Travel Guide: ITALY-LIVIGNO
Having hosted a World Cup downhill round and the World Championships you’d think there would be a bit of a buzz about Livigno. Truth is that it all went a little quiet after 2005, unlike Pila, Schladming or Fort William, there hadn’t been the same lasting interest here. I knew they had a bikepark but I wondered if they had really put the effort in to follow up the exposure a World Championship brings. I wondered why they would let this happen, as the area had clearly spent a lot of money to host the worlds and I was intrigued by the venue. Amelia and Andrew from Italian Safaris had been in contact with us offering to show us just what they had found in the area, they said ‘leave the downhill bike at home, there is so much more to our riding than the Bikepark’. So right at the end of a long season we packed up the van from the World Cup final and Victor Lucas, Gareth Rogers and I drove back into Italy one last time to see just what they had to offer and if the world champs trail was still the hot ticket. Oh and of course we didn’t leave the downhill bike at home.
As ever Schladming played out a fitting end to the World Cup season last year, the course is awesome and the town is a great venue. They had a massive new club, the biggest Apres Ski bar in Europe – so the party went off, but luckily we didn’t have to drive to Livigno till the Monday so we had a day to chill out around town as the circus packed up for the final time of the year. Gareth had joined us for the trip and had made some pretty ‘out there’ arrangements to get to us; flying to Bratislava, catching the train to Vienna and then onto Schladming. With a whole load of riding between airports and train stations en route he had already put in some road miles, was it secret training for what was in store in Livigno?
Access to Livigno from our direction of travel was through the Livigno tunnel, which closes from 8pm to 8am, hence our arrival on
the Monday and not the Sunday night. The weather had turned a little and it was pretty cold up in the remote Valtellina valley, with temperatures in the day around 5º and snow high up on the mountains. The riding that Andrew showed us was pretty exceptional singletrack and definitely of the ‘epic’ category. We enjoyed some long days, big rides and descents, some starting up in the snow, which always adds an element of fun, and finishing up in valleys often miles away from Livigno in Italy or Switzerland. They had the operation dialled though and would soon be there with their vehicles to shuttle you back to base. The shuttles were pretty deluxe too with their Landrover being in for some basic repairs, Andrew was using his 3.5l Mercedes to move the bikes around; there were no complaints from us. A highlight has to be the hot springs where we finished one of our days rides with a couple of tinnies in the natural hot pool on the side of a mountain river. A peculiar setting with some old industrial workings all around, the rushing icy cold river and this gorgeous hot pool, we went the full hog with a few dunks in the freezing river before melting back into the hot pool. I’m not sure if the 4* hotel will be happy or not with us taking their bathrobes and slippers!
Livigno is an old alpine mountain village that has changed to meet the times, and this once traditional farming community now gets the majority of its income from tourists, though its roots are still very evident, with farms spread along the valley floor. It is set amongst the spectacular mountains of the Stelvio National Park in the Italian Alps. Livigno is cut off on all sides with two mountain passes and a tunnel being the only way out of the Valtellina Valley. It is an independent province of Italy and has enjoyed the privilege of being a tax free state since the times of Napoleon. So you can expect cheap fuel, alcohol, perfumes, electrical goods, cameras, designer clothes and sugar?!? Yes, for some reason sugar is one of the main things the Italians come and bulk buy from Livigno. The town runs in a linear fashion along the valley bottom with the main shopping street spread out over a good kilometre.
Unfortunately there is quite a divide between the two lift companies, the Mottolino on the one side of the valley and the Carosello on the other. This goes a long way to explaining the lack of publicity and promotion following the World Champs, and it’s a little sad to see these people pulling in different directions instead of working together for the
common cause. That’s politics for you though, and on the flip side in their attempts to out do each other it may actually prove a good thing for riders in the long run, but somewhere along the line the information isn’t getting out to their market. Fortunately Italian Safaris are far from reliant on the lift companies of Livigno or ‘little Tibet’ as it is affectionately named by the local residents. They have thought big and explored a huge area, one that you could never cover in a weeks stay, it really is a vast region; some 10,000 square km’s that they operate within.
So I came to see what Italian Safaris had uncovered in this area, but I was secretly harbouring my own agenda – to spend some time shredding in the Bikepark. Well in all honesty the bike park turned out to be a big disappointment. It’s not that it was really bad, I mean you could have some fun on a few of the trails, but most of the jumps were super sketch and a lot of the runs didn’t flow, the biggest let down is that it could be so good. We hooked up with Jerry and Alberto, two of the guides and coaches from the park who were a funny pair, they have a good outlook on life, boarding through the winter and riding all summer, in their own words they will never be rich, but were living a fun life. They showed us some nice lines in the woods and a few good sections, but there is little to keep you entertained for more than a day or two.
