Livigno is many things. It is a duty free shopping hub, an alpine town that is popular for snow sports, a farming village that has had rapid change – and an ever-growing base for altitude training. From runners, cross-country skiers, road cyclists, mountain bikers and more, Livigno offers about 1800m base elevation, with quiet trails, almost flat bike paths, icey rivers, consistent road climbs and plenty of restaurants and hotels to cater for amateur sports people or professional cycling teams. And right now, Livigno is full of both.
As there are less than two weeks to the XCO World Championships in Lenzerheide, then another week to the XCM World Championships in Auronzo di Cadore, altitude adaptation is important for success. The best plan with altitude training is sleep high, train low. You make more red blood cells at altitude, but you tend to not be able to train as hard. It’s a little bit hard to achieve that without a team bus to shuttle you up and down passes, or an altitude tent to sleep in. But heading somewhere like Livigno, or St Moritz/Silvaplana just over the mountains, is pretty good too.
Imogen Smith and I are here in Livigno for a week. This serves a few purposes. Imogen has XCO and XCM World Champs ahead of here, both are at altitude. Livigno also has a great selection of trails – from trails crossing passes and borders, to modern flow trails, a bike park, easy trails for recovery rides… the works. Livigno is also cheaper to stay in than Switzerland, fuel is cheap if you need to fill your hire car, and chocolate, limoncello and other essentials are all well-priced. And, the town buzzes. With a mix of Italians enjoying duty free shopping, holiday makers, cyclists, hikers and who knows who else, Livigno has just enough Italian craziness to make things interesting.
Day One in Livigno
We arrived yesterday about lunch time, coming from Scuol after the National Park Bike Marathon (more on that later). After some urgently required clothes washing (as while 5-8 Euro a load isn’t cheap, it’s cheaper than 25CHF), a great lunch of minestrone and tuna salad, we drove to where we are staying at Chalet Matteo. This is where we stayed before Transalp in 2013, and the very enterprising Matteo was waiting for us outside as his building is undergoing some renovations. With some new apartments and an extension on the wine bar, it’s full steam ahead for Matteo. There are all sorts of places to stay in Livigno – and we stayed at Hotel Teola in 2014 but prefer self-catering in Europe. It improves the quality of coffee consumption, limits excess cheese, and helps keep your fruit and vegetable intake much steadier. Plus you can avoid endive. You just don’t buy any.
After a small ride on Monday, Tuesday was going to be about doing a bigger route. Imogen left the route planning up to me, and the rough plan was to do one of my favourite rides of about 60km when in Livigno.
We rolled out about 8:30am, when just about every other cyclist is sleeping. The air was cold, and there were moments I thought we had underdressed. With light undershirts, team bibs, jerseys, arm warmers, and light rain jackets in the Camelbak Octane 10 I was carrying – we were ok. But I really should have pulled leg warmers on, as the Octane 10 is so light, as are warmers, it would be easy to throw them in the bag once it warmed up. I’ve got too cold too many times in the Alps – it’s not fun and I don’t plan on doing it again. So I’m happy to carry a bag to ensure some comfort.
We headed north down the bike path, around the edge of the lake (in the shade!!) and up the climb to Alpisella. It’s a long climb, and while not too steep to the bridge (which I noticed is new, and now rideable with bars wider than 560mm), the climb after that has some pretty sustained steep sections. We were warm by the top.
Alpisella has 3 little lakes at the top and it’s all double track. But before it properly starts heading down there’s a trail junction with a singletrack option to the left. Always take this option. It was lots of fun and Imogen was bombing. It just straight lines for ages across scree slopes until getting into the tree line again, with sweeping corners and plenty of run out. I first rode this trail years ago and it’s a lot wider now. But I still almost overcooked the final corner back onto the dirt road at Lago di Cancano.
From here it was first snack time, and time for a jacket for Imogen. While we were back to the same altitude as Livigno give or take, the cold wind up the valley wasn’t pleasant. We rode towards the Val Mora, a valley that looks terminal, but the route of salt and wine is an old trade route that goes up and through the valley. It starts across avalanche fans, past some high pasture with donkeys, then into low growth forest that smells perfectly ‘euro’ with pine. The trail turns into singletrack that goes up and over plenty of other smaller avalanche fans, with the river below you on your left. After crossing the river, the trail mellows and comes out into alpine meadows.
We climbed up, and realised that coffee and cake were in order. I knew the Alp Mora was nearby and on our route to the Passo Gallo. They were open, thankfully, and an order of apfel strudel, two coffees, and a nusstorte followed.
It’s not an extensive menu, but it hit the spot. The cows head down the valley pretty soon, on 8th September. This is actually in Switzerland as the border is at the bottom of the Val Mora, and it’s usually quite a procession when the cows come down from their high pastures. If you ever get a chance to see it, it’s worth it.
In the picture above you can see the pass we need to scale. It’s actually really quite steep, and when you start at 2100m already it’s very much noticeable. I think we’ve both climbed it better before (on 2×10) and it’s still steep, and loose in places. There was a little bit of swearing, a lot of stopping to breathe, but we both made it. Now for the fun part.
We rode along the open pasture on singletrack, before a short descent and a bench cut singletrack that would take us past a curious marmotte and to the Passo Gallo. From here, one of my favourite descents starts. It would have been a jeep road in a previous life, quite literally just wide enough for a WW2 Jeep. But it’s mostly singletrack now, and the wider cutting into the ground means that you can get out of shape without too much penalty. You pass an old fort, with views to the lake and tunnel into Livigno from Switzerland, and then head further into the forest. The final turns are exposed, and really steep. I’m not sure people ride them. But then it opens up and carves along the cliff.
The trail is pretty flat and fast for a long time, until the end of the lake. It’s absolutely great to belt along, only pausing when you need to cross areas where there has been rockfall earlier in the season. There are one or two sections that are quite exposed, but really it’s all very easy.
After passing a private farm at Pra Grata, I prefer to stick on the N182 and ride high on the old jeep road back to Cancano. The view along the valley is awesome, and the slight gradient up rewards with a slight gradient back down to the lake.
Now it was decision time – back up over Alpisella, past the fascist insignia carved into the rock, and to the lake and back into town… or go a little further and head up the Valle Pettini to Alp Trella instead. We took that option, and the doubletrack climb to Alp Trella isn’t any less steep. It does have a good photo stop near the top though.
And given it’s a good photo spot, there is usually someone to take a photo as well.
From Alp Trella, it’s a singletrack climb upwards. This is always a bonus. It’s slower and usually harder, but given that most trails built these days are descending trails, or climbing trails with a silly low gradient – having a hard singletrack climb at altitude is a bit of a gift. It was hard. It was good. And it lead into an awesome descent.
After some cow traffic, we had more descending and went all the way to Cantoncin. Decision time again, while slightly hungry. Words were exchanged on the road climb to Passo d’Eira. We descended through the Mottolino Bike Park which was way better than I remembered, and straight lined it to our lunch spot from yesterday, ordering a massive salad, some minestrone, a pizza, and mineral water. We rode home with more than half of the pizza in a takeaway container.
All up the ride until lunch was a little over 60km, and I guess we had about 5-6km home from there.
Today showed a few things. We’re both tired, and altitude adjustment takes a little while. But that’s why we’re here! Tomorrow we’ll do our own rides as we have different goals. So tomorrow’s training diary will come from Imogen. For now, it’s time to but some more groceries for dinner!