Winter Sports Destinations Livigno, Italy
Livigno, Italy Ski Holidays
Set at an altitude of 1,800m-3,000m, snow is more or less assured in Livigno from November till May, and the place is usually postcard-perfect in heavy snow. It's not a pleasant experience getting in and out (journeys from 'nearby' airports are rarely less than 200km), and its geographic isolation (it used to be called 'Little Tibet') has led overtime to Livigno's establishment as a duty-free town.
In Livigno Italy, the combination of practically free vodka and surplus virgin snow entails that more Brits are making the journey to Livigno than ever before, joining the predominantly Italian and German tourists and crowding those rustic cowsheds with yet more of their hard-earned cash. Because of this, the road system has been expanded, the buses made increasingly efficient and more modern hotels and resorts have sprung up on the outskirts of town. The center of the place, however, continues to be untouched: Livigno still looks and feels outstanding -although expert skiers are not served well by the abundance of red runs - and on quieter days it could still appear like the quintessential winter wonderland.
Livigno is a perfect place for skiing and snowboarding novices to find their feet. The entire north-western side of the valley is fringed with a long line of low-lying blue runs, all of them short and nearly all of them accessed by a draglift. The easiest and so far the most captivating tourist destinations in Livigno are those that face San Rocco, lifts 17A (chair) and 17B (drag): the best way to tackle Livigno's lifts is by their numbers, particularly when they aren't bound to any notable landmarks. These blues go along the valley (lift 22 is a bit longer, steeper one) to the mixture of chairs that lead skiers to the top of chair 28. More comfortable riders can then sweep a couple of reds to the top of lift 16 (Veta Blesaccia, 2,796m), but either way the blue runs that wind their way back to the valley are among the longest you'll find in the Alps. The same is true on the other side of the valley: from the tip of the Mottolino gondola take lift 6 to the peak of Monte della Neve (in fair weather only; it's one of the most exposed chairsin the area), and then follow the blue run all the way back to base.
More advanced riders tend to split their time between the network of ski lifts leading from the Carosello 3000 gondola, and those from the Mottolino. The runs that follow the former - especially the one branching out to the south - are great, but don't go farther than the halfway lift station unless you love following cat tracks and then lining up at the bottom for the privilege (snowboarders must make a mental note not to go over to the other side of the lift station; the only way back up is the longest, most merciless draglift in town). The run to the rider's right of the Mottolino, in the meantime, is ideal for early-morning carvers looking to tear up the corduroy at speed; just keep in mind that you should slow down under the bridge as the bottleneck effect has led to some awful accidents here in the past. Those heading south up the valley make for a number of variety aesthetically, but the distance and gradient stay pretty much the same.
The only notable black runs are also at the bitter end of wind-blasted lift 6. Actually, Livigno's real benefit for advanced riders is off-piste: during deep snow, the resort is a Neverland of cornices, couloirs and open powder faces. Try dropping straight below the Mottolino gondola, go left and then hike over the road halfway. Alternatively, to the right of the Carosello, there's a series of frozen dam drops towards the bottom that some people try out in deep snow.
There are only ten or so mountain huts in Livigno, with a moderately proportional relationship between altitude and price. All the same, it's worth stopping off at the M'eating point at the top of the Mottolino: there's a great self-service restaurant (plenty of satisfying pasta dishes and grilled meats) with both indoor and outdoor seating. The Carosello 3000 restaurant, on the other side of the valley, features much the same thing only with more panoramic views and a less expensive snack bar just next door. More atmospheric is the sheltered Tea da Borch, a small snack and drinks bar a short way up the Carosello, or the somewhat ramshackle Costaccia at the top of lift 28, featuring good sandwiches and an excellent barbecue.
Livigno has been able to offer a world-class park; something that's coincided with the resort acting as host to Burton's annual European Open, arguably the most significant snowboard contest on the European pro circuit. The Open occurs early each January, but the park (located on the far side of the Mottolino gondola and accessed by lift 8) sticks it out for most of the winter, extending to riders of all levels a range of kickers, hips and rails in varying shapes and sizes, and an excellent half-pipe. The affiliated Snowbox board camps run on weekends throughout the season, with four hours' daily freestyle tuition, passes and accommodation included in the price.
Ice climbing can be set about on a variety of frozen waterfalls at the far end of the valley, with tuition available from experienced guides. Livigno also features three indoor rock climbing walls; the best for beginners is in the Cronox arcade and bowling alley. Mountain biking can be experienced year round, with tuition and equipment hire from the local school, while more engine-powered adrenaline junkies would like to try their hand at ice driving. There is also night-skidooing on a circuit near the lake, although for the actual four-legged deal there are guided horse-riding excursions organized by Maneggio Livigno.
Dining in Livigno
Livigno is bursting with informal dining establishments providing hearty portions of high-quality Valtellini cuisine. Among the finest is Mario's, where friendly staff turn out good pizzas, first-class steaks (try the blue cheese sauce) and more local specialties including pizzoccheri (buckwheat tagliatelle with potatoes, cheese and cabbage). Pesce d'Oro in some way manages to cook up fish dishes so fresh you'll swear you were on the coast, while the Bellavista is popular with tourists looking for cheap and cheerful pizzas and pasta. For a more gastronomic experience, head to Bivio, featuring four separate eating parlours including a bistro with sun terrace, a karaoke and fondue shed and - best of all - the gourmet Cheseta Veglia restaurant with its exquisite local cuisine and fine wines. The Camana Veglia is another safe bet for more elegant dining, as is the Concordia, while Marco's Bar pacifies less reconstructed Anglos with a caliber fry-up.
It could be something to do with the accessibility of cheap booze at nearby offices all over town, but the drinking scene in Livigno is rather undeveloped. There are several terraced bars waiting to take in skiers off the slopes for a cheeky pint - the Tea del Vidal, at the base of the Mottolino, is one of the most popular. One with a claim to fame of sorts is the Echo, which reputedly houses the highest brewery in Europe, while Galli's Pub tends to end up jammed to the rafters and is understandably popular with party-hearty Brits. The same is true of Daphne's Pub, although at peak hours you'll often have to wait some time for a drink at the small wooden bar. There's often a faster turnover at the Roxy Bar, although for atmosphere the Kuhstall (cowshed) bar at the Bivio wins bar none, having live music, cabaret and karaoke in a low-ceilinged building that more than lives up to its name. Lastly, for those on a roll, there are two nightclubs in Livigno taking party-goers towards the sunrise; II Cielo is more popular with Italians, while Kokodi's caters to tourists and tends to be teeming with Brits in peak season (although it can be nearly empty at other times).
Accommodations in Livigno
Accommodation in Livigno used to be a collection of apartments on top of shops and family-owned chalets, and though things have improved over the last ten years, you will have to book early to guarantee a place at one of the few classier hotels and residences.
The four-star Hotel Amerikan is always popular, well situated for access to the Carosello system and has been refurbished to update the rooms and roomy bar. Nearby is the Silvestri, a two-star venture with friendly staff and good clean rooms. Towards the Mottolino end, the four-star Intermonti is highly recommended, large (160 rooms over three separate buildings) but with good clean rooms and a pool. The Hotel San Carlo is also in this area, high atop the hill and with good views over the valley; while the Bivio pops up again as one of the resort's better hotels, boasting a pool and more central than most. Also central is the three-star Bucaneve, with a decent pool and small but well-furnished rooms. Not far from Livigno’s heart and soul in Valtelline Valley area is Residence Margherita, 3-star hotel with 42 guestrooms. This gives guests value for their money.