Can you bend down and easily pick up your dog? Does your dog fit on your lap while you read? Then the Fondation Barry tour will open your eyes to the world of large dogs. Really large dogs! These St. Bernards, minus the famous keg under their necks, weigh up to 180 pounds. The chance to pet and even walk with these massive breeds is the reason to visit Martigny, Switzerland.
My Personal Reason for Visiting Fondation Barry
Ever since I was little, I dreamed of having a St. Bernard. As an adult, the practical side of me weighed the pros and cons of having a dog whose happily wagging tail could knock over a pre-schooler. Instead, I bought a Springer Spaniel that I trained for film and print work. Yes, my dog had a headshot and a resume, starring in commercials for Honda, Chrysler, Reebok and many others. When a director suggested I get another dog to train for commercials I saw that as a sign to get a St. Bernard. Unfortunately, my particular St. Bernard lacked a bit in the intelligence department and never made it in show business. That was 25 years ago, so I needed a St. Bernard fix!
While many people think they “know” a St. Bernard from watching the “Beethoven” movies, nothing can prepare you for the size and strength of these dogs. I had many a coffee table centerpiece go flying across the room from one flick of my dog’s tail. We won’t even discuss what it feels like to have a St. Bernard accidentally step on your toes! A visit to the Fondation Barry gives both a historical and very up close and personal experience with these dogs.
First the Museum
The modern facility offers displays and exhibits describing the history of both St. Bernard, the man, and St, Bernard dogs. St. Bernard Pass was a treacherous mountain pass used by people crossing on pilgrimages to Italy. The hospice provided shelter for weary travelers.
Since those weary travelers often got stranded, monks and large dogs set out through the snow on rescue duty. “Barry” lived at the hospice from 1800 until 1812 and was doubtless the most famous of all the dogs who ever provided rescue services on the pass. He saved the lives of more than 40 people.
The many legends surrounding his name greatly contributed to the Saint Bernard’s good reputation. As a result, there is always a dog called Barry at the hospice. (If you want to visit the hospice kennels and see more St. Bernards, their kennel at the pass is about a 45-minute drive.)
The museum provided a popular and educational exhibit showing a large assortment of stamps featuring St. Bernards. I watched a group of children use the exhibit for more than 15 minutes as they selected a stamp and then saw a photo, map and history of the country that produced the stamp. Other displays include a film and exhibits of advertising campaigns using, of course, St. Bernards.
The Real Reason For Visiting
Yes, the museum is interesting, but let’s face it. The real reason people come to the museum is to see and touch the dogs. Fortunately, part of the program involves petting St. Bernards and taking pictures. It’s hard not to get a captivating photo when you have your child’s tiny head nestled next to a fluffy and massive dog. While the St. Bernard in the picture with my then 4-year-old daughter was our own dog, I had to include it with this article because it is just so darn cute!
My daughter Sondra with our St. Bernard.
Photo Credit: Allan Clark
Take a Hike
If you need even more of a St. Bernard experience, take a walk. For an extra fee, you can walk a St. Bernard, (with a staff person along!) on a 45-minute hike around the kennels during July and August.
Crossing the St. Bernard Pass? Stop at the hospice and kennel to take a 90-minute hike. Choose from an “ambitious” mountain hike or a “regular” walk with a St. Bernard at the end of your leash.
The dogs are well trained so you’ll experience what it is like to walk a dog that doesn’t pull at the leash. Since many travelers miss their dogs at home, this is a nice way to have close contact with a dog. Then when you get home, you can plan a trip with your own dog.
It’s a Dog’s Life
Even if you are not a big dog lover, Fondation Barry is worth a visit to see the dogs in their large kennels. A type of “overpass” lets you walk over the kennels and see the dogs whether they are inside or out.
These dogs have a pretty lush life. After “working” at the Fondation all day, they take a short van trip each evening to another kennel where they can relax and recuperate from being petted and adored all day!
A cafe gives you nourishment for your next travel adventure and naturally you’ll find a gift shop with many St. Bernard related items. Details on time, location and admission fees can be found at the Fondation Barry website.