From the motley bustle to complete silence: At over 1,800 m you can shop duty-free in the midst of many three-thousanders, enjoy mountain bike trails at every skill level and inhale endless amounts of outdoor excitement. We started the explorer mode and looked for the less known corners of the plateau – and found them!
Lovingly nicknamed Piccolo Tibet (Little Tibet), Livigno used to be snowed in and cut off from the rest of the world each winter until the construction of the Munt la Schera tunnel in the 1950s, which links the sprawling mountain town with Switzerland, and a more concerted effort on the part of the Italians to clear the road from Bormio over the Passo Foscagno. With just 6,500 permanent residents, Livigno rapidly became a haven for athletes, who flock here for altitude training whatever the season. In winter they come for Alpine and cross-country skiing, or cycling and roller skiing in summer. It’s the sort of place where the world’s elite can be observed training hard alongside adventure-seeking families, hikers, mountain bikers, climbers, and bargain hunters looking to exploits the good nature of the pedestrianized centre with its duty-free shopping.
Away from the frenzy
At 2,400 metres above sea level, there’s a sense of merriment when you exit the Mottolino Bike Park lift station, where downhillers ready to hit the descents swarm the area in their full-faced lids. The sight of these adrenaline-hungry riders is interrupted by less extreme-looking ones who are heading straight for the Take It Easy trail and more conventional cross-country mtb routes. Since hosting a round of the UCI MTB Downhill World Cup in 2005, Livigno has invested heavily into catering for mountain bikers, and the Mottolino side of the valley offers 13 diverse trails with flow to World Cup downhill on tap.
After a few descents in the bike park, we decide to opt for a different tack and head southwards towards the brand new eMTB route in the Val delle Mine valley, which is also great to ride on the normal mountain bike. After just a few minutes, the frenzy of the bike park is quickly forgotten, an inaudible and distant memory. In front of an awe-inspiring background, we cruise along the natural trails alongside small, gurgling streams, waterfalls, and secluded mountain huts. There’s a hearty dish of polenta – true, heavy mountain food – waiting for us at the Agriturismo Alpe Mine, rounded off with homemade cake and a delectable Italian espresso. From here, another unspoilt natural trail that’s directly opposite the hut escorts us swiftly back down to Livigno.
For a more high Alpine landscape, you can grind your way up past Lago del Monte to the summit of Monte Breva at 3,104 metres. From here, the views over the 4,000 metre-high neighbouring glaciers are unsurpassable, particularly when you catch sight of the ever-impressive Piz Bernina at 4,049 metres. The 1,000 metres of descent back towards the valley floor are brilliantly techy and well removed from any man-made bike park feats, making them sure to plaster a grin on your face with rough, rocky terrain, a somewhat lunar landscape that then turns back into trails across the finest Alpine meadows.
Bypass the bike park for truly natural trails
Livigno by eMTB
For a less sweat-inducing ride with some support, an eMTB can be the ultimate tool to escape the crowds and pedal towards your own oasis of calm. Livigno isn’t just one single valley, which is what’s so great about it – there are countless side valleys, each smaller and more intimate than the next. Riding up to Pass Chaschuana at 2,694 metres is a stellar route, taking you along the lunar ridge-like border of Italy and Switzerland before dropping down into the marmot-rich valley of Val Federia, one of Livigno’s earliest inhabited areas. Take a moment to chill out on the terrace of Alpe Federia, indulging in yet more of the region’s delicacies – for many, the food can hold its own as the prime reason to visit Livigno. This route can naturally be ridden on a standard mountain bike, but having the assistance means you’ll get back to Livigno with your afternoon free to spend at AQUAGRANDE with its legion of water slides, flumes, gym facilities and spa treatments. For families (and in bad weather), this is a failsafe port-of-call, as it has numerous pools of varying depths for kids and toddlers too. When the sun is still shining fiercely, an hour or two of stand-up-paddle boarding on the lake is another crowd-pleaser.
