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Martigny, in the canton of Valais, is about an hour’s drive from where we live. It is a junction of roads linking Switzerland with France and Italy – roads over the Great St. Bernard Pass to Aosta (Italy), and the other over the col de la Forclaz to Chamonix (France).

Great St. Bernard Pass is a historic pass lying on the ridge between the two highest summits of the Alps, Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa. The pass is a part of the pilgrim’s route from Canterbury, England to Rome. At the highest point of the road, the Great St Bernard Hospice (hostel) was founded in 1049 to help travelers crossing the Alps. We hope to visit the pass during the summer months.

The hostel became famous for its use of big dogs in rescue operations and gave its name to these dogs. As St. Bernard dogs are not used for rescue anymore, they are no longer kept. A foundation was created to keep breeding the dog in the area.

The Musee et Chiens du Saint Bernard is created in Martigny, and we visited it when we canceled our trip to Milano due to a train strike.

There is a particularly good description of the history of the St. Bernard by the Smithsonian here.

They are rather slow moving and have a rhythm to go about their business of their own.

Their faces are expressive but generally of only a few expressions – bored or worried, not want to be bothered. They do drool a bit.

There is a long hair breed and a short hair breed. The shorter hair is better for rescue mission. Apparently, icicles form on the long hair and weigh the dog down.

This is an adolescent. The face has not quite droop down enough,  so it looks like a different breed of dog.

The kennel has large windows for visitors to observe the dogs. After grooming, the trainer brought the dog out for visitors to touch and socialize. The ones here were very calm, not overly excited about seeing people, but allowed kids to play with its tail and paws without even moving.

Above the kennel is a small museum about the breed, its history, ancient and modern.

St. Bernard has often been seen in media with a cask of brandy around its neck – widely believed to provide some warmth to the lost traveler.  However, the hostel has denied hanging any alcohol around the dog’s neck for rescue purpose. So it is a popular myth, probably created by advertisements (Hennessy, Morand) and movies.

The most famous original St. Bernard is Barry. More recently, it is Beethoven.

In Stephen King’s horror classic – Cujo – the villain is a St. Bernard.



  1. Sion or Sitten would be the capital of the canton…

  2. Cute!!!

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