Guide to cycling Col du Petit Saint Bernard - Epic Road Rides Back to top
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The Ride Col du Petit Saint Bernard,
French Alps

Distance

Elevation gain

Difficulty

Epic rating

31 km (outbound)
1,420 m (outbound)
  
 

Distance

Elevation

31 km (outbound)
1,420 m (outbound) 

Difficulty

Epic rating

  
  

The Col du Petit St Bernard (or “Little St Bernard Pass”) is an accessible climb by Alpine standards. It may be 30 km with 1,400 metres of climbing, yet the gradients average less than 5%.

It’s not a quiet idyll (the border with Italy is at the summit and it’s an important transport route), but the scenery after La Rosière is stunning and there’s lots of history too (see below). The steady gradient makes it a good opportunity for finding your rhythm while climbing for a decent length of time.

Tip: there are quite a few little roads around the main climb which allows you to incorporate quieter stretches, but they’ll add gradient too. This route sticks to the standard climb, but play around with it if you want to make it quieter and/or tougher.

(Banner photo credit: Antonio Petrone/Shutterstock.com)

Route map and profile

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COL DU PETIT SAINT BERNARD HIGHLIGHTS

You spend more than two thirds of the ride climbing the wooded Isère valley above Bourg Saint Maurice. 

Suddenly, after leaving La Rosière, you round a 90° bend and are in another world. You leave the woods, trees, houses and businesses behind you.  The road winds up the side of a softly green U shaped valley with pastures stretching up to grey peaks.

The final eight kilometres stretch ahead of you and, on the horizon, you spot the Hospice du Petit Saint Bernard. It’s stunning.

Views on the way up Col de Petit Saint Bernard

Summit sign at the Petit Saint Bernard pass

The beautiful softly green valley after La Rosière (photo credit: Antonio Petrone/Shutterstock.com)

RIDE LOG

1. Bourg Saint Maurice to La Rosière: 0-23 km

It’s a short spin to the start of the climb. After Seez you head up an impressive series of hairpins. Slowly but steadily you climb: kilometre markers never announce gradients that are too alarming (4-6%). You’re generally within forest, passing houses and the odd little village.

The best views come when you get to La Rosière, a small ski station at about 1850m.

2. La Rosière to summit: 23-31 km

From La Rosière it’s 8km of blissful views down the mellow valley with the Torrent du Reclus below you. Gradients average a manageable 4.4% which makes the whole thing rather enjoyable.

A couple of kilometres after you leave La Rosière, you round a corner and, up ahead, you can just about see the statue of Saint Bernard. It’s not far from there to the Hospice St Bernard and the Petit St Bernard pass.

The statue of Saint Bernard can be seen far and wide (photo credit: blutack/Shutterstock.com)

A fun descent back to La Rosière

3. Descent to Bourg Saint Maurice: 31-62km

Enjoy this swooping descent - just watch out for traffic.

There are plenty of options for diverting off the main road onto smaller, narrower (and steeper) descents.

CAFé STOPS

Stock up in Bourg Saint Maurice before you leave as there’s not much before you hit La Rosière. Bourg Saint Maurice has plenty of supermarkets, bakeries, cafés and restaurants.  

Other options:

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    23km: La Rosière is also a good place for a rest and refreshments should you need it.
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    31km: There’s a small café at the top of the col and the Hospice du Saint Bernard, one kilometre beneath the summit, also has a restaurant.

ACCOMMODATION

We stayed at The Peak, in the ski station of Sainte Foy Tarentaise, about 20km from Bourg Saint Maurice. It’s a nice village, and we very much enjoyed our stay. Riding the Col du Petit Saint Bernard from Sainte Foy is quite a treat because you can add some fun miles and meet the main road on its way to La Rosière. Take a look at our GPX download of Bourg Saint Maurice Sainte Foy loop for more.

Not quite right for you?

You’ll find more accommodation suggestions in our ultimate guide to the Northern French Alps: Col d’Iseran region

Or for something closer to the Col Petit Saint Bernard, you could try Le Relais du Petit St Bernard, La Rosière (also known as Hotel Petit St Bernard). It's a basic family run hotel with warm service and great views.  

Alternatively, the Hospice du Petit St Bernard is open between mid-June and mid-September and offers simple accommodation and a restaurant.

TIPS

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    The Col Petit Le Saint Bernard has a long history.
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    Some believe that Hannibal used the col to cross the Alps on his way to Rome in 218 BC.
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    At the summit are the remains of a 72m Iron Age stone circle: the road cuts right through the middle.
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    There used to be a Roman Temple dedicated to Jupiter at the top.
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    A kilometre beneath the pass lies the  Hospice Saint Bernard which was founded in the 11th century by Saint Bernard.
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    This is a good ride to do out of peak season. Being south facing, the slope gets a lot of sun making it rideable for much more of the year than other climbs in the area.
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    The Little St Bernard col was first used by the Tour de France in 1949 and has featured three times since then.
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    Check out the webcam Petit Saint Bernard, here.
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    Read our tips for cycling in the Alps before you set out.

Found this guide useful? 

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