Exploring Milan and surrounding areas: the Navigli

The “Navigli”, a Waterway to the Sea

A “NOT-TO-BE-MISSED “STOPOVER. Are you looking for a unique way of discovering Milan? Then take a look at it from the water. Although there is no sea in Milan, between 1179 and the Napoleonic era, it boasted hundreds of kilometres of Navigli or canals (most of them were built by Leonardo da Vinci) connecting it to Lake Maggiore, Lake Como, the Ticino river and, finally, through the river Po, to the sea. Today, the only traces of that enormous network of waterways are the Naviglio Grande, the Paderno Canal, the Bereguardo Canal, the Pavia Canal, and the Martesana Canal. The Darsena (Docks) is one of the most picturesque districts in Milan and its basin is one of the few remaining evidence of the vast system of canals and waterways in Milan. Taking a walk or bicycling along the Navigli is a truly enjoyable experience. Conversely, another option is to immerse yourselves in the old-world atmosphere of times gone by taking a boat trip on the Navigli.

REMNANTS OF HISTORY The Navigli were highly strategic and used to irrigate the fields, for trade and to transport the enormous marble blocks required to build the Duomo. In 1482, Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned by the Duke of Milan to solve the problem of the differences in level which he did by devising a system of sluices that can still be seen today. His sketches for the project are preserved in the Museo dei Navigli (Brera, via San Marco 40). Several of them can also be seen in his famous Codex Atlanticus (Biblioteca Ambrosiana, see The Guide – Museums & Attractions). The Navigli were completed centuries later by Napoleon, only to fall into disuse when the train system took over.

Living the “Navigli” District

The Navigli district is one of the most vibrant in the city boasting restaurants, wine-bars, and live music but also painters’ studios and a slew of interesting shops. You can start your exploration from Porta Ticinese, a highly original “quartier” alternating “banister houses” and artisan workshops with trendy addresses. Beyond piazza Ventiquattro Maggio, the Naviglio Grande, the oldest navigable canal in the world, begins its outward journey to the countryside. The approximately 10 kilometres that separate the Darsena from the town of Gaggiano offer stately palazzi, small towns such as Abbiategrasso (a charming “slow city” ), wrought iron bridges, fishing boats, and churches from a number of different periods. Their orange, yellow, and red facades are reflected in the water.

BIKING EXPERIENCE. The Naviglio della Martesana is a fabulous biking experience (starting from the area near M2 Gioia). On the otehr branch of the Navigli, if you have two hours on hand, you can hire public bicycles (www.bikemi.com) from the M2 Porta Genova underground station. Festivals and open- air markets are often held in the Navigli area: on 30 January, the Antique Market takes place on the Alzaia Naviglio Grande. Ask your hotel for updates.

TAKING A BOAT RIDE. Take a trip into the past with a boat ride on the Navigli: until 16 January, on Sat, Sun, and public holidays, four daily excursions by boat leave from the Alzaia Naviglio Grande, 4 (11.30am, 2pm, 3.05pm, 4.10pm). The trips last 55 minutes (8 euros, free for children under the age of 3) and take visitors on a tour of the charming Vicolo dei Lavandai, the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the old bridges, and the sluice designed by Leonardo. Ask your Concierge to book tickets or visit the www.naviglilombardi.it website.

JAZZING IT UP. Along the Navigli you can find numerous characteristic night spots, that have always been synonymous with Milanese night life and good music: the most famous is Le Scimmie.