Livigno’s new Westside
A town that’s always in flux, Livigno’s scope for potential is massive, and they’re well attuned to what could work. Most recently, efforts have gone into the Carosello 3000 cable car and a legion of pristine trails for families, entry-level mountain bikers, and enduro riders too. On Livigno’s west-facing slopes, they’ve woven a 45 km route of flow trails and single track called the ‘Tutti Frutti’, which takes the best part of the day and links up 10 trails via cable cars for a total of 3,500 metres of descending. Trail tolerance is key on certain parts, as hikers also have access to roam on shared-use trails. The Mottolino Bike Park on the opposite mountainside is more suited to pure, brakes-off high-speed antics.
So contradictory, Livigno is awash with crowds as well as calm
Next Level: Heli-Biking!
From autumn 2018 onwards, Livigno is also targeting a heli-biking crowd, drawing on their expertise from heli-skiing. The swiftest way to access the sickest summits and mind-blowing descents (while avoiding sweaty cable cars or never-ending climbs), heli-biking escorts you upwards in a matter of minutes to the farthest-flung corners of the region. While the eco-friendly credentials of being chauffeured up to summits with your bike are questionable, you’re still riding your bike at the end of the day – and isn’t that better than most? If, however, your conscious is eating away at you, why not donate the equivalent of your elevated carbon footprint to environmental charities?
Whatever pastime you pick in Livigno, the charm of this Italian resort is one that’s hard to resist for anyone who loves the outdoors. From bike parks to natural trails, explorations in the lesser-frequented side valleys on both Italian and Swiss territory to indulgent spa treatments, duty-free shopping and mouthwatering mountain fare, Livigno is capable of ticking all the boxes.
Everything you need to know about Livigno
What is it and where can I find it
A high altitude plateau at 1,816 metres above sea level, Livigno is an Italian valley that’s right on the border of Switzerland. It’s about 40 km from St Moritz, and 25 km from Bormio and has 6,500 residents. Its winter tourism has rocketed in past decades, but the summer offerings are drawing in more and more tourists too.
How do I get there
All year long there’s a toll-paying tunnel from Switzerland called the Munt La Schera. Alternatively, you can take the Passo Foscagno from Bormio, which is open all year (although it may close briefly in the worst weather conditions). From St Moritz and Tirano there’s also the Passo Forcola, which is only open in the summers. Speaking of the summer season, this usually runs from early June until coming to a reluctant, chilly close at the end of September. At the height of summer, the temperature is usually around 20-25 °C.
But where is it exactly
Livigno is 180 km from Innsbruck, 288 km from Verona, 211 km from Friedrichshafen and 218 km from Zürich.
There are so many bike shops offering rental of various brands across the whole of Livigno. At the Mottolino cable car station you’ll find Dr Rent, with a handy shop directly in the bike park.
The Livigno Bike Pass gives you access to both Mottolino Bike Park and the Carosello 300 Mountain Park. A day ticket for adults is 38 euros, and 27 euros for kids up to 12 years old. It’s cheaper to buy a ticket for just one side of the valley, but this naturally depends on your riding tastes. For more information and to check out the offerings, head to www.mottolino.com or www.carosello3000.com.
There’s the pillar box red Bernina Express train that runs from Tirano to St Moritz over the Passo Bernina, so you’d just have to ride a short 15 km stretch or so into Livigno over the Passo Forcola if you did this option. Alternatively, there are local buses and minibus taxis that you can take from either Valtellina (Italy) or the Engadin valley in Switzerland.
The MTB-Guides in Livigno ensure that there’s a packed weekly schedule of guided rides for both mountain bikes or eMTBs, as well as technique courses. These are run at the Bike Skill Centre in Livigno.
Bike Skill Center
Catering for adults and kids alike, the Bike Skill Center has a pump track and skill-honing sections with tables, northshore and berms. These are all under the watchful eyes of an MTB guide.
Where should I sleep
Special bike hotels and apartments promise secure bike storage, workshop space, bike washes and laundry services. Eager, budget-hunting riders at the beginning of the season will get a free lift ticket, and the same applies to those coming to Livigno at the end of the season. On www.livigno.eu you can see a long list of accommodation options.
What if I have more questions
www.livigno.eu should have all the answers.
This article is from ENDURO issue #035
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Words: Photos: Dirk Wagener aka. Digger