Travel Destinations

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Switzerland’s Summers Have Gone to the (St. Bernard) Dogs!

St. Bernard Dogs Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

We are usually spring and fall travelers, but when we learned that hiking with Switzerland’s St. Bernard dogs is an activity that’s only available in summer, a summer Switzerland vacation was booked immediately. 

Saint Bernard Pass Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

Of course, visitors to Martigny, Switzerland can hang out with St. Bernard dogs at any time of the year, but there is just a short two-month window when visitors to the area can take a one-and-a-half-hour hike in the mountains of the Great St. Bernard Pass accompanied by the Barry Foundation’s St. Bernard dogs.  Hikes on the pass with the Saint Bernards are available two times a day in July and August.

Hikes on the Pass with the Saint Bernards Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

The St. Bernard Pass hike is a beautiful summertime hike.  It’s not a difficult hike, though there are some uphill portions.  The views of the lake and hospice are pretty, and there’s a surprise mountain lake at the top that the dogs love to play in.

St. Bernard in Lake Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

St. Bernard dogs originated here in Switzerland’s Great St. Bernard Pass.  The Pass is one of the stops along the historic Via Francigena pilgrim route, a 1,700-kilometer trail from Canterbury to Rome.  The Cardinal of Canterbury traveled to Rome for a cloak.  He wrote in great detail about every leg of his journey, which is how the trail became a pilgrim route. 

The Great St. Bernard Hospice, located at 2,469 meters, was founded in the 11th century to house travelers and pilgrims.  The hospice was built using stones from a Roman temple.  The priests of the hospice kept St. Bernard mountain dogs starting in the mid-17th century to guard and protect visitors to the hospice.  They accompanied travelers and worked as search and rescue dogs.  Someone had to be sent out every day in each direction to see if anyone was coming, and then guide them to the hospice.  Once telephone lines were brought in in the 1960s that service ended.

Great St. Bernard Hospice Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

There is a small building on the property that used to be a macabre tourist destination.  The building was used to hold unidentified hypothermia victims which over time became mummified.  Eventually, the building was completely enclosed by stone.

St. Bernard Pass Hike Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

In addition to hiking with the St. Bernard dogs, visitors to the St. Bernard Pass can tour the hospice and grounds and learn more about the history in the small museum.  There’s also a nice walk around the lake and the ability to cross the border into Italy.

Barryland Puppy Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

If hiking with St. Bernards isn’t enough dog time, or if visiting the region outside of that two-month window, visitors can also visit Barryland within the city of Martigny.  Barryland breeds Saint Bernard dogs here, so there are dogs of all ages throughout the year.  Barryland is a cute place to learn about the history and legends of the St. Bernard dog.  Visitors can watch the dogs play, sleep and eat, and can even set up a photo session with some of the dogs.  There’s an area for kids to play, and the restaurant is a good place for lunch.

Amphitheater Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

There are more things to do in Martigny than just see St. Bernard dogs, though that would have been enough for us.  For instance, just next door to Barryland is an old Roman amphitheater.  In addition to being able to walk into the center of the amphitheater, there is an easy trail that circles the perimeter. 

Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

Martigny is also known for its art.  Leonard Gianadda has donated a lot of art to the city that he loves through the Fondation Pierre Gianadda, created in memory of his younger brother Pierre who was killed in an airplane accident in 1976.  There are sculptures in every roundabout and there’s an art museum and a sculpture garden.  There’s also a car museum with the largest collection of Swiss cars.

Saint-Maurice Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

Just a few miles outside of Martigny is the Royal Abbey of St-Maurice.  This was another stop along the Via Francigena pilgrim path, in the opposite direction from Martigny than the Great St. Bernard Pass. 

Royal Abbey of St-Maurice Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

The story of the Abbey is that a group of Egyptian Christians serving in the Roman army, under the command of Mauritius, were stationed there.  The Roman emperor ordered the Christians out of town because he thought they were dangerous.  Mauritius and his soldiers declared they wouldn’t persecute Christians, so instead, they became martyrs and later saints.  Saint Maurice is the patron saint of the Vatican’s Swiss Guard.

Royal Abbey of St-Maurice Courtyard Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

We received a special tour of the abbey led by the Rector who has clearly put his all into this abbey.  We were told that the Royal Abbey of St-Maurice is the most ancient abbey without interruption, having been in operation for 15 centuries.  Even though the abbey is so old, the Rector takes great pride in the modernizations he has helped create, like the kid-friendly audio guide, the modern and informative museum, and one of our favorites, the automated front door carved with the names of religious leaders of the past from all countries and all religions.

Royal Abbey of St-Maurice Archaeological Excavation Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

The abbey is perched under a sheer rock face, built that way for protection from people, but not necessarily the best protection from nature.  A rockfall in 1942 allowed archaeologists to undertake a major dig, leaving a massive archaeological excavation of the foundations of the earlier churches that can be viewed by visitors today.

Moulin Semblanet Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

One of Martigny’s unique restaurants is the Moulin Semblanet.  The food is delicious and the menu is full of local specialties.  But what makes the restaurant even more interesting is that it is housed in an old mill.  There’s been a mill in Martigny since at least the 14th century.  The mill still operates and some of the parts, including the leather belts, are original from 1880. 

mARTigny Boutique Hotel Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

Keeping with Martigny’s art theme, we stayed at the mARTigny Boutique Hotel.  The hotel is a boutique hotel with 52 rooms and a restaurant that combines traditional Swiss with Peruvian cuisine.  Something else that makes the hotel stand out is that it provides jobs to people with disabilities.

St. Bernard Express Things to Do Martigny Switzerland

Getting to the Grand St. Bernard Pass is easy using Switzerland’s public transportation system and the Swiss Travel Pass.  A train travels from Martigny to Sembrancher, where a train transfer continues on to Orsieres.  From Orsières a bus, the St. Bernard Express, travels up the mountains to the Grand St. Bernard Hospice.

Thank you to Valais Wallis Promotion, Switzerland Tourism, Office de Tourisme Martigny and Barryland for hosting our time in Martigny and making this article possible.  As always, all opinions are our own.  This article may contain affiliate links.

Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.