Le Col du Petit Saint Bernard (or why you should ride to Italy for lunch)

The Col du Petit Saint Bernard is an Alps classic. The almost-30km climb, while long, will reward you with sweeping views down the Tarentaise valley and lunch in Italy at the top. If spending two hours trundling up the <5% grade isn’t for you, then there is a steeper, more interesting, and frankly prettier, route via the villages.

From Bourg St Maurice, follow the regular route up towards Séez and follow the signs for Montvalezan, which will be on your right after the first few hairpins. You’ll climb up through the picturesque hamlets of Montvalezan, Le Chatelard, and Hauteville, the valley spreading out below.


The road is simple enough to follow, take the first sign to La Rosière but not the second. You will eventually join the main road about 2 km below the ski station, which is another 7km from the summit. Once you reach the main climb, the gradient will ease off, giving your tired legs some relief from the 8 – 12% grades you’ve been crawling up for the last 10km or so.

And once at La Rosière, the final 7km are a breeze, with gradients varying between 3 – 5%. I’ve been up here once before, in early summer, with walls of snow on either side of the road as you neared the 2188m pass.


The main climb, while a classic, can be long and slow

The alpine landscape in autumn is perhaps even more beautiful. Wild, exposed, and windswept, with jagged rivers of red. As we approached the top, the summit was quiet. Many of the refuges had already closed for the season, a family hiked across the plateau, accompanied by an enormous Saint Bernard dog. The ultimate cliché. By this time, we were starting to feel pretty chilly & more than a bit peckish so no time to stop for photos!


Once at the col, we continued on for the extra kilometre across to Italy, where we ducked into the restaurant to escape the cold and windy weather. After a sticky hot chocolate, panini, pasta, and coffee, we weren’t particularly looking forward to stepping out into the weather, which seemed to be getting windier and colder.

Luckily, we were sufficiently distracted by the view and once we hit La Rosière, the wind died down and the sun warmed us on the long descent to Bourg St Maurice.

An out-and-back is not generally my favourite, but the sun was shining, and sometimes it’s worth the slog for lunch in Italy.


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