Livigno: a bargain ski resort in the Italian Alps

by Mary.Novakovich

Livigno is duty free, cheap and offers some fantastic skiing. So what’s the catch? Well, getting there can be a problem - but it’s definitely worth it in the end

There are only three roads into Livigno. The most common one takes eager skiers from the airports at Milan, Brescia and Bergamo on a six-hour drive along a winding road that passes through its closest neighbour, Bormio, into the Valtellina valley. An alternative route, which swings into Switzerland near St Moritz before going back into Italy again, is completely snowbound during the winter months and remains firmly shut. The third involves going through the Zernez tunnel from Switzerland. It costs €25 (cash only) and usually involves queues of up to two hours as people wait despondently to get through the single-lane tunnel.
Both of the winter routes will have you cursing and wondering what on earth possessed you to squander a day travelling to this resort in the middle of nowhere. The answer, however, appears as soon as you see Livigno in the early evening light. It’s really several hamlets strung out along a 14km path along the valley, flanked by two extremely high mountains. The scene is typically Alpine – lovely old wooden buildings easily bearing heavy weights of fluffy snow, Christmas fairy lights glittering all winter long – with a few Italian touches such as strollers enjoying the evening passeggiata along the Via Plan in the attractive pedestrianised town centre. You can instantly sense the warm atmosphere in spite of the subzero temperature.
There’s also the bonus of duty-free status, which was conferred on Livigno by the Austro-Hungarian empire. This slashes 20 per cent off the price of most things, taking already cheap goods into the realm of jaw-droppingly low prices. Cigarettes and alcohol are absurdly inexpensive, and if you go into the Co-op supermarket, you can pick up some foodie bargains such as cut-price Parmesan to help to soak up all that booze.
Restaurant meals are considerably cheaper too, as are ski lift passes and equipment rentals. And then you see dozens of shops selling electronic goods, watches and perfume. That’s about the only place you won’t find a bargain, as prices in Italy are considerably higher than they are in Britain.
But there’s much more to Livigno than bargain-hunting. The four ski areas cover 115km of mostly intermediate and beginner pistes, making it ideal for people wanting to give skiing a go without having to fork out the huge sums demanded in other parts of the Alps. Many of the runs are long, wide motorway pistes, with quite a few that wind their way through the forests for added fun. The highest peak is at Carosello, which reaches 3000m. You’ll find the snowpark here too, and it’s reckoned to be the best in Italy.
Many people make the most of the geographical location by spending the morning on the Carosello and Costaccia side of the mountain before heading across the valley to the Mottolino side to catch the afternoon sun. (Free ski buses take you to and from all the ski areas.) Because both sides of the mountains are owned by rival families constantly trying to outdo each other, the skier ends up with up-to-the-minute lift systems that you won’t see in many Italian ski resorts. And it’s all covered on the same lift pass.
Accommodation can be a bit pricey in comparison with the low prices, however. Most of the three-star hotels charge about €150 per night for two people half-board, although you can get a better deal in one of the many self-catered apartments available. The Hotel Touring is an attractive four-star right in the heart of the town on Via Plan, and its enviable location is matched by some excellent spa facilities. The Hotel Montanina is just minutes away from the Hotel Touring, and it offers a warm welcome from an Italian family who make you feel one of their own. The Montanina is also home to one of the town’s most popular bars, Miky’s Pub, a lively spot that features a slide at the front door for those who really want to make an entrance.
In fact, the nightlife in Livigno is better than many of its French counterparts, with plenty of bars in the town centre as well as on the mountain. Great après-ski can be found at the Tea del Vidal at the bottom of Mottolino (Via La Corta 24), where you have to try the local drink, bombardino. After a couple of glasses of this lethal eggnog, don’t be tempted to follow the locals’ advice and have another go on the slopes. Better try one of the cheap and cheerful pizza restaurants such as Ristorante La Mirage in Via Plan (201/H), where enormous and tasty pizzas cost €7. Revel in the relaxed yet bubbly atmosphere, and do try to put off the moment when you have to think about that six-hour drive back to the airport.