good museum. Visitors are also encouraged to join prayers, which is a unique and special experience regardless of one’s religious beliefs.
Accommodation and catering are functional but comfortable. The hospice isn’t a hotel, so rules and routine must be respected. Compared to most mountain huts though, you will find everything you need here, offered with warmth and a smile.
The approach to the monastery on snowshoes is not difficult, and is within reach for most hikers, subject to suitable conditions*. Most people take around 3 hours to climb to the monastery from the parking area.
For the more adventurous, and in good conditions, a visit to the monastery could include climbing one of the surrounding peaks or cols for unparalleled views of the Alps.
* The approach to the monastery is frequently exposed to avalanche risk, as well as severe weather. I monitor conditions daily, and only embark on this journey if the route is considered safe. By its nature this is usually a last minute decision. In the event that a planned ascent is deemed unwise, I will make every effort to provide an alternative experience, which is usually possible.
The BBC Ski Sunday team visited the monastery back in 2012 (in challenging conditions!). Here is their excellent video account of their adventure:
10.00 meet Geneva airport (next door to railway station). Transfer by private vehicle to start of trek. Half day snowshoe to Monastery. Dinner & overnight at Monastery.
Snowshoeing from the Monastery, exploring this remote and beautiful environment. Descend by the same route to the car. Transfer by private vehicle to Geneva airport. Tour ends (by 18.00).