Bike from La Thuile
An energised ride through nature that also stimulates the mind: many stages to indulge in to fill your eyes with culture and beauty.
Geologically speaking, we are in a broad anthracite belt that starts in the Maurienne in Savoie and extends into the Aosta Valley via the Petit St Bernard and on into Switzerland. Anthracite is a fossil coal with a high carbon content derived from the transformation of ancient plant deposits that became trapped during sedimentation on the seabed. In 1749, on the orders of King Charles Emmanuel III, the inspector of mines Nicolas de Robilant also made inspections in this area, describing vast coal outcrops used as fuel for metalworking, lime kilns and domestic heating.
Terres Noires is also remembered for a bloody episode that occurred at the end of World War II, in August 1944.
German troops retreating from the Rhone valleys after the Allied landings and the progressive liberation of the occupied territories raided along the way and took a group of 28 Savoyard civilian hostages to protect themselves from the partisan guerrillas.
Shortly after the Little St. Bernard Pass, the prisoners were shot and buried in two mass graves. Their bodies were only found in the summer of 1945 when the snow melted. On 28 July 1945, a solemn funeral was held in Moûtiers in the presence of a large crowd. A monument commemorates this episode.
Little Saint Bernard hospice
The hospice was entrusted in 1113 to the order of the monks of Saint-Gilles of Verrès. A new hospice was built at the behest of Saint Peter II, archbishop of the Tarentaise Valley, a little further south, in its present location.
The building experienced alternating periods of decay and prosperity. From 1752, its name was linked to the Order of Saint Maurice and Saint Lazarus, and the crusader emblem of the Mauritian Order appeared on the façade.
In 1860, Abbot Chanoux arrived and contributed to guaranteeing hospitality for 50 years, both in summer and winter. In 1920, the hospice recorded a record number of passages, over 21,000 of which more than 500 in winter!
During the Second World War, the building was devastated and lay in ruins for a long time. Since the summer of 1995, thanks to cooperation between Italian and French Rotary clubs, a renovated and equipped hospice with a restaurant, rooms and tourist information point has once again become the soul of the Petit-Saint-Bernard Pass.
The four winds and statue of Saint Bernard of Menthon
Next to it is an imposing statue of Saint Bernard of Menton placed in 1902 by Abbot Chanoux on a tuff pedestal over 12 m high. The figure of Saint Bernard is fundamental to the history of the Col: it was he who in 1034 received the mandate to build the hospice. The saint, depicted with his index finger pointing towards Italy to indicate the way to cross the pass, embodied, then as now, the essence of hospitality. During the Second World War, the finger was lost, leaving an outstretched fist in a more vengeful-looking gesture.
Access and parking
Arriving from Italy: SS 26 of Valle d'Aosta until La Thuile
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