I woke from a cramped sleeping position. I’d been travelling by coach for five and a half hours from Bergamo airport in Northern Italy to the pretty mountain village of Livigno.
Italy’s the third most popular ski destination, and despite the distance from the airport, Livigno’s one of the best all-round ski resorts. It’s a tax-free zone and the shops sell everything from designer ski gear to booze and clothes.
Hitting the slopes
There’s a sprinkling of rustic wooden lodges and hotels, which run along a central road through the town. These are circled by some of the highest mountains in Italy – the Dolomites. The accommodation caters for all tastes and pockets. My friend, Mark Bond, and I stayed at the three-star Hotel San Carlo. The food was reasonably priced, and tasty, the nightlife lively, and the skiing first class. On a good day, you can ski in, ski out.
This was my second ski trip and I was more than a little nervous about hitting the slopes again. But as I clicked on my skis and headed for the lifts, I felt a sudden surge of excitement. I reached the drop-off point, applied some sunblock and put on my sunglasses. I did a wobbly turn, then joined my fellow skiers at ski school.
As I watched the first skiers come down the mountain, I realised it was my qualifying moment. The ski instructors were judging our performance to decide what level we were at.
It was like The X Factor on ice. My moment to shine. ‘Mark, you’re in team A‚’ an instructor shouted as I reached the bottom of the slope.
I’ve always been competitive. For me, I’m afraid it’s all about the winning. ‘Did being in team A mean I’d done well?’ I thought. I was anxious to know my score. But the instructor was no Simon Cowell. He gave nothing away.
Finally, my position was made clear – It was ‘A’ for an advanced beginner. I was happy with that. I spent the following two hours going up and down the slopes, perfecting my balance and trying to remain vertical.
The sun was really strong as it bounced off the snow. I’d worked up quite a sweat. I checked my watch and was pleased it was time for lunch already.
It’s always best to go for food early or late, as lunch is a popular meal here. The food’s mainly pizza or pasta and it’s all delicious. Livigno’s nightlife gets started quite late, so after a day skiing, we spent time chilling out back at the hotel. And after a relaxing hot shower, we headed into town.
The temperature at night falls to below freezing, so we quickly dashed to the bar, where we enjoyed beers and pub games.
It’s a friendly atmosphere in Livigno, so expect to join a huge crowd by the end of the night. The next day – with slightly aching limbs – it was back to ski school. During the following days, my confidence increased and I worked my way further up the slopes. One of the highlights of the week.
Taking to the piste
It was the sunset Skidoo ride. ‘I’m Bond, Mark Bond’‚ Mark said to the instructor, as we started up the bikes and drove in single file through the snow.
A few days later, we headed for the higher slopes of Il Mottolino, which had a journey time of 15 minutes in a cable car. The air was clean and crisp and the views were amazing, but as I gazed at the resort below, which looked like a little model town, my nerves kicked in. I started my decent, skiing cautiously from side to side, but halfway down, I realized something – this was fantastic. Adrenalin kicked in. When I reached the bottom, I headed back up the mountain and came down all over again.
After six hours on the slopes, I was looking forward to lots of traditional Italian food. Our driver sped up the mountain, weaving around snow-covered trees and tight corners until we reached the top.
The restaurant was a log cabin set out with long tables, benches and a huge roaring fire. It was like a scene from Whams Last Christmas video. I was promised great food, dancing and lots of wine. Not long after arriving we were up on the tables clapping and singing to traditional Irish music. Yes, Irish music in Italy. Well, I was told anything could happen and I wasn’t disappointed.
The next morning we went back to the piste for the final day at ski school. It was race day – the downhill slalom. Ready for action, I crouched down for maximum speed. I crossed the finish line. ‘But was my time good enough?’ I wondered. I waited for my name to be called. I was in third place – by just one second. Yes, I’d done it. I collected my medal with a huge grin on my face. And I made myself a promise – I’ll be back next year and I’ll be going for gold.
LIVIGNO THE LOWDOWN
Directski.com has a week’s self-catering stay in Livigno at the Soldanella Apartments based on four people sharing, including return flights and transfers. The Hotel San Carlo offers half-board accommodation and transfers. For more info, call +44 800 358 0448, or visit www.directski.com.
Livigno’s duty-free status makes it a shopper’s paradise. Ski jackets and boots are all great value. You can buy most of the popular winter sports brands at bargain prices, too. Wines and spirits are also heavily discounted and available at the local supermarkets. Most accept all the major credit cards. However, there are limited cash machines in the town and they empty very quickly, so always carry a little on you.
WHERE TO EAT
There’s a variety of food, but the local dishes of pasta and pizza are tasty and good value. Try Bella Vista, a family run restaurant that offers a huge variety of excellent pizza and pasta dishes and peppered steak. I loved the Tagliatelle al Sugo di Cervo. It does get quite busy so try to book beforehand. Marco’s bar is popular with skiers. Expect cheesy pop, group games and karaoke.
The easiest way to travel to the resort is by bus and your lift pass includes bus travel. Although they run regularly, they do get very busy in the mornings when everyone heads into town with their ski gear.