[ blog » 2020 » 08_Tour-Alps ] d08: Arvier to Saillon – Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard (by Philipp Gesang, location: Sarvaz campsite)


How to get into Switzerland from Italy? Well, from Aosta the answer is you ride up to 2473 m elevation and cross the border at the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard. Which was the plan for today, and implementing it was really enjoyable. The weather played along the whole day; after five rather wet nights it finally didn’t rain even once so I had a dry set of laundry in the morning. What a way to start the trip.

The pass is a busy one and frequented by heavy duty traffic but the tunnel diverts some of the load. On workdays anyways, but this being a saturday and on top of that the Swiss national holiday, most cars and motorcycles headed for the pass anyways. Luckily, there is a quiet alternative route until around 1400 m of altitude that leads through a series of picturesque, successively further up located villages. From the point where it joins the main road traffic got noticably denser and stayed like this until the col.

In between Borders

Above the altitude where the tunnel actually becomes a tunnel – which pretty much coincides with the tree line – the scenery is stunning. The final switchbacks are arranged in a half circle in the inside of a thoroughly eroded crown of rocks, until one suddenly enters the plateau where the lake and the pass are located. Among the large tourist crowd up there I met a French cycle tourer who jumped to join an accordeon player with his flute, a bunch of completely exhausted Dutch roadies, and two tourers from England who rode up the Swiss side and who were so cooked they had to dismount and push the last couple hundred meters below the col. What a bunch of heros.


The descent from 2473 m down to Martigny at around 500 m is a mostly straight, wide road, especially from where it rejoins the main road that went through the tunnel. Extensive galleries make it a bit of a nerve job, though going downhill it was tolerable. Many corners were built with a diameter so wide they could be taken at full speed without braking, which is fun. The road quality was superb too, with one exception: the tunnel road and the pass road meet inside a tunnel as well and the entrance to that had an insidious, deep pothole right at the beginning where one’s eyes couldn’t have possibly adapted to the dark yet. It goes without saying that I went right throug that pot hole at high speed. Ouch, but all spokes survived.

Down at the bottom of the valley close to Martigny there was a strong headwind that had me pedaling while rolling down a five percent incline. After Martigny I went east so this converted into a fortuitous tailwind that escorted me to the campsite.

Stocking up on food turned out a bit problematic due to Switzerland being mostly shut down on account of the national holiday. After lack of success at various supermarkets I bit the bullet and went to a gas station to pay a premium on top of the regular Swiss surcharge. People were queueing up in front of the gas station due to Corona restrictions on the number of customers allowed in at one time, so I spent half an hour just waiting in the head within a stone’s throw of the destination campsite at Saillon.


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