Summer and Winter: Smuggle Yourself into Livigno

Livigno, Italy in winter

A Hidden Valley

It isn’t easy getting into Livigno Italy. And for most of the 18th and 19th centuries it was sealed off from the rest of the world and accessible only in the summer months. Not until the opening of the Munt la Schera tunnel in 1965 was there winter road access to Livigno. Getting goods in and out of this tucked-away valley was always unfeasible and often impossible. In those times the two most important people in Livigno were the priest and the smuggler.

To compensate for the harsh living conditions, the long winter isolation, and its geographical position between Italy and Switzerland, Livigno has enjoyed special privileges and tax concessions since the Middle Ages. During the Napoleonic period, authorities figured out that granting Livigno a tax-free franchise was less expensive than controlling the borders and pursuing the smugglers. That special status was continued by the Austrian Government and into modern times by Italy.

Livigno in Summer
Lush, green Livigno in summer.

Times Have Changed

Since the ski boom of the 1960s, things have changed in Livigno. It’s a modern ski resort known for its snow parks with slopes and trails. Welcoming spa hotels and fine dining bring guests here for week-long stays. But it’s still true to its alpine farming roots, and the biggest food outlet in town is the Latteria di Livigno, the cooperative dairy in the valley where you can sit on the terrace, enjoy a hazelnut gelato, and overlook the town and mountain panorama.

Today Livigno has a duty-free status, with goods—and especially luxury items—sold at bargain prices. That explains why Livigno, a town of about 6000 inhabitants, has over 250 duty-free retail stores. I doubt there is another farming village that size anywhere in the world with Armani, Gucci, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Christian Dior and Yves St. Laurent shops in the center of town.

A Personal Visit

The highlight of my Livigno stay was afternoon spa and pool time at the Hotel Spöl. The spa features an indoor pool lined with local quartz stones and modeled after a mountain pond, complete with a waterfall and bubbling zones plus an adjoining whirlpool. The spa includes a steam sauna, a Turkish sauna at about 50°C/122°F and a Finnish sauna at 90°C/194°F.  Who knew the human body could handle temperatures that high? But I survived it and loved it.

Mountain Pond at Hotel Spol
Luxurious mountain pond at Hotel Spöl.

The spacious dining room at the Hotel Spöl is superb, and there’s no reason to go anywhere else for dinner. The wait staff was exceptionally friendly and attentive, the menu was top-notch, and they went out of their way to take special requests and accommodate our dietary preferences—and remember them from one day to the next.

It’s an easy walk from the Hotel Spöl to the ski lifts on either side of the valley or to the cross-country ski trails on the valley floor. In summer, hiking and biking trails ascend the mountainsides and the town is the base for Stelvio National Park, with Swiss National Park located just the other side of the Munt la Schera tunnel.

Whether you come in winter or summer don’t miss a visit to MUS!, an innovative Museum of Livigno and Treppale where you’ll put on a hardhat and immerse yourself in the centuries of harsh life and isolation that made Livigno what it is today. In the engaging exhibits and artifacts, you’ll quickly come to understand the challenges and dynamics of life in an isolated alpine farming village—something that’s hard to imagine in the vibrant resort village of Livigno today.

Greg Witt
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