Fortunately what the Livigno valley and the surrounding area, known as the Alta Reiza, has to offer, more than makes up for any short falls in the bike park and out and out downhill. We are talking awesome singletrack on a grand scale; real big mountain riding. I was thoroughly impressed with the depth and variety of singletrack here, from fast, silky smooth and buff trails that flow and cling to the contours of the valleys, to much steeper, technical rocky footpaths.
Just around the Livigno valley itself there are a number of singletrack descents that feed down off the 60km Upper Panoramica bike trail which are great fun to ride, they are smooth with loads of tight switchbacks, I could happily of spent a few days riding these, but time was of the essence and our guides had so much to show us.
The next few days we headed out of Livigno, being shuttled up to the top of some of the surrounding mountain passes and took in some of their favourite big rides, many of the rides take all day to complete and are in epic mountain scenery. Dropping down the Swiss side towards Engadin and the Italian side to Poschiavo from the Bernina pass and following the Benina mountain train were both highlights here.
We did make one glorious error in testing out a new route we had been advised to try by an old Italian gent. Picking up the top of this trail it looked promising, super steep and tech, kinda like Champery at the top, then it started to get silly! We ended up shouldering the bikes for a third of the descent as this was not ride–able and the cliff drop, if you got anything wrong, was enough to bring us back down to earth. All part of the adventure though and funnily enough it dropped us onto a mint lower piece of trail.
The next day we took the Carousello gondola on the opposite side of the valley to the bikepark up to 3000m and dropped down a trail which led down the back side of the mountain into a parallel valley. The trail seemed freshly cut and the loose mix of mud and gravel was so much fun to ride, smooth but lively, you could easily drift through the turns under control. About half way down we bumped into some good old boys with hand tools working away on the trail. We stopped and chatted to them, they were the trail crew who had re–cut the entire top half of the trail by hand, and they’d done an awesome job. They were happy to see people out riding on their work and to know that we thought it was rad. Great to see the area investing in these guys who are doing a great job and will bring in more riders with trails like these!
Before we left we had to try and tackle the first descent of the alien like mountain Andrew had shown us, Gareth tamed it in the end and we featured it in a previous issue of Dirt.
As with any Ski resort in the summer there is plenty of accommodation about. We stayed in the Hotel Bivio, a lovely modern hotel with a rustic feel and somewhere safe to keep our bikes. This hotel has a deal going with Italian Safari’s and at the rate you can stay in this 4* hotel half board, it would be hard to turn it down. They do have some apartments you can rent if you want to save a few pennies though.
The food in the Bivio is amazing; the breakfast and evening buffets are huge. I love my food, but I couldn’t even make a dent in this spread; highly recommended. When you’re out on rides there are mountain refuges all over the place where you can stop for lunch and snacks. In the evening as an alternative to the Bivio try out the Bait dal Ghet in the centre of town, it’s relatively cheap and popular amongst the locals.
The Kuhstall is found in the basement of the Bivio and is conveniently the place to go in winter and summer, though it is only busy on weekends and Italian holidays through the summer. If you spend a day or two in the Bikepark then you’re likely to end up in the Tea del Vidal bar at the bottom of the runs.
There are a few bike shops in town where you can pick up the basic requirements, anything specialist should be brought with you as we couldn’t find any brake pads for Hayes here. Try out Deefox or Arcobaleno all around the main street in town.
There are no trail maps for the Bikepark, but you don’t need one there as the three main runs (blue, red, black) are all marked out. But you really need a guide to get anything near the best out of this area.
There are two lifts open to bikes in Livigno itself, the Mottolino gondola which services the Bikepark and the Carousello gondola on the opposite side of the valley which takes you right up to 3000m. The rest of the rides we did involved being shuttled to the start and back from finish points by vehicle. You can also use the Benina train (labelled the freeride express by the locals) to shuttle some of the singletracks in that valley from the Benina pass.
Prices for this tour with Italian Safaris (www. italiansafaris.com) range from £365 for the week to around £600 depending on various options. Lift passes are 21 Euros for 1 day and 60 Euros for 5 days.
This is big mountain terrain and the weather can change when you’re out on a long ride, so it is important to be prepared with appropriate clothing. We were there very late in the season and the temperature had dropped right off, but generally their summer is very pleasant in the 20s.
Reaching Livigno is not quite as straight forward as some other resorts. The nearest airports are the two Milan airports, Bergamoand Malpensa, and Zurich, all have a transfer time of around 3 to 3 ½ hrs. It is important to take into consideration that both the tunnel and the Forcola Pass into Switzerland close at night when booking your flights.z