All St. Bernard owners, perhaps all dog owners, should put Barryland on that bucket list. Located in the small town Martigny at the base of the Swiss Alps, it’s a museum dedicated to St. Bernard dogs and features history, art, films and of course, an awesome gift shop.
The museum is named in honor of Barry, a St. Bernard who rescued 40 travelers stranded in the snow and bitter cold.
Travelers trekked 8,000 feet up the Alps to journey from north to south of Europe. That winter temperatures could drop to 35 below zero did not seem to deter them. The St. Bernard Hospice, a monastery, served as a place to rest before continuing. In this case, “hospice” meant that all were welcome, whether royalty or beggars.
Each night the monks would venture out with dogs particularly adapted to the climate in search of stragglers and the lost who attempted to cross the pass in winter. St. Bernards can pick up scents through 20 inches of snow and directed searchers who brought bottles of brandy to revive the near-dead. By the way, no St. Bernard ever wore a keg around its neck. That was a fanciful addition to some artist’s painting and the breed has been stuck with it ever since.
The St. Bernard symbolizes Switzerland and their likeness is found everywhere from fine art, on cookie tins, candy bars and other products to remind tourists where they came from.
It’s thought that the breed descended from the Abyssinian war dog and photos from the 1800s show what St. Bernards looked like before breeders deformed them to fit some arbitrary standard. Like all purebreds, they are the product of inbreeding which has resulted in a host of health problems; hip and elbow dysplasia, bloat (The stomach twists on itself and 30% to 60% cases result in death), eye problems and bone cancer to name a few and now have lifespan of only eight to ten years.
The Barryland gift shop was my favorite attraction and it’s where I got my St. Bernard t-shirt, St. Bernard socks and a couple of cowbells (not St. Bernard related but I wanted them anyways). Here’s hoping you get a chance to visit this awesome place.