One of the beautiful things about living in the age of the internet is google maps. When we arrived in Pollein, a small village in Aosta Valley off the official route of the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB), we didn’t really have a hike for our time there. Researching hikes for the TMB is fairly easy given its popularity. However, we weren’t exactly sure where we would want to hike for our one free full day in Pollein. My resourceful father did what he always does: he got out his laptop, put in google maps and zoomed in on the mountains. Then he cross-referenced the location with an amazing interactive map of the TMB and beyond  and by zooming in to Aosta Valley, he discovered a series of high alpine lakes in the municipality of Bionaz near the Swiss border about an hour’s drive northeast of Pollein. Lac Long and Lac Mort captured our attention and that would be our hike.

We set off on a glorious summer day heading north through the nostalgic Italian countryside and then climbing up through the winding roads leading to Bionaz, a remote agricultural community that runs along the Buthier River where the Aosta Valley meets Switzerland. We ventured through some of the most pristine alpine scenery and villages we’d seen so far on our trip and I longed to have more time to spend there to explore.

After about 55 minutes we arrived at the end of the road, at the Dam at the Place-Moulin. We were surrounded by the high peaks of the Alps and the ribbons of glaciers that feed the gorgeous aquamarine high alpine lakes throughout the valley. Our hike would begin at the stunning Lac de Place-Moulin and continue on up to Lac Mort.

Lago di Place-Moulin, Bionaz, Aosta Valley, Italy

Arriving at the dam at Lago di Place-Moulin, one of the highest dams in Europe at an elevation of 6,500 ft/1928 m

We parked at the end of the road and were pleasantly surprised to find the car park relatively empty. It was much more remote and isolated than the touristy, over-crowded yet beloved Tour de Mont Blanc. We would delight in having the entire hike to ourselves save a couple from Luxembourg. When we first saw the Lago di Place-Moulin, we were spellbound by its technicolor aquamarine color. It was so brilliantly blue-green that the color looked fake. But what was even more impressive was the large hydro-electric dam which is definitely an engineering feat. Clearly, the dam holds a ton of water that nourishes the surrounding villages and countryside in the Aosta Valley.

We began our hike following trail number 7, a relatively steep path bringing us up to Lac Long (2 hours) at 2720 m/8923 feet and in 20 minutes later to Lac Mort at 2843 m/9327 feet.

Lago di Place-Moulin, Aosta Valley, Italy

As we set off, the day was glorious. The sky was baby blue dotted with powder puff clouds. A gentle breeze kissed my face as we climbed up trail 7 into the unknown. The views of the lake and dam below at Place-Moulin were stunning as was the surrounding view of the Alps.

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Given the remoteness of Bionaz, there is a ton of flora and fauna to be found and not many people. I loved all the beautiful wildflowers we found along the trail. There are a few long-distance hikes and overnight refuges you can stay at out this way but besides that nothing but wilderness and nature.

Bionaz, Aosta Valley, Italy

Bionaz, Aosta Valley, Italy

So many lovely flowers and succulents. 

As we climbed up the steep path leading us higher and higher into the mountains, all I could think about was the reward for our efforts. A view of the legendary Lac Mort, a high alpine ice-covered lake at 2843 meters (9327 feet) above the Aosta Valley on her perch in the Italian Alps.

Bionaz, Aosta Valley, Italy

Bionaz, Aosta Valley, Italy

Bionaz, Aosta Valley, Italy

After two hours of hiking, we reached Lac Long. It was absolutely stunning!  We only had about twenty minutes to go to the legendary Lac Mort, however, suddenly the wind began to change. We could see a series of rain-laden clouds off in the distance over the Aosta Valley. I checked the radar and knew we would be fine however my dad grew nervous. He had been caught in a ravaging thunderstorm atop a mountain before and swore he’d never do it again. He wanted to turn back. I reluctantly agreed. We snapped a few photos and ate our picnic lunch before heading back to the car.

Bionaz, Aosta Valley, Italy

Bionaz, Aosta Valley, Italy

Bionaz, Aosta Valley, Italy

While I was disappointed to not see Lac Mort there was another unexpected reward that came from the hike. I shared these reflections about my disappointment and frustration in my first post about our trip to Mont Blanc:

I didn’t talk for the next hour of the hike down to the car and purposely held back on my pace letting my dad and son go ahead. Yet it was at that moment when I fully realized the true beauty and power of intergenerational travel.

From a distance, I observed and listened to my dad and teenage son talk about life, the world, their hopes and dreams. Slowly my disappointment and anger eased and instead a deep sense of gratitude grew. For this is what it is all about and why it is so incredibly meaningful to travel as family. This unburdened time together in the middle of nowhere. Sharing our common love of nature and mountains, creating bonds that somehow are often harder to create at home. It is magical and priceless.

My favorite shot of all of me and my son Max.

Bionaz, Aosta Valley, Italy

As we packed up the car, we ran into the couple we saw earlier from Luxembourg who had made it to Lac Mort ahead of us. They graciously shared this photo of Lac Mort with us and told us it was covered in snow and ice (must be where they go the name Lac Mort). It was spectacular!  Maybe we didn’t see it in person, but at least we got a glimpse of what it looked like. Maybe someday we will go back.

If you go:

Place Moulin is about a 55 minutes drive from Aosta. As far as I could tell, there does not seem to be bus service there and it requires a car. There is a large car park at the entrance of the dam and hiking trails. I found this excellent website on the Aosta Valley as well with tips on hiking, accommodations, history, culture and more. 

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