Cycle Tourism along Milan’s Canal Navigli Network
I would like to welcome a guest blog post from Alexandre Rotenberg. Alexandre is based in Italy and is a photographer and cycle touring enthusiast. He enjoys exploring the beautiful areas of Italy by bicycle and contacted me about sharing his writing and photography work with the Cycling Touring Community.
This is the first of four great posts from Alexandre. Hope you enjoy!
Cycle Tourism along Milan’s Canal (Navigli) Network
Despite Milan being strategically located at the gateway to the Italian peninsula, the city does not have a direct river or sea connection, which was traditionally seen as fundamental for commerce. To mitigate this problem, rulers of Milan from the early Middle Ages created a series of canals fed by the rivers Lambro, Adda and Ticino, the latter which flows to the mighty Po and eastwards to the Adriatic Sea.
These waterways have since been closely connected to the city’s economic and cultural history, facilitating the economic and cultural expansion of Milan with the arrival at low cost of various materials including stone, lime, grain and lumber. In fact, marble for the Duomo was transported via the Naviglio Grande from quarries located near Lake Maggiore.
From the 1960s, with the technological advance of other means of transport such as rail, these canals became less commercially viable. As a result, some of the infrastructure fell into disarray. However, recently the unused space adjacent the canals have given way to a network of 162km of Dutch-style paved and unpaved cycling paths cutting across the region’s rich cultural heartland.
As you will read on, most of the paths are for beginners and quite manageable on a day trip, making them ideal for families. The surrounding cities are connected by a train network and for a small three euro fee you may take your bike on the train back to Milan.
Navigli District of Milan
Our journey begins in the bohemian Navigli district in the South-West of Milan (M2: Porta Genova) where the Naviglio Pavense and Naviglio Grande meet on a basin. This charming district comes alive at night and is an excellent venue to sit on a terrace and enjoy a Milanese style aperitivo.
Naviglio Grande (75km)
The Naviglio Grande is the oldest of the canals (built between 1177 and 1257) and streams South-westwards towards the Ticino River which flows from Lake Maggiore.
Naviglio Martesana (38km + 40km to Lecco)
My favourite canal is the Naviglio Martesana, which flows from North-east Milan linking with the River Adda at Trezzo Sul Adda. For the more adventurous, the path continues due North towards Lecco via a gravel path hugging the river (40km).
The first part of the canal is busy and urban as it passes the beautiful city of Gorgonzola, famous for its cheese.
One obligatory stop along the way is the UNESCO World Heritage Site village of Crespi d’Adda built between 1890 and 1910. This village is one of the most interesting and best preserved workers’ villages in Italy.
Interesting, in 1482, Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to improve the design of this canal and there is a museum in his honour called the Ecomuseum “Adda di Leonardo. Closer to Lecco on at Imbersago you can take a ferry which was originally designed by the great man himself across the banks.
Naviglio Pavense (35km)
The tree-lined Naviglio Pavense was built in the 14th century and flows from Milan to the historic university town of Pavia. This is a great path if you want to work on your fitness as the lanes are quiet, flat and straight! However, one highlight along the way is the Certosa di Pavia monastery, 8km north of Pavia. Pavia itself is beautiful and full of restaurants offering delicious local risotto dishes.
About the Author
Alexandre Rotenberg is a semi-professional photographer and touring cycling enthusiast based in Milan.