• Massive glaciers tower above the Alta Rezia.
    Massive glaciers tower above the Alta Rezia.
  • It’s not all about the rocky gnar; you’ll find plenty of flow trails in
and around the Livigno bike park.
    It’s not all about the rocky gnar; you’ll find plenty of flow trails in and around the Livigno bike park.
  • Jaw dropping scenery high above Livigno.
    Jaw dropping scenery high above Livigno.
  • Not much grows when you get up this high!
    Not much grows when you get up this high!
  • Tibetan-style suspension bridge high up on the Alta Rezia.
    Tibetan-style suspension bridge high up on the Alta Rezia.
  • Hans No Way Rey is a Livigno regular.
    Hans No Way Rey is a Livigno regular.
  • Rocky, raw and natural—riding the Alta Rezia.
    Rocky, raw and natural—riding the Alta Rezia.
  • Between the ski lifts within the resort and the local businesses offering shuttle services, there are plenty of options to take the sting
out of the massive climbs.
    Between the ski lifts within the resort and the local businesses offering shuttle services, there are plenty of options to take the sting out of the massive climbs.

It was a clear cut case of nerves and unfamilia city, compounded by my voluntary subscription to the ‘Self Preservation Society’. Whatever my excuse, I was floundering and I just couldn’t make it down this semi-vertical rock strewn bit of singletrack.

I’d been exploring the trails of Livigno for a few days now but this was something entirely different. We’d left the main valley and were heading into a remote part of the Alta Rezia region, a short drive out of Livigno and just over the mountain from the famous Gavia Pass in the northernmost part of the Italian Alps—I was primed for real old-school MTB adventure.

And who better for company than an absolute legend of old-school mountain bi king: Mr Hans Rey. For those too young to know, ‘Hans No Way Rey’ is the man who f irst put MTB trials into the spotlight of the general public with his amazing riding skills. Think of him as the Danny MacAskill of the ’90s!

Hans is sponsored by Livigno; he helped in developing the trail network and runs some ride weeks there duri ng the summer. Such esteemed company may have highlighted my technical inadequacies but I couldn’t help feeling privileged to be heading off the beaten track with him.

Our day began in the back of a Land Rover which carried us as far up the hill as possible. At first I thought this sounded like a soft option, but having seen the severity of the climb, I appreciated the wisdom. I wouldn’t fancy riding up and down this mountain in one day.

Not much grows when you get up this high!
Not much grows when you get up this high!

The trailhead is at an old refuge, perched on the side of the valley. From here you get a surreal view over the lunarlike landscape, crowned by a pristine glaciated mountain ridge—one of the most impressive I’ve seen in a while.

There’s no double-track warm up on this ride, it’s straight into the twisted and rocky stuff. So there we were, picking our way up a very raw old trail heading towards the base of a glacier with some 27 The Italian Job truly massive mountains towering above. Thin high-altitude air made the going even tougher but we had the sun on our backs and the views were stunning; it doesn’t get much better—unless you include copious amounts of superb Italian food and great local vino.

Twenty minutes in and with the big descent yet to come, I was wheezing and sweating like a polar bear in a sauna as I clambered and stumbled upwards. Orange and grey rock slabs were all that I could see in either direction and all were leading towards the glacier. It was more of a Himalayan vista than an Alpine one, which made the ride feel even more epic.

For a while we cruised around this snowline plateau, before heading towards another high spot on the other side of the valley. A couple of Tibetan-style suspension bridges and a long clamber took us higher still until finally the ‘all downhill from here flag’ was raised. I’m generally a seat up and hardtail kind of guy but today I was ‘Senor Freeride’; all bounce and body armour. As foreign as this felt, I have to admit that it was a wise call. For the first time in a while I was wavering on the icy edge of my limits. The trail was all natural and unforgiving; there’s no ‘flow’ to be found here and not a berm in sight. It’s a wild, rugged and untamed place—it’s perfect for adventure because of its imperfection.

Descending the Alta Rezia demanded skill and respect in return for a rite of passage. While there were a couple of nervous one-footed skips around switchbacks, I survived intact but certainly didn’t tame it. For me it was a wakeup call and a reminder of how good it is to challenge yourself on raw and rugged natural trails such as this.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the mountain range we’d been having loads of fun on the trails of Livigno; one of Europe’s most iconic mountain bike centres. Although I’ve ridden at countless Alpine mountain bike friendly resorts over the years, this one had somehow escaped me.

The small town lies stranded in a high but wide-open valley, with its base at 1,800 meters above sea level. Unlike many Alpine valleys this one has plenty of flatter open space; it looks more like a Rocky Mountain town than a European resort. The valley is surrounded by high passes and has long been considered a prized and isolated place. Interestingly it also holds duty free status—good if you or your better half is keen for a little shopping.

Leading into our Alta Rezia epic, we’d hopped and ridden around this valley using the extensive ski lift network. Like everything else in Livigno, it’s all fully geared up for mountain biking during the summer months.

Just about every type of trail can be found within a few minutes of town with tracks to suit everyone from beginners to World Cup DH riders. In a week of solid riding we’d taken in a huge variety of terrain; from wild high-mountain singletrack to flow trails and full on downhill tracks.

Personally I love more traditional trail riding and this place turned out to be a real treat for me. In a single ride we could reach dramatic high alpine ridges, blast through deserted valleys, twist through the flowing tree lined trails, before finishing the ride off with a shot or three of homemade moonshine grappa.

On the competitive front Livigno has hosted World Cups, the World Championships and all manner of events such as the ‘Nine Knights’ and various slopestyle competitions. It’s also the preferred high-altitude training base for both top road and mountain bike racers from all over Europe, so you never know which stars you may bump into.

For pure variety and accessibility Livigno takes some beating. They call it the ‘Whistler of Europe’ and also ‘Little Tibet’; while neither really fits, it gives you some idea of what to expect. It’s a very special place, subtle in taste and flavour. It won’t slap and dazzle you for lunch and then disappoint at dinner, it will leave you happy and contended all-round. In its own mild mannered way it will blow your doors off.

Tibetan-style suspension bridge high up on the Alta Rezia.
Tibetan-style suspension bridge high up on the Alta Rezia.

General Information

GE TTING THERELivigno is at the northern end of the Italian Alps, not far from the Swiss border. The nearest international airports are around three hours’ drive away. The closest are Milan and then Zurich, with Munich being a little further away. Shuttle buses and transfers can be arranged, although a rental car is a great way to get there too, offering the freedom to hop around the region.

Livigno is one of the most bike friendly places in the Alps and it’s totally geared up and ready to ride from May-October. You can download a full trail listing, find bike friendly hotels and arrange transport at www.livigno.eu (just be sure to click the summer icon at the top of the page).

The whole town is well set up to serve mountain (and road) bikers. There are a number of great bike shops in Livigno, all offering high-end gear as well as good quality bike rental. Some shops also offer guiding services and transport; a worthwhile option if you want to venture beyond the regular bike park network. Check out ‘The Bike Store’ for a star t, they even run fat bike tours during the winter season – www.thebikestore.it   

FOOD & DRINKSThey do things big and hearty around these parts – it’s real fresh Italian mountain food and loads of it. You’ll find all the regular Italian favourites but the best thing about this region is the superb cheeses, cured meats and local pasta. Be warned, meals often come in several courses and you may be biting off more than you can chew; it is a food lover’s paradise. As f or tipples, the regional wines and locally brewed beers are superb. There is also a great brewer y, bar and restaurant in town (1816), which is a must try. No matter where you eat in town you’ll have a feast, and being duty means that the alcoholic drinks are all the more palatable too.

As a major tourist destination, there’s no shortage of places to stay in and around Livigno, with options to suit all tastes and budgets. Although this is a resort based town, the prices are surprisingly reasonable—it’s much cheaper than on the Swiss side of the Alps. You’ll also find camping options around town. Many hotels in Livigno and the region are certified as ‘bike hotels’, which means that they have store rooms and basic workshop facilities on site —many are fully equipped with spares, trail info, rental bikes and trail guides too.

You really cannot go too far wrong when it comes to finding great riding around Livigno, but of course you do need to pick and choose trails that suit you. Many routes are mapped out, way-marked and easy to follow without a guide. There are hand crafted flow trails, pump tracks, pure DH runs and natural trails to go at. Maps and details are best found in town, as they are more up to date and have details of any weather or other maintenance issues. It is possible to make some great pointto- point single and multi-day trips from Livigno. Popular routes head over into Switzerland or you can take on the epic Alta Rezia as a day trip. Bike shuttle services available locally, often operated in conjunction with the bike hotels and their guides.

From World MTB Championships to the Nine Knights freeride event Livigno has played host to numerous high profile events over the years. The Nine Knights will be in town again for 2015: www.nineknightsmtb.com  There are several MTB marathons around the area during the summer months, and in 2014 the town hosted the first fat bike festival in Europe. You’ll find dates and details at www.livigno.eu  

Optional Image Caption

Bicycling Australia

Lizzie Deignan wins the first-ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes, while Sonny Colbrelli wins epic men’s battle.

The 2022 Checkpoint legitimately feels like several bikes in one - all road, adventure, gravel and super commuter. The design, finish, attention to detail and subtleties all add up to make a fantastic looking and exceptional performing adventure machine.

Orbea Lift Covers Off Latest Orca Aero